The ABCs of negotiating a job offer

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Dana WilsonMost new hires zone out when HR staffers explain complicated benefits packages. It’s not that they’re not concentrating on what’s being said, it’s because the explanation is being delivered in an incomprehensible dialect called “HR-speak.”

Just because a job offer is doled out in an alien tongue doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a translation into plain English. Since job offers have grown more complicated with the addition of stock options and elaborate bonus and compensation packages, it’s to your advantage to know precisely what you’re getting so that there are no surprises later. It’s also to the employer’s advantage to explain the intricate details of the employment arrangement.

Job candidates would be surprised to learn that it costs as much as 150 per cent of a new hire’s base salary to replace him. The more you pay someone, the higher that percentage will be. It’s because higher salaries usually yield high-value work, which filters down to fatter bottom lines.

Even though surveys play down the role of salary in a job offer, Maryanne Wegerbauer, author of Job Offer! A How-to Negotiation Guide, says it’s almost always the primary focus among most candidates. Quality of work is an important issue, yet many candidates have already checked out these variables before a job offer is made.

Beware of short-term thinking trap

Once salary is agreed upon, Wegerbauer urges new hires not to fall into what she calls the “short-term thinking trap.” Technical people – especially in light of consistent market demand – fail to consider a job’s long-term aspects. Often, it pays to stick around to learn about your future with a company.

Click here to downloadKnow the components of total compensation, advises Wegerbauer. Take stock options, which are still considered a compelling perk. Don’t let a company dangle them in front of you with promises of incredible wealth without finding out whether the options stand a chance of becoming valuable. Ask plenty of questions, such as:  What form will the payout take? What is the vesting formula? How are awards determined? What are the performance measurements? Are objectives fair and under an employee’s control? Can you influence the payout? And, what is the time frame for exercising options?

Make no assumptions

Don’t stop there. You’re entitled to know what kind of investment the company is planning to make in you. Don’t assume you’re going to be handed state-of-the-art equipment. “Make no assumptions about the specifics of the work arrangement,” adds Wegerbauer. That goes for alternative work arrangements as well. Telecommuting is still a hot issue. Still, most companies like to have their employees where they can see them.

More Career/HR Information

Training? Everyone talks up the importance of training so you’re not obsolete next year. But, how is the company going to keep you current? Is it going to send you to a local college or university for updates, to in-house training or to seminars and conferences?

What if you should lose your job for reasons beyond your control? Is there a severance package in place?

Finally, many companies try to avoid doling out employment contracts, but most will go with an informal letter of agreement outlining the particulars of the job offer. This way, you’re starting off on the right foot without any misunderstandings.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.

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