Tips on negotiating job offers and raises from a professor who wrote a book about it

Charles Naquin is an organization behaviorist and associate professor of management at DePaul. (Image courtesy of Driehaus College of Business)
Charles Naquin is an organization behaviorist and associate professor of management at DePaul. (Image courtesy of Driehaus College of Business)
This story originally appeared in "Business Exchange," a blog published by Driehaus College of Business. Find more information about career advising at the DePaul Career Center​.

Whether you are a recent graduate about to enter the job market or an alumnus looking for a raise or new employment opportunities, one of the most important skills you need to master is negotiation. We asked Driehaus College of Business associate professor of management Charles E. Naquin, an organizational behaviorist and co-author of “The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want,” for advice that will tip the job negotiation scale in your favor.

How should I respond when they ask how much I expect to make?

Generally speaking, don’t answer this question. Instead, you should respectfully deflect. A key word here is respectfully. A job negotiation should never be antagonistic. However, you do want to deflect because answering this question typically never helps you and can actually hurt you. So, don’t play that game - instead, respectfully deflect. Here are some examples:

“I’m getting my MBA so my prior salary doesn’t matter.”
“I’m switching industries so my prior salary should not be considered.”
“What I’m making does not matter so much, what I would like is to be paid competitively to my peers.”

You get the picture - respectfully deflect and have a few responses in your back pocket. This is a question you will likely have to address on multiple occasions during the same interaction.

Will I offend my future boss/employer because I am negotiating the job offer?

That’s a myth. Keep it respectful, not antagonistic, and you should be fine. In fact, it is more likely that your future employer will respect you even more if you negotiate because you are obviously business savvy.

What do employers dislike about job negotiations?

Most employers making job offers expect you to negotiate and many will actually offer a starting salary lower than what they expect to actually pay you because they anticipate you’ll negotiate it to a higher level. Therefore, employers typically expect negotiations and they don’t dislike them. What they do tend to dislike are protracted job negotiations, so keep it short, or someone who pits one job offer against another, so don’t do that.

What is the biggest error that people make in job negotiations?

I would say the biggest error I see in job negotiations from a candidate’s perspective is negotiating before you even have an offer in hand. There are a number of reasons why you do not want to start negotiating before you get a written offer. Among them is that a verbal offer is easy to withdraw, while a written offer is not. In addition, once you get a written offer, the nature of the interaction changes - your potential employer switches from “who should I make an offer to” to “how do we get you to sign.”

What is the next biggest error you see in job negotiations?

The second biggest mistake is negotiating the job package over email - or worse yet, texting - when face-to-face is a viable option. Arranging a face-to-face meeting is often more work than emailing or texting, but the dynamics in face-to-face job negotiations tend to work to your advantage while the dynamics of email or texting tend to work to your disadvantage. Again, this is true in job negotiations, but is not true for all negotiations.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. A person will have a harder time declining your requests when they are face-to-face with you than if they were looking at your requests on a computer screen. In addition, it sends the message that you place a high priority on this job opportunity if you take the time to meet face-to-face.

I once had a student fly from Chicago to Kansas City for what ended up being a 15-minute conversation about a job package, and ended up with several thousand dollars more in salary. Would this have happened over the phone? Maybe, but a jump in base salary in the thousands paid for that trip many times over and increased the odds of getting a favorable response. That investment in time and airfare for a face-to-face meeting was a worthy investment in my mind.

As an example, offer to take your potential employer for a cup of coffee and have a face-to-face conversation about the job offer. Negotiating job packages face-to-face is to your advantage, so take the time to set up a meeting.

What is your advice for asking for a raise?

That is a common question when I talk to alumni. People who have been working for a number of years may come to realize they are getting paid less than the market wage. Naturally, they want to know how to get a raise - at least get paid what the going market wage is. Is there a way to do this? Well, let me be upfront here - negotiating a new job offer is much easier than getting a raise internally in an organization. Internally there are many restrictions - whether it is administrative, such as caps on raises, or political, such as your boss does not like you. Here is the best strategy to take, in the sense that it is generally the one that is most likely to work - change companies. When you switch companies your salary tends to be reset to market wage.

What if you don’t want to change companies, do you have advice on getting a raise?

That is a complex issue that cannot be covered properly in a forum like this Q&A, but there are a few things you should know that can be helpful. First, for you to get a big raise you should make sure you are on good terms with your boss. If not, forget it - look for another position, whether internal or external. Second, figure out where you are salary wise in the company. Often companies will have a range of salaries for each level, often called bands. Find out where you are in your band. This knowledge will help when you talk with your boss about what it takes move up in the band, or if you are at the top of the band, discuss with your boss what it will take to go to the next level and higher band.