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Negotiating A Job Offer

Word Count 1,109

Step One: Preparation
1. Before you can assess a job offer, you must make sure you have information about the market. Important research you should do:

  • Identify salary averages for your field and in your geographic area of interest.
  • Know what average salaries your peers received (i.e. those of Carnegie Mellon graduates with similar experiences).
  • Identify norms in your field as far as which things you can negotiate, and which things are non-negotiable such as health insurance or location.

Where can you find this information?: See the end of this career brief for resources. You can also network with your Career Consultant, faculty, internship supervisors, mentors, etc.

2. Identify and rank your value issues. This will help you remember that an offer is not just about salary, but it is also about what you value in a position. Issues may include:

Low Stress Level
Making Decisions
Mental Stimulation
Personal Growth
Helping Others
Physical Work Environment
Supervisory Style
Public Contact


3. Decide on the minimum amount of compensation that will make you satisfied - make it realistic with the type of job offered. Establish a budget and don't neglect to account for taxes taken out of your pay. There is no point in accepting an offer if you think you'll be unsatisfied and want to look for another job in the near future. If an employer refuses to meet or exceed this amount, it is to your advantage to keep looking.

Step Two: Know The Employer’s Compensation Guidelines
How does a job offer process develop? Although there are many ways that employers decide on the initial offer, they are typically presented from one of three different viewpoints. Companies fall into one of these three categories depending upon their attitude about salary and negotiation. Here are those various philosophies and what the difference might mean to you:

  1. Fixed Offer: This type of company will tell you that they carefully research the job market and they make a very fair and firm offer. You can negotiate all you want, but it won't do you any good. They operate on a take it or leave it basis so you may not want to waste your time negotiating.
  2. Pay-Grade System: This is a system in which a salary range has been set and you will be paid within this range based on your experience and the duties associated with the job. However, you can often negotiate within the salary range. The pay-grade system is the most common compensation system encountered.
  3. The Negotiator: This type of system is rare because most organizations work within a structure. In this framework, the employer will have the authority to raise or lower your salary without going through bureaucratic red tape. You can definitely negotiate with this type of organization.

Step Three: Salary & Benefit Negotiation
If an employer makes an offer that is below your expectation, you don't want to offend them so you might start the conversation by asking what the benefits include. To proceed, you might want to use one of the following approaches to begin the negotiation process:

Approach 1: "I am very interested in the position, but I would like to discuss the salary you are offering."

Approach 2: "I am very interested in your company. Thank you for the job offer. I wanted to know if the salary is negotiable?"
When using either approach, be certain to support your case by stating your skills, the average salary range for your level of experience in your field, and the average salaries for Carnegie Mellon graduates in your field. It is best to let the employer respond and then continue the discussion from his/her lead.
Based on an employer's compensation guidelines, you may not be able to negotiate a higher salary. However, you may be able to increase your compensation in benefits. Negotiable areas often include: vacation time (it's often increased for more senior employees), educational reimbursement, and salary review (you might negotiate a salary review after three months rather than six months or a year). Remember, you may be negotiating with the person who will be your supervisor. Stay polite. Try to make it a win-win situation.

Step Four: Assessing The Job Offer
Consider the pros and the cons of the offer. It may help to create a chart. A chart may also be helpful if you have had more than one offer and you want to compare and contrast the merits of each offer.

Here is a sample:

Company Reputation/Stability      
Health Insurance      
Job Responsibilities      
Paid Vacation      
Signing Bonus      
Stock Options      
SupervisorTraining/Professional Development      
Tuition Reimbursement      


Step Five: Get It In Writing
It would be nice if everything discussed would actually occur, but unfortunately it doesn't always happen that way. To avoid problems in the future, ask for a letter of employment which states all the employment conditions agreed upon, (i.e. salary and benefits as well as a thorough job description). This way, if there is confusion at a later date, you will have a written document to refer to stating the conditions under which you were hired. This document is especially important if the conditions of your employment differ from normal company policies.

A Final Word
Keep in mind that if you decide to negotiate, your job offer will not be rescinded by the employer - even if the employer decides not to negotiate. Also, if a position is acceptable to you as it is offered, you should not feel like you must negotiate.


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