How to negotiate a take-it-or-leave it job offer
Via LinkedIn : When Ellen Pao was CEO of Reddit, she banned bargaining over salaries at her company. “We provide offers at the high end,” she told an investment group, “and they are non-negotiable.”
The policy got some attention in the press but was quickly overshadowed by controversies over own her leadership, as well hateful content on the site. This past July Pao resigned (or was pushed out). But questions about non-negotiable offers remain:
- Why would a company institute such a policy
- Whom does it benefit?
- And what’s the best way for a job candidate to respond?
The first two questions are linked. We’ll look at them quickly, then focus on the third.
Gender equity was one of Pao’s motivations. The wage gap between men and women has been widely documented. And there is plenty of behavioral research that shows that men tend to negotiate more aggressively than women. Women who try similar tactics risk being labeled pushy (or worse).
Organizational culture comes into play, as well. Having a standard policy may dampen employee rivalries, suspicions, and resentments. On the other hand, my earlier post on salary transparency sparked a passionate debate among commentators, pro and con, about whether they would want to work for such an organization.
Whatever the merits from a company’s point of view, what about job candidates who get a take-it-or-leave-it offer? Here are three rules.
Don’t debate the policy. You’ll lose. Enough said.
Don’t negotiate (at least don’t seem to). This is a matter of optics. You don’t want the prospective employer to think you’re asking him or her to bend the rules. Avoid saying anything that sounds like you’re making a counteroffer. Likewise, while you should explain your interests and your goals, tread lightly so that your statements aren’t heard as demands.
Problem-solve instead. Straight salary may be off the table, but there are lots of other things that matter when taking on a new job. Some are economic (performance bonuses, options, a discretionary budget, etc.) If you raise these, frame them as being good for the company, not just for you.
Non-monetary items may be just as important—or more so. The start-date, promotion schedule, work assignments, and training opportunities should be on your list.
Address these holistically. Together with the employer, you should be figuring out what kind of resources will enable you to do a great job that generates high value for the company. Remember to express your enthusiasm and commitment. It may help you indirectly build a case for being moved into a higher paying slot. (By contrast, playing hard-to-get would subvert that message.)
In the end, I’m skeptical about the wisdom of policies that make job offers non-negotiable, no matter how well intended. Perhaps they are appropriate for well-defined jobs where there is a sufficient pool of similarly qualified candidates. Fairness matters in its own right, and perceived fairness matters, too.
In many situations, however, people bring different skills, experiences, and temperaments to the table. They also may have different needs and priorities. One-size-fits-all compensation plans stifle creative solutions that could benefit both the employer and the employee.
Professor Michael Wheeler teaches at the Harvard Business School.
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