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Negotiating Your Best Offer

October 27, 2009
by Tim Tolan
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When it's time to accept or reject a final job offer, the art of the deal comes into play

After weeks of interviewing and having trusted people in your network vouch for your work ethic, leadership skills and character, it's time to negotiate the job offer. To some, it's a frightening experience, while to others, it's a game. In either case, you want to make sure the outcome is a “win-win” for both parties.

Some key points to remember the next time you are front and center, staring at a job offer with the possibility of moving on to greener pastures:

Make Sure You Are Committed: During this pre-employment courtship, hopefully you have learned as much about your prospective employers as they have tried to learn about you. Make sure you have a comfort level with the organization, and its values and culture. You should know by now if there is chemistry between you and the person you will be reporting to. If any of these items are in question, you need to think long and hard before making the commitment.

Remove All Emotion: This is a business decision for you and your family, and it should never be based on emotion. Deal with factual data as you evaluate the offer. Know the salary range for someone in your position by reading HCI's “2009 Compensation Survey: Salaries and Benefits of Healthcare IT Professionals.” Know the high and low range of the salary to gauge where you fit based on your experience and your geographical market. The person making the offer has usually done the homework and knows what needs to be offered in order to get you on board.

Avoid an Immediate Reaction: This is a major decision for you, and you do not need to respond immediately to a written or verbal offer. Usually the offer has some deadline for acceptance, so take your time. Also, you should discuss this with your family and review the offer in its entirety. Make sure the economic value exchange is good for both parties and be prepared to discuss any shortfalls. Ask questions after the offer has been presented, and make sure you get all of your questions answered before you respond.

The Details: A verbal offer is usually a “trial close” by the search consultant or the hiring manager to gauge your reaction before a written offer is presented. Politely thank the person making the verbal offer and let them know you need to see the offer in writing before you can respond. They will understand. Once you get the offer, make sure you understand the major points, including:

  • Title

  • Responsibilities

  • Reporting structure

  • Salary and bonus (should clearly define how you earn any variable compensation)

  • Start date and reporting location

  • Benefits (health and life insurance, 401K, deferred compensation, relocation details, etc.)

Counter Offer: This can be uncomfortable for some, but if you are unhappy with the offer as presented, this is the time to let them know - not three weeks or three months later. I recommend you understand all of the components of the offer and try to tackle the “non-negotiables” first. If the salary and variable compensation are not in line with your expectations or industry data, start there. You could say, “I think we are close on the salary, but my expectations based on industry data, my expertise and what I bring to the table are that my salary should be more in the range of $__ (fill in the blank).” If there is an issue of increasing the salary in the offer, a signing bonus can usually resolve it. If you currently have 30 days of personal time off and the offer is less, ask for more. If you can't start your new job for 30 days due to commitments you have with your current employer, or if you had planned to take vacation with your family, change the start date.

Saying No: If you can't come to terms, politely thank them for their time and consideration. Follow up in writing to every person involved in the process. It's a small industry we serve. By doing the right thing, you will keep your good name and reputation intact. Who knows, maybe they will contact you again under different circumstances.

Acceptance: Once you declare your acceptance, be prepared to live with what you agreed to. Your word is everything. That's non-negotiable.

Healthcare Informatics 2009 November;26(11):37