UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Negotiating Job Offers in a Difficult Job Market


Over the last year or so, many people have asked me if they should even try to negotiate a job offer they receive in this difficult job market. Some feel as though they are lucky even to receive an offer and that they should quickly accept it before the employer changes his/her mind. Others are contemplating negotiating their offer but are feeling much more gun shy then they ever did when times were better. They would like to negotiate some aspect of the offer but recognize that they may be in a “buyer’s market” and must be careful. Is there a right way to proceed? As maddening as this may sound, the answer depends on several factors: the length of your job search and reality of your financial situation, the competitive realities of the position you are seeking, and the value and uniqueness of your skills and experience. Perhaps the most important factor is the manner in which you conduct the conversation.

Beware the long, long, long, long winding road. If your job search has gone on for many months and you have received no interviews or job offers, you may be tempted to accept any job offer you receive out of fear that no others will come your way. While this may be tempting, you still should be careful about accepting a job if you are convinced that the salary is in no way sufficient to allow you to meet your financial obligations and responsibilities or if the role is nothing close to what you want. You may want to cobble (or continue to cobble) together several part-time or temporary roles or contract assignments that will allow you to meet your obligations and continue to search for the right position. If your job search has been extremely unsuccessful for a long period of time, you should seek advice. I know a Director of Alumni and Executive MBA Career Management that would be very willing to talk to you….

Understand the pressing needs of the company/industry and the uniqueness of your skills. Even in a struggling economy, some positions are in demand. If you bring a very unique skill set to the job (rare or specific language fluency, hard to find certifications, or a proficiency in state of the art software used in the industry), your bargaining position could certainly be enhanced. If this is not the case, remember that there are probably several (or many) highly qualified candidates that could be hired if you don’t want the job and conduct yourself accordingly.

Be careful what you ask for and how you ask for it. Don’t even think about trying to negotiate until you have received a job offer, preferably in writing. Once the employer has decided that you are the best thing since “sliced bread,” you are in a much stronger position. It is now time to remember these suggestions that can help:

  • Understand the “negotiation culture” of the company before discussing your offer. If possible, talk with current employees or network through the career advisor network to learn about past practices or current guidelines that may be in place at the company.
  • Seek to understand all aspects of your offer. This could include your contributions for items like health insurance and 401K plans, and potential flexible work arrangements to name just a few. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and gather more details.
  • Eliminate the word “negotiate” from your vocabulary. Ask if you can arrange a meeting or phone call to discuss potential flexibility in your offer. Emphasize that you are excited about the offer and really want this to work.
  • Don’t try to negotiate many aspects of the offer. Pick one or two that are most important to you. When providing a counter-offer, provide a range rather than a specific figure. Respect the realities of the current economy and don’t ask for the moon.
  • Don’t poison the environment you wish to join. Conduct yourself in all discussions in a manner that will reinforce and validate the company’s decision to hire you.
  • If the salary cannot be changed, ask for an early performance/salary review (within six months of starting)
  • Be realistic about your “drop dead” compensation needs or key aspects of the offer and be prepared to say no if they cannot be met.