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Negotiating Job Offers in Scary Times

How should students navigate the job market and negotiating their salaries? Moshe Cohen, senior lecturer of Management & Organizations and author of Collywobbles, How to Negotiate When Negotiating Makes You Nervous, gives his career coaching tips for upcoming college graduates.

For many students, this is job hunting season, and while you might be excited at the prospect of getting an offer from a company you like, you might also be nervous, not knowing how to respond once you have the offer in hand.

If you ask career counselors and negotiation advisors, the overwhelming advice is that you should try to negotiate with the hopes of improving the offers you get. Numerous studies have shown that statistically, by negotiating, you can increase your lifetime earnings by substantial amounts and that by not negotiating your starting package, you can harm your career and limit your success.

So why is it that so many students refrain from negotiating and instead accept their starting offers at face value? When I work with part-time MBA students, who are typically working in their first job out of college while going back to school for their Master’s degree, at least half of my students tell me that they want to negotiate their salaries, either in their current jobs or their next positions, because they failed to negotiate the first time around.

Negotiations take place in a continuum between fear and hope, risk and opportunity. You want to negotiate with the hope of creating greater opportunities for yourself, but at the same time, you fear the risks involved in challenging your initial offer. All negotiations involve risk, and especially now, during a pandemic, those risks seem very high.

Before you decide to negotiate, you need to assess your tolerance for risk, both tangible and emotional, as well as the value of the opportunity. If this offer falls through, how likely are you to get another? How long can you go without income? How good is the offer in comparison to the market? What are the other benefits of the job? You also want to conduct thorough research on the company and the market – some companies give all new hires a set package and look poorly on you if you try to negotiate, while many companies expect some back and forth and will engage with you.

If the thought of negotiating your offer makes you anxious, try to understand what is driving your fear. You might be afraid of tangible hurt, concerned that if you try to push for a better offer, you might be left with no offer at all. Instead, you might be concerned about relationship damage, that your future manager might dislike you for having tried to negotiate your salary. Finally, you might be worried about emotional pain, in that asking and getting rejected will hurt so much that it’s just easier not to even try. The more you are aware of your emotions, the more you can manage them so they don’t dominate your behavior in the negotiation.

To deal with your fears, first, try to put them in perspective. Look at the best, worst, and likely outcomes of your negotiation, assessing both their impact on you and their probability of occurring. Prepare for the negotiation and try to find data to validate your assumptions. If you find yourself getting panicky or anxious, slow down, breathe, and write down your concerns, or discuss them with someone you trust. Try to desensitize yourself to the negotiation by practicing ahead of time with a partner.

Every circumstance is different, and you need to assess your opportunities, but in most cases, you will benefit from negotiating your job offers and regret not having done so. By preparing well, developing greater self-awareness, and practicing in advance, you can negotiate your offers effectively and achieve greater success.


About our Expert

Moshe Cohen, Senior Lecturer of Management & Organizations
Boston University Questrom School of Business

Moshe Cohen is the author of Collywobbles, How to Negotiate When Negotiating Makes You Nervous. He has been teaching negotiation, leadership, conflict resolution and organizational behavior as the founder of The Negotiating Table since 1995 and as a senior lecturer at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, where he has taught since 2000. He has worked with thousands of students as well as companies and organizations all over the world.

Moshe is a mediator who has worked to resolve hundreds of matters and also coaches executives, managers, and individuals on negotiating more effectively. He has written numerous articles and cases and has appeared in podcasts, videos, and interviews. Moshe studied Physics at Cornell University and has a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from McGill University, specializing in robotics. After working in robotics for over a dozen years, he completed his MBA from Boston University and fell in love with negotiation and mediation.