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Although the economy is slow, if you can demonstrate your abilities and are flexible on location, type of work, and title there are still opportunities.  My company recently hired several engineers (mostly at the starting engineer level) to staff a couple of major international projects.  It has been refreshing to see the new faces around the office. Finally, there’s an excuse to blog about negotiating pay.

One consequence of the recession is that the old expectations for full-time employment and compensation are out the window.  That makes it even more important to understand your potential value and negotiate for equitable compensation.

So you think you’ve made it past all of the interview rounds and an offer is forthcoming.  Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to complete a trial work period.  This has been the norm in some industries for a long time.  Employers feel that this will give them an opportunity to fully evaluate their new hire before making a long-term commitment.  Companies also want to avoid the reputation that comes from serially hiring and firing.  As the candidate, however, this means that you’ll be asked to perform at the same level of your future colleagues without the security of long-term employment, fringe benefits, or medical insurance.  If such a trial period is the only way to keep your foot in the door, insist on an evaluation after the shortest period possible.  After a few months, you will have had plenty of time to prove your value.

If and when the final offer comes, there will be many more items to consider than the base salary.  Set your priorities and use all the available benefits as negotiating points.  Bonus eligibility, retirement saving match, and insurance premiums can contribute significantly to the bottom line.  Consider the entire offer, including things like vacation days, continuing education opportunities, and tuition reimbursement.  If you’re open to relocating, you may find significant leverage in working out of another office.

Several years ago at the ASCE Younger Member Leadership Symposium, a presenter introduced an activity to practice contract negotiations.  If you’d like to try this simulation, you’ll need to first ask a friend to play the role of hiring manager. Next, download the two worksheets linked below–one for you as potential employee and one for the hiring manager. Each includes a rubric that awards points in seven categories, but the points are awarded differently for each party.  The trick of the negotiation is to find areas of agreement where both parties can maximize points.

An alternative to this simulation is to assume that you have received another offer that ranks at a certain point value.  While multiple competing offers may be a rarity in today’s marketplace, it is important to recognize your value. Qualified and flexible candidates can still expect to find new opportunities in the near term.  Don’t sell yourself short.  The game sheet says to walk away from an uncompetitive offer.

If you have successfully presented your case for employment, your potential employer may be willing to go further than you expect to secure your services.  By engaging with you throughout an extensive interview and trial period, they have made a significant investment and an emotional connection.  Be bold with counter offers.  Don’t second guess your value.  The employer knows the top dollar they can offer; it’s your task to discover that number.

Have other suggestions?  Please share your techniques and experience below.

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3 Comments
  • In winning a contract you may have to show your abilities and talents in order to impress your clients and attract them to negotiate with you.

  • I agree with what your saying, I have recently downsized from a team of engineers to my self and one other engineer, still it is tough on recent grad these days, not knowing how things will go, imagine just graduating from engineering school today. How would you face this market?

  • william hayden jr.

    Thanks Ken for the insights.
    I suggest a few more:
    . . . .To the potential employee:
    a. Where is it written that your life goals will be met by being a career employee?
    b. Realize that the former social contract between employees and owners has been broke,
    and is changed for your future.
    c. The above means that rather than search for “Lifetime employment,” look for what you will
    learn to enhance your “Lifetime employability.”

    . . . To the potential hiring manager:
    a. All you have to offer clients and potential clients are the capabilities, competencies,
    and self-motivation of your people.
    b. Their willingness to remain motivated is most always supported or fractured by the way
    they perceive you think about them.
    c. Your people will believe what you meant when you stated “Our people are our most
    important asset” by what they see, not by what was said or written.

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