When a Job Offer is “Nonnegotiable”

How to approach a nonnegotiable job offer

By PON Staffon / 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?


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.