How To Negotiate at Every Stage of Your Career

Updated June 9, 2023

Knowing how to negotiate is an important skill to have and can help you at every stage of your career. Being effective at negotiating with people will ultimately help you achieve and maintain job satisfaction and can even improve your company.

In this article, we will discuss when to negotiate in your career and how to negotiate effectively at each stage of your professional life.

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When to negotiate in your career

There are many situations in which you may negotiate throughout your career. From agreeing upon a starting salary to signing off on your retirement package, negotiation is often an integral part of every step of your professional life. Knowing the different scenarios that may require negotiation can help you better prepare for when these situations arise. Common instances in which you may negotiate throughout your career include:

Job offers

Accepting a new job comes with many opportunities to negotiate. Starting salary, benefits, PTO and other contractual agreements can all be negotiated if they do not meet your personal needs and expectations.

Raises or promotions

Similar to starting a new job, accepting a promotion or raise also offers the chance to negotiate certain terms and conditions. For example, accepting a promotion often comes with more responsibility, so negotiating to ensure that you receive adequate compensation may be necessary.

Employee-to-employee negotiations

If you are part of a team or manage a group of people at your job, you may have to regularly participate in employee-to-employee negotiations. Examples of these include negotiating individual workload among team members, agreeing upon a deadline and solving workplace disagreements.

Third-party negotiations

Some jobs require employees to negotiate with people outside of the company. For example, a salesperson may need to negotiate a client contract that meets the needs of both the client and the company.

Related: Negotiation Skills: Definition and Examples

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How to negotiate effectively

Here are some helpful steps to take to when participating in business negotiations:

  1. Know your worth.

  2. Do your research.

  3. Ask for what you want.

  4. Be willing to listen.

  5. See the situation from all angles.

  6. Choose the best time to negotiate.

  7. Remain focused and practical.

  8. Take your time.

  9. Consider alternatives.

  10. Have confidence in your ability to negotiate.

  11. Be willing to walk away.

1. Know your worth

Everyone has something unique and important to offer their company. You were hired for a reason–often for a certain set of skills you possess that are important to your workplace. Knowing your worth and the specific value you offer your business can equip you with the confidence needed to successfully negotiate at every stage of your career.

If you are unsure of how to express your value to your company, consider the following factors that can impact your worth as an employee:

  • How many years of industry experience you have

  • Your level of education

  • Certifications or licenses you hold

  • Your skill set as it relates to your position

  • How many years of leadership experience you have

  • Any recognition you have received within your industry

Each of these factors can influence your worth as an employee and entering a negotiation armed with these assets can help emphasize your unique value to your workplace.

2. Do your research

Knowing what you want in any negotiation is key to establishing an achievable and concrete end goal. For example, rather than going into a negotiation with the vague desire for a raise, having a solid and realistic number in mind can guide the negotiations and ultimately help you accomplish what it is you want. If you don’t know what you want, take some time to research before entering a negotiation.

An example of doing research could be to survey the market average of the position you are applying for or currently hold to get a better understanding of salary rates. The market average can give you a baseline in which to go into the negotiation and can also justify your salary request.

3. Ask for what you want

Knowing what you want is an important step, but you won’t be able to successfully negotiate without actively asking for it. However, it’s important to ask for what you want in a considerate manner to most effectively get your point across.

One way to effectively ask for what you want is to approach the topic being negotiated in a positive way. For example, rather than saying “you don’t pay me enough,” you could say “I don’t feel as if I am being compensated adequately for the work I perform.” Instead of placing the blame on the individual or people you are negotiating with, using “I” statements can help you express your feelings and needs without offending the other party.

4. Be willing to listen

Listening is a valuable skill to have in nearly all aspects of your career. This is especially true when it comes to negotiating within the workplace. Entering a negotiation without the willingness to listen to the other side can prevent you from not only getting what you want but can also lead to a less than amicable environment.

One way to ensure that you listen is to allow the other person or party to do most of the talking. You can do this by asking open-ended questions that encourage the other negotiator to respond with more than a “yes” or “no” answer. This gives the person you are negotiating with the opportunity to feel heard and understood, which will ultimately help you both come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.

Related: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

5. See the situation from all angles

When approaching a negotiation, it’s helpful to keep in mind that you are not the only one who will be affected by the outcome. Being willing to see the situation from all angles can give you a better perspective on where the other party is coming from during the negotiation. This can help you keep an open mind and provide you with insight into what the other person is looking to gain from the negotiation.

6. Choose the best time to negotiate

Negotiating at the right time and in the right place can help set the situation up for success and make negotiations more comfortable for both parties. Attempting to negotiate when the other party is busy, upset or otherwise mentally unavailable can cause an unsatisfactory outcome for both you and the other person. Set up a time that works best for both you and the other person and choose a place neutral to both parties.

7. Remain focused and practical

Some negotiations may be based on personal issues that can cause you to feel emotional when discussing them. For example, you may negotiate your salary to ensure all of your financial needs are met. While this is an emotional situation, most employers likely respond better to a level-headed and fact-driven approach rather than one that is fueled by emotions. Focus on solving the problem⁠ – in this case, showing your employer why you deserve a raise⁠ – for the best results when negotiating.

8. Take your time

Being flexible with your time allows you to decide without feeling as if you are under pressure and gives you the freedom to agree to terms you truly want regardless of how long it takes.

9. Consider alternatives

While you should enter into a negotiation with clear goals you want to achieve, it’s also important that you consider other alternatives in case all of your goals cannot be met. For example, let’s say that you want to negotiate a higher salary. If your employer cannot fulfill that request, you could ask them to consider covering all of your health benefit costs as another option. While this isn’t necessarily what you went into the negotiation asking for, having your health benefit costs covered will lower your biweekly or monthly payments and put more money in your pocket.

10. Have confidence in your ability to negotiate

Having confidence in your ability to negotiate can have a major impact on the overall success of the negotiation. In many negotiations, the other party needs you just as much as you need them. Keep this in mind when you are coming to an agreement and stand your ground in asking for what you need and deserve.

11. Be willing to walk away

It’s important to go into a negotiation with the willingness to walk away if the conclusion does not meet your needs. For example, a potential employer may not meet your salary requirements or provide adequate benefits essential to you. Here, you will need to decide whether the job is worth lowering your requirements or if it’s time to look elsewhere.

Being willing to walk away from a negotiation is important because it can help you not feel pressured to accept an offer or circumstance you ultimately don’t want. If you are depending on a certain outcome and it doesn’t happen, you may feel you have no choice but to take the offer if you aren’t willing to walk away. This can leave you unsatisfied and feeling stuck if the negotiation doesn’t go according to plan.

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