They want to hire you, and you want the job. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a lot, actually. As a career coach, I have found that people who are unhappy at work don’t always need a drastic career change; their unhappiness often stems from one of three causes, and all three can be addressed and resolved before you begin your new job.
Dissatisfaction with your compensation
If you Google salary negotiation, you will likely find tips such as don’t say the first number, don’t say yes on the spot, or even make the meeting on a Thursday. These ideas may or may not be helpful, depending on your specific situation; they certainly do not address the issue from a broad perspective.
The single most important concept in successful salary negotiation is principled negotiation. This approach to negotiation was developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project, and laid out in the bestselling book Getting to Yes. This is the key to keeping your negotiation professional, and saving it from degenerating into a Middle Eastern haggling contest. (Just for fun, take a look at this great Monty Python classic on Middle East haggling. You’re welcome.)
Principled negotiation is composed of five central ideas, the most central one being the use of objective criteria. You need to do some homework and find out what is acceptable in your industry for someone in your position, in terms of salary, social benefits, and other perks. It’s also helpful to find out the pay scale for comparable roles in your new company or organization. Base your compensation expectations on these incontestable facts. It will move the discussion from you needing to “prove” that you are “worth” X, to an objective plane of what is appropriate for someone in your position. It also makes the “who says the first number” game largely irrelevant.
Lack of clarity about your responsibilities
If your job responsibilities and title have not been clearly defined, you will go into your new job confused about what you are expected to accomplish, and what others can be expected to do. This state of affairs can lead to internal tensions and mutual blame when deadlines are not met or goals are not reached. Even when successes occur, they are hard to duplicate if expectations remain unclear.
Sometimes the reasons that an employer shies away from clearly defining your job in advance can be problematic. In some cases, a cumbersome and politicized organizational structure is to blame, and then there may not be much to do except look for a different position. In other cases, the employer may not want to be held to industry standard salaries and avoids the possibility of comparison with similar positions by leaving the title or responsibilities hazy. Perhaps the employer wants you to be obligated by contract to do anything the s/he asks, including more menial tasks that would not be appropriate for a more senior or professional title. And perhaps the employer wishes to avoid the whole issue of professional advancement: if you don’t know your current title or responsibilities, how can you ask for a promotion to a more senior role?
In this context, I’ll say what I hope is obvious: never start working until your contract is signed! If it’s still “in the works”, they will have to wait. No commitment is binding until you have a signed contract, which includes your title, your responsibilities and your compensation package. And if you begin to work before you have that assurance, you may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of still negotiating after you have joined the team and invested in the transition – a much weaker negotiating standpoint than before you started working. If they really need you right now, they should be able to get your contract ready and signed right now.
Lack of appreciation
Believe it or not, many people choose to leave lucrative and challenging positions, simply because they do not feel professionally valued by their employer. You may feel that when you start out as a new employee, the responsibility for making sure you feel valued lies with your employer; and it does. However there are some things you can do to set the stage for a relationship that encourages your employer to express appreciation, even if s/he does not have such a relationship with other employees.
Establish regular feedback and reporting meetings: Before you begin work, even before you sign a contract, make it clear that ongoing communication and mutual feedback is important to you, and you would like to have regular (weekly/ bi-weekly or monthly) one-on-one meetings with your employer to review your projects, hear feedback, and air any issues. It will also then lie with you to make sure that those meetings become an integral part of your work together, and to establish the tone of the meetings, at least at the start. For example, after reporting on a project, ask your employer if s/he was pleased with the outcome, what s/he appreciated and what might be improved. This kind of communication will then become more natural for your employer, at least with you.
Model the behavior you want to see: appreciation is catching. When your employer (or any colleague for that matter) does something you appreciate, tell them so, in more detail than just “thank you”. For example, “I really appreciate your help with getting the project done under pressure. Thanks for having my back, and for giving me the encouragement to complete it.” In most cases, your employer will begin to respond in kind.
If you are made a job offer, and you want the job, it can be hard to slow down the process by negotiating salary wisely, requiring a clearly defined title and job description, and setting the groundwork for professional feedback and appreciation. But it is worth it: you will be saving yourself future frustrations, and investing in your new job for the long term.