So you’ve busted your butt, spent months marketing yourself to potential employers, and finally convinced one that they can’t live without you and to extend a job offer your way.  Now what?  Should you take their offer at face value, without looking back, or route a counteroffer their way to see if they can sweeten the pot a little?

While I’ve written quite a bit about this topic in years past (see some relevant articles here) I felt it was probably time to revisit it again, since thankfully, quite a few job hunters seem to be landing offers these days.  And as exciting as this stage of the process may be, it can also be nerve-wracking, at the same time, due to the lack of confidence many professionals have around their negotiating skills.

Here’s the lowdown, though.  In helping people navigate hundreds of these situations over the years, there’s a single strategy that is going to be the right one to follow in more than 80% of cases.  It involves simply receiving the job offer gracefully, buying yourself a day or two to think about it, and then responding back with a diplomatic e-mail or phone call that asks if the employer can slightly increase the stakes on the table.  It’s not playing hardball and demanding a certain figure — or playing softball and instantly knuckling under — but something right down the middle, where you simply ask, directly and nicely, if the company can do better.

Here’s an example of an e-mail in this regard that I helped a client whip up recently, if it helps to see the actual language used.  In this case, the individual in question had received an offer she wanted to take — and wasn’t going to walk away from — but the compensation offered was lower than what she made in her last position so she wanted to see if there was any possibility of closing the gap.  So here’s what she sent off after buying herself a night to review the offer details:

“Martha: Many thanks for sending me the offer details and I can’t tell you how excited I am to join the XYZ Company team!  All in all, the package and benefits offered seem fairly on target with what I’ve been seeking, and most importantly, I’m looking forward to the chance to come in and address those immediate challenges you outlined.  I did have one quick question, however, which was whether you might have any further wiggle room on the salary end. While I have some flexibility, and recognize that there many additional factors that go into evaluating an opportunity beyond salary alone, the offer as it stands now is a bit below what I’m used to making, historically. So given my credentials and experience, if there was any possibility of increasing the compensation slightly, doing so would make this a far easier decision on my end and I’d be ready to start as soon as early next week. If you’re already at the top of your range, however, and there’s nothing more that can be adjusted on that score, I completely understand and will make my decision accordingly.  Hope you don’t fault me for asking and if you can just let me know what might be possible, either way, I can get back to you shortly with a final answer. Many thanks!” 

Obviously one could alter this message slightly depending on the specific circumstances surrounding an offer — or just borrow bits and pieces of the language, as needed — but overall, this note reflects the general tone I encourage people to take in these situations.  The key is to work WITH the employer, not AGAINST them, and see if they’ll budge a bit.  In the vast majority of situations, including the one outlined above, the strategy worked wonders and the employer plunked at least several thousand more dollars on the table!

Most employers expect candidates to negotiate, at the end of the day.  They just want things to be handled in respectful fashion and don’t look kindly on people who are demanding, arrogant, or play games with the process.  So shoot them straight and treat them as you’d ideally like to be treated, in return.  It’s “golden rule” stuff, like so much else in life!