How to Negotiate the Contract You Want before Starting a New Job

By the time I get to the last round of interviews for a job I am usually so exhausted and convinced that they want someone else that negotiating a contract is not even on my radar. I can remember saying, “Yes,” before my last employer even finished her sentence about what my salary would be. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t haggle, I just emphatically said, “Yes!”

About a year into my job, I researched what others with my skills and education were making and realized I could be making much more. I called a mentor for advice and she asked if I had negotiated my contract. I sheepishly said, “No.” Even the word “negotiation” intimidates me. My personality is built for being agreeable, not challenging. I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to negotiating a contract.

Deepak Malhotra, a professor in the Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit at Harvard Business School, teaches and advises students about the complex world of job negotiations every day.

Professor Malhotra says that every situation is unique, but some strategies, tactics, and principles can help you address many of the issues you will face in negotiating with employers.

Here are his 15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer:

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of likability. People will be willing to discuss options with candidates they enjoy having a conversation with. If you give them a reason not to like you, your chances of getting that five percent bump in salary you want begin to crumble.


“This is about more than being polite; it’s about managing some inevitable tensions in negotiation, such as asking for what you deserve without seeming greedy, pointing out deficiencies in the offer without seeming petty, and being persistent without being a nuisance," Malhotra said.

  1. Help prospective employers understand why you deserve what you’re requesting.

You have to make the employer believe that you are worth what you are asking for. Don’t just tell them what you want. Explain why you deserve it. Justify your request.

  1. Make it clear that they can get you.


Hiring managers are given a salary and benefits package to offer you, they usually don’t have a lot of wiggle room. If you want more money or benefits, they have to ask someone for approval. That’s a lot of work. If they don’t think you are serious about your interest in the job, they aren’t going to be very motivated to ask for approval of your requests.

  1. Understand the person across the table from you.
  2. Understand his or her constraints.


There is more to a job offer than salary. If an employer can’t offer a better salary, you could ask for vacation time, a flexible schedule or a signing bonus.

  1. Be prepared for tough questions.
  2. Focus on the questioner’s intent, not on the question.
  3. Consider the whole deal.
  4. Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously, not serially.
  5. Don’t negotiate just for the sake of negotiating.


“If something is important to you, absolutely negotiate. But don’t haggle over every little thing. Fighting to get just a bit more can rub people the wrong way—and can limit your ability to negotiate with the company later in your career, when it may matter more,” Malhotra said.

  1. Think through the timing of offers.
  2. Avoid, ignore, or downplay ultimatums.
  3. Remember that your interviewer isn’t out to get you.
  4. Stay at the table.


“What’s not negotiable today may be negotiable tomorrow. Over time, interests and constraints change. When someone says no, what he’s saying is ‘No—given how I see the world today,’” Malhotra said.

Employers often become more flexible after trust has been built up. Demonstrating your value on the job will encourage employers to rethink your request. 

  1. Maintain a sense of perspective.


“Experience and research demonstrate that the industry and function in which you choose to work, your career trajectory, and the day-to-day influences on you (such as bosses and coworkers) can be vastly more important to satisfaction than the particulars of an offer,” Malhotra said.

Negotiating a job offer can dramatically affect your future happiness in your career. Don’t accept an offer just to be nice, but don’t push so hard that nobody will want to work with you. Negotiations are about give and take and should realistically benefit both parties. If you demonstrate your value and commitment to an organization, employers will do what they can to get you on their team. Don’t sell yourself short. You have talents that employers need.

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