After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, October 22, 2012

From Unemployed to Employed: Negotiating Your Job Offer

Out here in the real world, as opposed to the artificial world of “adjusted” statistics and unfounded optimism, there is a significant amount of long-term unemployment and under-employment.  I know this because I encounter discouraged job seekers in so many places: during research for my recruiting assignments; in the job networking groups which I occasionally address; and, unfortunately, among my inner circle of family and friends.  

From the perspective of a job candidate, negotiating a job offer after an extended period of unemployment presents a unique set of challenges, primarily because it is virtually impossible to have a true negotiation when one side seemingly holds all the power. For example, if you have been unemployed for nine months or more, it may be hard to demand a salary increase or an extra week of vacation based on what you earned in a previous position.

That said, I can give you a few pieces of advice on negotiating a job offer to your best advantage, even after a lengthy period of unemployment.

1.      Be enthusiastic about the opportunity. Start your offer negotiation with an affirmative declaration of your interest in the company and the position.  After this, you can broach the subject of any reservations you have regarding job content, salary, benefits, sales targets, etc.  Expect minor concessions from the employer, not a major overhaul of the position.

2.      Be positive about your capabilities.  In the current economy, many job seekers have had to leave their comfort zones in order to re-enter the ranks of the employed.  You may have to enter a new industry, learn something you don’t know, or develop a talent that has been allowed to lie dormant until now.  Speak and act confidently.  An employer will not knowingly offer you a job you cannot do.  Do not let self-doubt prevent you from earning and accepting a good job offer.

3.      Ask questions.  Even though you are unemployed, you are allowed to – and should- ask questions during job offer negotiations.  While you want to make a job work for you, it is possible that it just won’t.  If you sense overwhelming obstacles to your success going forward, whether related to the financial situation of the company, the attitudes of management, or unrealistic expectations about your performance, it is better to walk away now than to walk off the plank.

4.      Remember as you negotiate that your ultimate goal is to accept the job.  This is different from a situation in which you are currently employed and have a viable choice of remaining with your current employer if your desires are not met.  I am presuming the position is a reasonable fit – as you would not have interviewed multiple times for a job which you had no intention of accepting.  In a stagnant economy, any good job offer is not to be turned down lightly. It is a job, not an end of a career. 

5.      Your abilities, your accomplishments, your talents and successes are part of who you are, regardless of your recent unemployment.  Accepting a job offer that is different than you might have expected in the past is a result of a poor economy, not indicative of any failure on your part.  Once you accept a position, move forward with anticipation and optimism, as you begin to create a new path for yourself.

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