IT Employment

The ABCs of negotiating an incredible job offer

It's thrilling to be offered a great job opportunity, but don't let that excitement get in the way of negotiating the right pay, perks, and benefits. In this week's TechWatch, Bob Weinstein tells you a few things to consider before diving into a new job.

You finally get the call you’ve been waiting for.

“Nancy, everyone at Friedchip.com thinks you’re God’s gift to technology. We’d like you to come in tomorrow at 9 A.M. sharp to make you a job offer. How does that sound?”

In all likelihood, Nancy is probably dressed and scrubbed by the time she hangs up the phone. Thirty minutes after she arrives at her prospective employer’s office, she’s nodding in agreement to a complex benefits and compensation package that includes salary, bonuses, perks, stock options, and some other enticements.

Like most job candidates, our fictitious techie never considered that every facet of the employment agreement can be negotiated. She didn’t know she had the power to make a good job offer an extraordinary one simply by negotiating.

This is a shocking revelation to most job applicants, according to Maryanne Wegerbauer, author of the recently published Job Offer! Framing and Negotiating the Employment Package (Jist Works; $16.95).

No matter where you are on the corporate ladder, it’s important to analyze your choices when you’re offered a job. Here are some things to consider before accepting a new position.

Human resource speak
Sadly, most candidates zone out when the human resources person begins explaining complicated benefits packages. It’s not that candidates are not concentrating on what’s being said, it’s more that the explanation is being delivered in an incomprehensible dialect called “HR-speak.” Even Wegerbauer admits it requires translation.

Just because your job offer is doled out in an alien tongue doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a translation in plain English. Since job offers have grown more complicated with the addition of stock options and elaborate bonus systems, 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, according to staffing specialist William G. Bliss, president of Wayne, NJ-based management consulting firm Bliss & Associates, Inc.

“Most people would be surprised to learn it costs at least 150 percent of a person’s base salary to replace him or her,” Bliss explains. “The more you pay a person, the higher that percentage will be because you value their contribution.”

Even though surveys play down the role of salary in a job offer, Wegerbauer says it’s most always the primary focus among most candidates.

What’s your potential?
Once the salary is agreed upon, Wegerbauer urges techies not to fall into what she calls the “short-term thinking trap.” Technical people—especially in light of today’s incredible market demand—often fail to consider a job’s long-term aspects. Generally, it pays to stick around to learn about your long-term potential with a company.

Know the components of total compensation, advises Wegerbauer. Take stock options for example, the new millennium’s sexiest 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. 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?

Equipment and training
You’re also entitled to know what kind of investment the company is planning to make in you. “Make no assumptions about the specifics of the work arrangement,” Wegerbauer said.

Don’t expect to be handed state-of-the-art equipment; make sure you ask about the set-up that will be provided to you to make sure it’s acceptable.

That goes for alternative work arrangements as well. Telecommuting is getting a lot of press these days. Still, most companies like to have their employees where they can see them.

Training? Everyone talks up the importance of training in keeping employees from quickly becoming obsolete. But how is the company going to keep you current? Is it going to send you to a local community college for technology updates, to in-house training, or to sexy seminars given at the country’s top technology universities or think tanks?

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

Finally, many companies are not big on providing employment contracts, but most will go with an informal letter of agreement outlining the particulars of the job offer that is signed by you and a company representative. This way, you’re starting off on the right foot without any misunderstandings.
What kinds of information do you require from a new employer? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.
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