Improve Your Negotiations With The 5 Golden Rules.   LEARN THEM

A law student of mine several years ago asked me for help in negotiating a salary with a law firm for whom he had worked the previous summer. He told me he loved the firm and wanted to accept its offer, but thought its starting salary was low.

So he asked – should he interview with other firms even though he was pretty sure he would ultimately accept the first firm’s offer. After asking him a bunch of questions to help him focus on whether the firm could satisfy his fundamental financial and nonfinancial interests, and to find out what other compensation-related issues might be on the table, here’s what I said.

Many of these same principles apply to those requesting raises.

Explore and improve your alternatives.

Interview away, I told him. Find out what alternatives exist if, for whatever reason, you decide not to accept their offer. Then take steps – such as interviewing – to turn those likely alternatives into valuable options.

The benefit? Assuming you get some other offers, and my student did, you’ll feel and act stronger and have more negotiation leverage when you enter the salary negotiation with the firm you really want.

For those going for a raise, while you may not (and oftentimes should not) interview, be aware that generally you will be negotiating from a weak standpoint because you don’t likely have much choice but to accept what they put on the table.

Ascertain your value using fair independent standards.

Another powerful tool to use revolves around your professional value as determined by fair independent standards. Find out the going market salary for similarly situated persons, i.e., similar corporate level, industry, geographic area, professional background and experience, etc.

How? Ask peers in the same field. Contact industry associations. Check salary surveys (see

If you want a raise, also find out what your boss considers the most “fair” standards and how he/she values your contributions. A documented list of your achievements during the past year? The amount of money you saved the company? Precedent? Tradition? Hours worked? Inflation?

Then, after you’ve found this information, use it in a nonthreatening fashion.

Take a problem solving, fact-based approach – and do it in person. Shy away from anger, threats, warnings, games, direct confrontation and extreme offers unsupported by facts and standards.

Instead, promote an atmosphere of trust consistent with valued long-term relationships. Then, relatively openly and honestly share the information you’ve found about the market value for someone in your position. Be cool, calm, respectful and show how it’s in the company’s best interests to provide you with what you want.

Meet in person, too. It’s more difficult to say no to someone’s face than in writing or on the phone.

Get them to make the first offer and practice your response.

Finally, as a general rule, avoid making the first offer as you may undervalue your services or contributions. Plus, choose your words carefully.

If you’re extremely uncomfortable asking for a raise – and many are – practice with a tape recorder. Consider using phrases like: “I’m interested in asking for a raise. How would you do that if you were me?” Or “I feel like I’m doing a good job here, and yet I understand I’m making less than my co-workers. What do I need to do to earn more?”

Then, prepare a response to their offer or counters. Interestingly, most simply respond with two letters: OK. If it’s an exceedingly fair offer based on your knowledge of independent standards, this might be the best response. On the other hand, “OK” might be the two most expensive letters in the alphabet. Try this instead: Repeat their offer and then go “hmmm.”

Appear contemplative. Then be silent. See what happens. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Let’s face it. No one likes to ask their boss for more money. It’s commonly viewed as one of our toughest negotiations.

That’s why many don’t even ask. They just accept – even though they likely deserve more. So next time, at the least, ask. My law student did. He’s now better off. You can be, too.

Published February 25, 2000 The Business Journal

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