Negotiating for Career Satisfaction

By PON Staffon / Business Negotiations, Daily

Adapted from “Beyond Salary: Negotiating for Job Satisfaction and Success,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.

Most people enter employment negotiations assuming that compensation and benefits are the only issues on the table, according to Negotiation editorial board member David Lax. By contrast, enlightened job seekers realize these concerns are only part of the picture. In addition to negotiating financial terms, you must learn to negotiate for the tools you need to become a fulfilled and well-compensated person over time.

Lax has observed that many people overlook the broader point of employment: satisfaction. It’s true that a well-padded paycheck will put a bounce in your step, but unless the job brings intrinsic pleasure, the glow will inevitably wear off.

Early in our careers, it sometimes makes sense to accept jobs we don’t expect to enjoy. A recent college graduate might sign on for a few grueling years as an entry-level analyst at an investment bank in exchange for long-term knowledge and contacts. An aspiring chef who can’t afford culinary school will pay his dues as a dishwasher. Later in our careers, however, most of us abandon such extreme tradeoffs—as we should, given the amount of time we devote to our jobs.

When interviewing for a position, how can you negotiate for your satisfaction? First, probe to understand your job responsibilities. How would you be spending your day? How many people would be working for you? Who would your superiors be? Continue probing until you have a strong sense of your likely work process.

Next, negotiate the “fit.” A prospective office manager with an engaging personality might ask whether an administrative assistant could take over bookkeeping duties to free him up for more interactive work. If a prospective employer is reluctant to relieve you of tasks you would not enjoy, this knowledge will help you avoid accepting a job you’d hate. Remember that wise employers recognize that employees perform best at tasks they enjoy.

In addition, encourage your interviewers to be candid about any concerns they may have about your qualifications and skills. This type of feedback may identify the need for other adjustments to your job description, write Deborah M. Kolb, Judith Williams, and Carol Frohlinger in their book Her Place at the Table (Jossey-Bass, 2004).

Finally, ask questions aimed at assessing the organization’s political environment. What happened to your predecessor? Was she let go, and if so, why? If she quit, why? If you discern that you’d be walking into a political minefield, you might want to consider other opportunities.