When a Job Offer is “Nonnegotiable”

How to approach a nonnegotiable job offer

By — on / Negotiation Skills


This negotiation advice about nonnegotiable job offers is from the “Ask the Negotiation Coach” column found in the publication Negotiation Briefings. The advice is still good today.

How to Negotiate with a Prospective Employer Whose Job Offer is “Nonnegotiable”

Question: I am in my final year of business school and starting to prepare for job interviews. I have heard many of the organizations that recruit on campus are not open to negotiating specific terms of employment. Rather, they offer everyone roughly the same deal terms. To what extent should I respect such conventions versus trying to negotiate better terms for myself?

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Answer: As you’ve heard, firms that hire a large number of college or professional-school graduates into entry-level positions tend to offer standard packages and avoid negotiating with new recruits. If a firm hires more than four or five people each cycle and has hired “classes” of new employees with similar qualifications for years, you may have little room to negotiate your offer.

In fact, negotiating aggressively in the face of a standard package could cause the employer to sour on you and retract the offer. If you are still hired, any gains that you negotiate could come at the expense of future pay increases, bonuses, or other perks.

Although negotiation isn’t encouraged in such situations, it isn’t forbidden. Here are a few tips to help you get a better offer when a situation seems nonnegotiable:

1. Probe for signs of flexibility.

Often, by doing some research, you can uncover areas where potential employers may be flexible. For example, if a company wants to stagger the start dates of a group of new hires, management might be willing to accommodate your preference for a certain start date (see: Types of Power in Negotiation). If you have special expertise or experience, you could ask your interviewers if you might qualify for a more senior position. You might also find that volunteering for a particular role or agreeing to move to a less popular location could qualify you for a customized package.

2. Take a long-term perspective.

Ideally, you will face the task of comparing job offers from multiple organizations. When doing so, most candidates focus on salary, bonus potential, and other “year one” items, such as a signing bonus. But what happens after year one? With a little research—such as calling alums from your school who have worked for the firm for several years, or asking your interviewers directly—you can get more information on trend lines. For example, Company A’s $80,000 salary might sound better than Company B’s offer of $70,000. But if you learn that Company A provides only cost-of-living raises, and Company B offers much more generous pay increases, the salary issue may level out or even reverse.

3. Create a scoring system.

The number of factors at stake in a job decision can be overwhelming: role, location, department, pay package, amount of travel required, and so on. Job candidates often find that they can effectively determine which issues matter most to them by creating a scoring system by which they can compare the various issues at stake. After weighing all the known elements of a job and likely trend lines, you might decide to negotiate the one or two issues that are most important to you.

4. Demonstrate flexibility.

Because organizations are often hamstrung by policies and procedures, your interviewers are likely to appreciate some flexibility from you regarding how they meet your interests. You might explain that it matters little to you how the total dollars that you earn your first year on the job are divided up—among base salary, signing bonus, year-end bonus, and educational-loan repayment, for example.

In addition, think about how you might deliver more value to your employer. If you had hoped for a break between school and work, but they need someone to start right away, you might agree to start immediately in return for an extra two weeks off after the busy season. Such relatively minor concessions could inspire employers to reciprocate with flexibility on issues that matter more to you (see also, Using Integrative Negotiation Strategies to Create Value at the Bargaining Table).

How have you handled nonnegotiable situations in the past?

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Claim your FREE copy: Negotiation Skills

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

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2 Responses to “When a Job Offer is “Nonnegotiable””

  • In a scenario where negotiation isn’t the norm, positioning oneself as a value addition to the organization can create room for negotiation. Highlighting unique skills, experiences or perspectives you bring to the table, which could potentially solve existing challenges or drive the organization forward, might prompt employers to consider a better offer. For instance, if you possess a skill that’s rare or in high demand, or have a track record of solving similar problems the organization is facing, these could serve as leverage points in negotiations.

  • Emilio P.

    These offers are non-negotiable. Remember that the starting salary as a fresh graduate out of college only reflects how much your employer is willing to pay you to teach you how to work for them (at least for the first phase). However, you must not forget to look beyond the numbers to make the best decision.

    For example, the actual place where you will work might be in a very expensive area or isolated. The cost of living (rent, taxes, commuting distances, transportation options, etc.) will make or break your paycheck. Also, ask if the company offers free or discounted facilities such as daycare, parking, gym or cafeteria; or if it offers -and even encourages- free training courses, that’s money on the bank right there.

    Breathe in, breathe out and take a moment to reflect on the consequences of having to travel or relocate. Does business travel fit your lifestyle? Do you have someone you need to take care of and a relocation would be impractical/expensive/impossible? When you tick those boxes in your application you might be putting yourself in a position where you will have to drop something of real value. Try to work out different scenarios of your personal life’s dynamics before committing to live out of a carry-on bag or relocate half around the world.

    Do you think working for a flower delivery company feels the same to working for a mining company? There are very specific practices that shape each industry, some good others not so. Do not stop at the company’s website, dig deep to know their unspoken ways of conducting business or find cases in the same industry. You do not want to end up in a toxic environment.

    No two jobs are the same so choose carefully. Remember that your new company will be your new house, the people working there your new family and the way they do things will shape your new habits. Value is not spelled in numbers.


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