How to negotiate a job offer

By Dawn Wotapka

Congratulations, you've received a job offer! You may get caught up in the moment and want to scream "Yes!" at the top of your lungs and accept the offer. However, resist that urge and get your game face on — even if the fit feels perfect. Why? In many cases, you can ask for more money or perks as you seal the deal.

"While the thought of negotiating may seem difficult, it is normal and expected," said Brandon Bramley, founder of The Salary Negotiator, a Seattle-based company that helps coach professionals through the job offer negotiation process. "You have leverage once you're selected as the right candidate."

Accounting is an in-demand skill, so any pay package needs to reflect the specialization you're bringing to the table. "We deal with sensitive and complex data to make sense of the financial status of individuals, firms, and businesses for them to make critical financial decisions," said Mark Stewart, an accountant for Step By Step Business, a resource for those starting a business. "You can negotiate a job offer if you feel like it doesn't compare to the value you will be giving."

If the thought of asking for more gives you jitters, here's a game plan you can follow:

Time it right. Wait until you have a firm job offer, said John Ricco, CPA (inactive), co-founder of the Manhattan-based Atlantic Group, a recruiting and temporary staffing firm that places accountants and finance professionals. "There's no point in negotiating terms for a job that you have only interviewed for, because this will give the wrong impression to your potential employer," he said.

In fact, Bramley warned, trying to negotiate too early could "detract from the interview process and cause you to miss out on a potential offer."

Do your research. To know what's fair, gather compensation data to understand the role's pay range and what peers in other companies earn, Bramley said. "Companies range drastically with their compensation structures and benefits," he said. "It's worth it to shop the market to find out what that role should pay."

You can ask trusted mentors or peers for guidance. In addition, "individuals can use multiple online resources, such as Payscale, Glassdoor, and Salary.com," Bramley said. Keep in mind that, while these sites are useful, the information is submitted anonymously, so there's no guarantee it is accurate. Also, "they provide compensation reported by current or past employees, so the pay may differ from what [companies] offer new employees," he pointed out. 

Specifically, learn about the employer and its pay structure, Stewart said. "This is how you would know what pay range your experience fits into," he said.

Understand the entire offer. Don't get stuck on the salary number. Instead, understand the total package, including paid time off, retirement matching, health care, bonuses, and other benefits, which can be quite valuable. For example, if an employer covers the entire health care premium, that could add thousands of dollars to your take-home pay each year. (Multiple online tools can help you figure this out easily.) "Understand and look at the total compensation," Bramley said. "This is important because it allows you to calculate true annual income and compare compensation across companies."

Sell yourself. Justification is key, said New York City-based Mark Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. "Just saying 'I want x more dollars' isn't helpful. You want more, the company wants to give less," he said. "Provide a reason for why you deserve that money. Now, the company needs to address the justification, and you can see if you're on the same page about it."

Treat the negotiation as if you're asking for an investment, "which is what your potential employer should be thinking about, too," Ricco said. "An employee is hired to bring financial value to the company, so they want to be convinced that you will provide a substantial return for their investment in you," he explained. Present a clear idea of what you will bring and how much of a financial impact you can make.

Confidently list your achievements and how you can help the employer reach its goals faster or receive better-than-expected results and be prepared to answer follow-up questions, Stewart said. As you make your case, avoid words including "maybe" or "I think" "because they make you look uncertain about your skills, expertise, and value," he added.

Stand firm. According to Bramley, he's been able to negotiate more compensation for clients almost 95% of the time. But if the employer won't increase its offer, don't be afraid to move on, he said. "Interviewing can be difficult and time-consuming, but just because you land a job offer doesn't mean you have to take it and that it will be the only opportunity for you."

Negotiating is a key skill that can be used time and time again as you move up the corporate ladder. "Everyone needs to learn to negotiate, and doing so will help them throughout their career," Herschberg said.

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com

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