Are You Prepared to Negotiate Your Employment Contract? Read This to Find Out

Learning to negotiate for yourself is a challenge you will face throughout your career. We represent executives who negotiate for others all the time; yet, when they negotiate for their own careers, they leave important details. Far too often, I see them underestimate their value, struggle to develop an effective strategy to negotiate compensation, and fail to define their responsibilities.

In general, women don’t negotiate compensation. One study of graduating MBA students found that half of the men had negotiated their job offers compared to just one-eighth of the women. Women, in particular, struggle with a number of negotiation myths that haunt us.

We are either too amicable to push for the best deal, or labeled too aggressive when we fail to define equity participation or responsibilities. And if women don’t negotiate an employment offer, we’re viewed as a less desirable candidate—all because we avoided negotiation.

In addition, women face many more challenges when negotiating for higher pay—many encounter backlash and prejudice for behaving counter-stereotypically.

Preparing for a Negotiation

Do you feel prepared to negotiate your employment contract? Here’s the thing: Rarely is anyone, regardless of how accomplished, fully prepared.

When I advise senior executives, I press for answers to important questions that will govern the negotiation. In this article, I’m sharing a few key pillars to consider when it comes to your Employment Agreement:

  1. Why is the company hiring? Are they replacing someone? Are they adding a position? Is there some form of restructuring or change being considered?
  2. What is the context? Large public company or family-owned? Private equity?  Is the business successful or struggling? Make a minimum of 10 calls to find out more information about the company and its leadership. Are they looking to merge? Are they buying or selling?
  3. Research the company leadership. What is their personal and professional reputation and background? Is the founder still active? Who sits on the Board?
  4. Gauge the company culture. What is the temperament of the organization? Is it a demanding or relaxed atmosphere? Are employees and officers enthusiastic about their job and their future?
  5. Who is the ultimate decision-maker? Determine who has the authority to make a decision regarding your negotiation. This is a key step that many miss—however, this information informs the process. Is there a board or a senior officer that must approve whatever agreement you make in your negotiation? Is there an entity that might second guess or try to make a better deal?
  6. Who are you negotiating with? The best negotiators will recognize an individual’s unique toolkit during a negotiation. I always ask clients what they know about the person sitting across the table. Are they known for being creative? Perhaps impatient or explosive? Understanding the person you’re negotiating with will enable you to strategically move forward—with great success.
  7. What are the short-term and long-term goals of your employer? Are they selling or acquiring? Is there an IPO in their future? Are they growing or cutting back?

Preparing for an Upcoming Negotiation

Control the agenda

You should prepare an agenda for every call or conversation. What do you want to accomplish with each call? Is there an opportunity to share or receive information? Do you want to convey a message informally or suggest a new direction? I recommend preparing an in-depth agenda for every contact you will have with your counterparts.

Finding useful information

When I share these tactics, I am often asked how to obtain this information and make these connections. Your professional network is critical—do you have any connections to former or current employees? You can also seek public information from bankers or stockbrokers on the organization’s reputation. Consider a simple internet search for prior and current news. And remember, competitors accrue important information for their own business needs.

Determine your goals

What constitutes a successful negotiation for you? Identify and set precise goals to help you determine what works and how flexible you can be during the negotiation process. Similarly: What’s the best alternative?

Questions on preparing for your next negotiation?

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