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Professor Wheeler Offers ECs Tips for Negotiating Offers

The letter has arrived in the mail. You distinguish it immediately from the run-of-the-mill bills and bank statements which usually clutter the mailbox. It feels heavy, the envelope is of good quality, and everything about it screams professionalism. This is it. After months of tortuous interview practices and weeks of dragging yourself from interview to interview mouthing the same inane few things about why you love banking/consulting/fill in the blank, you have reached the end of the tunnel. You have the job offer in your hand, irrevocable and secure.

If you thought the job hunting process has ended, chances are that you have not thought about the terms of your offer. Are the terms what you expected them to be? What can you negotiate and what should be left well alone? Professor Wheeler, who teaches an EC class in Advanced Negotiation, spent an hour last Tuesday reviewing the basics of negotiation and answering questions from ECs looking to improve on their offers. While he acknowledges that it has been years since he has had to negotiate a job offer himself, nonetheless he is keen for ECs to have thought through some of the issues before plunging into actual negotiations

Of the seven key elements of negotiation-interests, alternatives, options, legitimacy, commitments, relationship and communication, Prof Wheeler believes that the most important may be interests. “Unless one knows exactly what one’s interests are, negotiating will be useless no matter how skillful a negotiator one may be,” he stressed. Interests may range from the basic compensation package to bonuses, location and job description. He urged students to invest time in thinking through exactly what we want and construct a matrix of our interests as mapped against our alternatives.

Prof Wheeler also touched on the importance of understanding the other side as much as possible. “Ask questions,” he urged, “don’t be afraid of betraying ignorance or fear.” He continued, “Listen deeply, not only about what is being said but how it is said. Watch for nonverbal cues.” He also suggested ‘going to the balcony’, taking a helicopter view once in a way to see where the conversation is going so you can plan your next move without being too caught up in the immediate details in front of you.

Prof Wheeler debunked the myth that there is a tradeoff between your future relationship with your employer and the economic value of the deal, i.e. your final compensation package. What really matters in terms of the state of the employer relationship is the level of professionalism you display in your negotiations, not how low a package you were willing to accept. However, Prof Wheeler also stressed the importance of keep the ethical level high throughout the process. “You define yourself by what you say or do in every situation,” he said. He suggested using various checkpoints as the way to benchmark behavior, for instance by asking if you would have been comfortable sharing what you were doing with your best friend, spouse or children.

One of the most important issues plaguing each of us in negotiating our offers is how much information we should reveal of our BATNA to the other party. Prof Wheeler repeatedly urged us to be open, reminding us that our negotiating counterparts are people we need to work with eventually and it is important to establish trust. He suggested laying out all the issues upfront instead of negotiating each one in sequential order. This allows more creative options to be created, while creating the impression that you are reasonable and upfront.

Lastly, Prof Wheeler reminds us that there is no prescriptive formula for negotiating offers. It is important for you to help your negotiating counterparty find ways in which they can justify making exceptions for your package. With any luck, you will succeed in crafting a story for why you are worth the effort.

December 4, 2006
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