Answer: Every negotiation I’ve ever read says that you can negotiate from strength IF you can walk away from the deal—IF you can ultimately say no. How can you adjust the terms of a job offer if you have no leverage and can’t afford to reject an offer? Here’s how to rethink the framework of your negotiating position.
The negotiation process that is normally assumed does not necessarily apply to a job offer. The normal approach is adversarial. You want as much as you can “win” and the hiring organization wants to offer the minimum that you will accept. That underlying assumption does not necessarily apply here, and it may take an enlightened explanation on your part to convince the hiring manager to adjust his thinking. My assumption is that the offer is for a permanent, hopefully, long-term assignment.
Here’s how I would frame the discussion. I would start by saying, “If you were hiring me for a short-term position, to solve a short-term problem, I could see where you would be looking to engage my services for the lowest cost. You might not see a reason to establish a long-term relationship. However, I think we both anticipate that I am joining the organization shortly and understand this negotiation is one of the first steps in building a respectful, productive and professional long-term relationship. I hope it will last for many years.”
The negotiation at this point becomes a discussion where both parties believe they have “won.” It is in their best interests to come to terms that are fair and equitable, where both are satisfied with the process and the communication with each other. That means the new hire will respect the company’s policies and organizational constraints, e.g. salary range limitations, vacation time-off policies and stock grants while the new hire will have his issues and financial requirements addressed. The process of listening and accommodation usually ends successfully for both parties.
The fact that you can’t turn the offer down doesn’t mean you can’t discuss details of the offer with your new supervisor or HR representative. It does mean that, immediately upon being given the offer, you indicate you are planning to accept it. However, you do want to discuss the terms and ask several questions. These can be for example, the salary review policy (if the offer is lower than desired initially) or can the salary can be increased or a sign-on bonus be considered to account for losses in benefits, etc. These items, if quantified, are the reason for sign-on bonuses and are frequently accommodated.
It is a very encouraging sign if your new employer does listen and makes an effort to respond to your needs. It is also an excellent signal that you graciously accept the terms, understanding that you have been listened to and this is the best effort at compromise. Hopefully, this conversation will leave the door open to future productive discussions once you have demonstrated your value to the organization.
You are not making any of these requests non-negotiable. Instead, you are exploring if there are ways to make the offer more attractive. If the answer is that there are very few items that can be adjusted, you are still able to accept the offer since you indicated you intended to work for the organization. There is no sense of losing face since this was resolved amicably.