Negotiation 101

As a freshly minted IT graduate, you’re in the know, at least academically. You’ve been schooled in all the newest techniques, played with all the hottest technology and researched all the latest trends in the business. But chances are you’re not quite as savvy when it comes to one of the older tricks in the book: the skill of negotiating.

When you enter the workforce, the reality of having and maintaining a job sets in: You’ll acquire a salary, benefits and, someday, pay raises. Yet no degree can prepare you for the task of ascertaining and defending your own worth.

Liz Benuscak, director of business development at Strategy Leaders Inc., a consultancy based in New York, said the most important thing for new grads is — ironically — to do their homework.

“It’s a matter of coming into a position from a place of empowerment rather than disempowerment,” she said. “If you give somebody hard, fast numbers, it makes a huge difference.”

That said, relevant market data is difficult to come by when negotiating your first salary out of school. You have very little to go on apart from your just printed diploma. Benuscak recommended new grads ask themselves, “What do you bring to the table that’s different from somebody else?” One potential answer may be internships, community service and other projects.

Drawing from these previous experiences, job candidates should think about challenges they faced, actions they took and results they achieved — a sequence Benuscak calls the “CAR statement” (from challenges, actions and results). They then should be prepared to discuss these experiences in their interviews.

Candidates also should try to work with potential employers to get all the salary and benefits details figured out before they accept a job, Benuscak said. “You want to negotiate all of this stuff upfront so that you’re happy when you sign on the dotted line, as opposed to walking in there saying, ‘They’re never going to give me what I want,’” she said.

When you’ve logged in your time and you’re ready to ask for your first raise, keep in mind that employers are going to be most concerned about the company’s bottom line, Benuscak said. So if you can prove that your contribution has outweighed the cost of hiring you, you’ll have some leverage.

“To get an employee trained through the learning curve is an extremely expensive process,” she said. “To give an employee something that’s going to make them happy, when you compare it to what it would cost you to replace that employee, is cost-effective.”

The best way to prove your worth to an employer is to get a copy of your last performance evaluation, look at what objectives the company set for you, how you met — or, better yet, exceeded — them and how you’ve increased revenue, Benuscak said. In a nutshell: Deliver a powerful, well researched CAR statement using your experience at the organization.

Also, consider the timing of the meeting and the sensibilities of your supervisor when planning a pay raise talk.

“If your boss is a crab before [he or she has] had [his or her] coffee, stay away,” said Benuscak, recommending in such instances to shoot for a more opportune time. While your employer’s corporate culture will guide you in deciding whether to schedule a meeting in advance or stop by unannounced, it’s important to be prepared — and flexible. Gauge the situation and be ready to change your plans if necessary.

The same goes for your expectations: Always be open-minded. “While money is always the first thing on everybody’s minds, there are other things that you can ask for if you’re looking for a raise,” Benuscak said. “They might be able to give you comp time or create a flexible schedule for you or give you perks with vendors, [which] sweetens the deal.”

– Agatha Gilmore, agilmore@certmag.com

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