NEGOTIATION TIPS

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Negotiating is very hard, especially for people whose work is also their passion. Passionate workers tend to undervalue their skills, have a mindset that they’re “just happy to be here”, and are worried that any negotiations will jeopardize their offer (which is very untrue). Companies, whose main goals are to min max expenses and profits, take advantage of these worker’s lack of negotiation skills. But have no fear! Like any skill you can improve your negotiating with tips, tricks, and practice! My hope is that through this article I will help give you some tools to better negotiate your offers and get compensated fairly for the hard work you do.

Why should you listen to my advice? Idk man, but I’ll tell you a story…
When I was little my dad used to read me a book before I went to sleep. At around age 2 he finished the book and said it’s time for bed. I begged him to keep reading and said I didn’t want to go to sleep, and that I wasn’t tired, but he didn’t budge. It was time for bed. It wasn’t until I paused….looked him in the eye and said “Just…ONE more book?” He was so proud I had negotiated with him, that he read me the extra book. I wonder if I could’ve gotten away with asking for two more books instead of just one?

PRE OFFER TIPS:

These tips should be done before you get an offer. For each different position and studio location they should be done again from scratch. I usually do this before or after a test or interview.

1. RESEARCH

  • What is the average pay for the role you’re being asked to perform?
    • Look online (glassdoor is a good start)
    • Ask your peers/coworkers what they get/got paid for the position you’re applying for (don’t push, not everyone is comfortable disclosing)
    • Check the location the studio is in
      • Pay can fluctuate not only by title, but by studio location and the cost of living of the area
  • What are the company’s resources?
    • If it’s an indie studio, you need to keep in mind they have less resources at their disposal. Though this is not a reason to be paid an unlivable wage.
    • If it’s a larger studio, they tend to have larger budgets and more resources
      • They may potentially be more strict about pay caps for different titles – more corporate career structure.

2. YOUR PLAN

  • What are your expenses?
    • Do you have to move for this job? Can they help relocate?
    • What is your rent/cost of living for the location you will be working? Utilities?
      • Cost of living (CoL) varies from city to city and state to state. You need to know your CoL for each studio and position you apply for. This may require lots of work beforehand in researching apartments, gas prices etc.
    • Do you have loans and other bills to maintain? How much do they cost you per month?
    • Cost for food/gas/entertainment/etc.
      • As an even more general tip – I keep a spreadsheet for my expenses so I can refer to that when negotiating and also just generally maintaining my finances
  • What is the least amount of money you need to get to survive based on your expense calculations?
  • What is the amount of money you need for moderate comfort?
  • What is your “pie in the sky” number?
    • For example// You need at least $30/hr to live moderately comfortably. You’re offered $25/hr. You ask for $35/hr. (“pie in the sky”, but also not a ridiculous number. You might get it!) You’re given $30/hr. This is your moderate comfortable living number anyway, so you still got what you needed. You could consider continuing to push, but at least you’ve already gotten further than the base offer.
    • Another example// When I was a kid I wanted to dye my hair but my dad was strictly against it. Because I knew he’d say no, I decided to start by asking for something I knew he’d never ever say yes to – a tattoo. When he said no to the tattoo I said “well what if instead I dye my hair? It’s not permanent like a tattoo”. I negotiated something wild (“pie in the sky”) down to what I really was aiming for.
  • Know your daily, hourly and yearly salary rates
    • Different companies use different metrics. If you’re caught off guard ask for time to do some math (see below tip #5 mid negotiation for more info)
  • Take notes during all negotiations and date those notes, especially if negotiations are via phone or in person
    • This way you can always refer back to a date/time/person if numbers were agreed upon

3. YOUR TALENTS

  • Evaluate your strengths. List out what makes you a valuable employee
    • Are you fast? Are you technical? Can you take on extra responsibilities? Are you good at coaching juniors? Are you good at documentation?
  • All companies want to make a profit. To do that they need your skills and expertise. Frame your negotiations on how giving you more money/a title increase will benefit THEM. This is your easiest path to success. Negotiations are a compromise, think of what the company wants out of hiring you as well.

4. WRITE A SCRIPT

  • If you get nervous asking for money (like me!) write a script with your main talking points.
    • This can be as general as bullet points or as specific as lines/phrases you want to remember or emphasize. Even for in person negotiations I keep a journal of notes with me that can include some numbers & talking points.
      • As a general rule – try not to read line by line in front of people, it comes across as not genuine even if that’s unintentional. I usually practice lines or phrases that matter to me, and then during talks I’ll skim over them to recall and then recite them with eye contact.
  • Practice your script! Get used to asking your salary out loud, get used to saying your bullet points or key phrases. Say them to family, a friend or your pets! Practice makes perfect.

MID-NEGOTIATION TIPS:

These tips are helpful once you’ve begun (or are about to begin) the negotiation phase. If you’ve completed a test or interview, I recommend reading through these to prep for the negotiation phase. Some studios will call you, tell you you’ve got an offer, and expect some negotiations on the spot. Make sure you know these tips beforehand and don’t get caught unprepared!

1. USE OTHER OFFERS AS LEVERAGE

  • Don’t be afraid to use other offers as leverage, but be sensitive and humble for maximum success
    • For example// “x company” offered me 10K more/year. Even though I would much rather work for your company, I have a lot of student loans to deal with at the time. Is there any way we can match that offer or surpass it? I’d much rather work at a company that feels like a perfect match, versus making a decision out of financial necessity. 
      • What works about the above example is that it’s not framed as greed or ego. You’re flaunting the other offer, but in a sneaky way. You’ve framed the money as wanting to make your life comfortable enough so that you can do hard but rewarding work for a company/project that you’re passionate about. 
    • As a junior or mid level this is a great strategy to boost your worth more than just your resume. However, if you’re above a mid level, be tactful. You don’t want to make it seem like you’re going to jump ship because of all your offers. The higher your title the more important retention is for the company. Your shoes are harder to fill if you are just jumping from offer to offer.

2. NEGOTIATION IS A GIVE & TAKE – COMPROMISE

  • Know what’s most important to you in an offer & what you’re flexible about. 
    • For example// You’re offered $25/hr and a junior title. You ask for $35/hr, but that’s not in the range that they pay juniors. You say you’re confident that you can do the work of a mid title, and if they give you the chance you’ll work very hard and they will not regret the decision. They offer $30 and the mid title. While you could definitely consider pushing for the $35, they did concede some pay AND a title upgrade (which is very beneficial for a resume). Ultimately you need to know what matters most. Do you have other offers? Can you push them further? Or are you happy with the compromise? What matters most? Title or pay or both? There is no wrong answer, but these options should constantly be weighed in your mind.

3. STAND UP FOR YOURSELF

  • If you’re getting an offer don’t forget that they like your work and they like you! Hiring is a time consuming, expensive process. If a company can afford to make you happy or comfortable, it’s usually a better investment to do so, rather than picking a candidate that came behind you but wants a slightly lower salary.
    • It doesn’t look good when a recruiter loses a highly desired applicant because you couldn’t agree over money.
  • It’s very rare that a company will take back an offer because you asked for more pay or a title increase. Typically, this will only happen if you ask for a pay or title obviously outrageously outside the realm that they posted the opening for, and even then they’re extremely likely to negotiate with you a bit before doing anything rash. So don’t be afraid to ask for more!
  • If you know that what you’re asking for is reasonable, stand your ground
    • For example// You know someone who works at the company for the same title you’re getting, and is making $40/hr. You ask for $40 and the negotiator laughs. Don’t back down! Let them properly counter the offer.

4. CONSIDER OTHER BENEFITS

  • If you seem to be stuck in negotiations, think of other ways you can benefit! Perhaps a title increase? Or extra pto days? Or signing bonus? Etc.
  • 401K, full-time vs. contract, work visa and other benefits are important expenses that the company makes for you. HOWEVER…10 days of PTO and health benefits doesn’t pay your rent. No matter how nice benefits are, make sure your salary is still fair and liveable.
  • Actually do the math. If they say that they won’t give $5K more per year because they offer 10 days of PTO, you can actually calculate how much money those 10 days of PTO are worth. Does the math on their negotiations actually work out? You can use the hard numbers to your advantage when negotiating.
  • “With overtime you will make your target salary” does NOT equal getting your target salary. If crunch ends, can you still pay your bills or will you hemorrhage money?
  • If you get stuck in negotiations, use other benefits as ways of reaching common ground. Once you find common ground, it can be easier to reapproach other negotiations.

5. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR TIME TO THINK

  • You do NOT need to accept an offer on the spot!
  • If they REALLY want you to answer on the spot…
    • Tell them you need to do some math / check your bills / talk to your partner. 
    • If they’re still pushing for an answer, give them a concrete date that you’ll get back to them by. “I’ll get back to you by Friday – that should give me plenty of time to check my finance numbers and talk to my partner”.
  • If you are ever caught without having done your salary research never just throw out a number just because you feel pressured. By doing this you’re creating a price anchor which can cause you some problems. You’re at risk that your number is below market value, or below your liveable threshold.

6. TEMP VS. FULLTIME

  • If the offer is temporary, don’t be afraid to ask if they have a path to full time
    • “Are there goals I can set & meet to improve my chances of being converted to full time?”
      • Not really for HR negotiations, but if you talk to your lead pre hire this is a very good thing to bring up early on.
      • This is also applicable if they’re on the fence about a title upgrade, but only if that is clear during discussions

7. ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK THAT THE CONTRACT OFFER MATCHES WHAT YOU AGREED UPON!

  • Speak up if it’s not the same! Have notes/email exchanges that include the agreed upon offer so you can reference them during negotiations

8.THINK OF POST NEGOTIATION RELATIONSHIPS

  • A recruiter may just be there for the hiring process & you rarely see them again, so you don’t have to feel strange about pushing your negotiations. A lead you will have to work with everyday, so you want to keep a good relationship with them. Know the motivations of who you’re talking to & what your relationship with them needs to be at the end of negotiations.

9. MEDIUM MATTERS

  • In Person Negotiations
    • In person conversations don’t give you time to mull over your response. You should have everything prepared ahead of time. I keep a small journal with me that I use to reference bullet points or numbers. I find as long as I’m not reading like a script, it’s not a big deal and is very helpful.
    • However, in person gives you the most social context. You’re able to see body language, hear the inflection of their voice and get a good grip on social cues that can help you guide the conversation in your favor.
  • Phone Negotiations
    • Phone calls also don’t give you time to think about your responses, you should come prepared to these conversations similar to if they were in person. The benefit is that you can read from your notes as much as needed and not worry about them seeing.
    • While you can’t see body language, you can still hear inflection in the voice. Keep your social skills sharp to gauge how the other party is feeling. This is all useful information as you tango your way through negotiations
    • You can also do interesting tactics via voice, like throwing out various numbers just to test reaction, even if you know they can’t give you concrete actions.
  • Email Negotiations
    • The obvious benefit of email negotiations is that you can really think about your messages. You can take your time responding, and be very precise with how you want to come across. I recommend reading your emails out loud to keep them sounding natural and human (and to catch spelling errors!)
    • The downside of email is that you can not gauge the other party via visual or verbal social cues. I’m usually more on my toes about using polite language, and really explaining myself the way I would in person. I find this gives me a sense of humanity, approachability and honesty. 
    • Sometimes text can come across as cold or firm if you’re not careful.This can also be good if you know exactly what you want and are willing to walk if you don’t get it.
  • Keep in mind where your strengths lie. If you do better in writing but are pressured in a phone call, ask for their email and if you can get back to them in a few days – and then follow up via email. If you’re better via phone and get approached via email, mention that a phone call is easiest for you and see if they can accommodate. It can’t hurt to ask.

GENERAL TIPS:

These tips are helpful at any time! You should always keep them in mind, and are helpful for all levels.

  • Talk to your peers about pay transparency! It helps EVERYONE!
  • Check that the responsibilities they expect from you = the title & pay they’re offering
  • Know your worth. If you don’t value your time and skills, no one else will.
  • Fake it until you make it. If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, don’t forget that you have an offer already! They like you and your work! If all else fails, pretend like you’re negotiating for a friend instead of yourself.
  • Walk away if the offer is clearly not right for you! Think of it like a relationship. If you get into a committed relationship that is clearly not right, it’s doomed to fail.
  • DO NOT DO WORK BEFORE SIGNING A CONTRACT! EVER! EVER EVER!
  •  Be human, and remember that you’re talking to another human on the other end of negotiations. Sure, they may represent a company, but they’re still a person underneath it all. Speak with emotion. If you’re too cold and calculated you may not seem like someone they want to keep around. Even if you’re asking for more money, you want to seem excited about this new opportunity.
  • Begin marketing yourself BEFORE you’re looking for a new job. This can be going to conferences, giving talks, meeting other industry folks, etc. It can also be as simple as marketing yourself on social media such as twitter or linked in. If you are enforcing your worth elsewhere, word travels. Also, these are great places to make connections who can potentially vouch for your skills or personality later on.
    • For example // say you’re very persistent about sharing work and knowledge on linkedin. A recruiter or lead may see you more often on their timeline and their perception of you and your work is changed relative to someone who does not do this. 
  • Think longterm, think upward. It’s not often you should decrease your title or salary, though there are a few exceptions, such as if you think it’ll be more reliable, more fulfilling, and/or more stable longterm. 
  • There are no easy answers for negotiations. No one size fits all solution. Everyone’s situations are different. None of these tips or tricks will be bulletproof, and many rely on keen social awareness as you navigate your negotiation conversations. As with everything, practice makes perfect and negotiations are the same.

A big big thank you to Liam Murphy (@LiamMurphywip), Stephanie Hurlburt (@sehurlburt), and Chris Bullock (@blakboks) for contributing to these tips. To Chesney Lattuga (@RiotMoosey), Robert Brown (@brwnbearr_), and my Mom for editing and making sure this all makes sense. And to Ju Li Khaw (@Juleshortstuff) and everyone else at AnimState for giving me this platform to post on! Please feel free to reach me on twitter (@Emily_x_Juliet) if you have any questions, comments etc. Good luck!

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