Negotiating What You're Worth, Not What You Need


Hopefully as you get ready to transition out of uniform, you are making lists: Writing down what your non-negotiables are and where you can be flexible. Your non-negotiables will include things such as location (if you and your spouse have decided, for instance, that you will only live in a specific area), income (what is the amount you need to live on?) and access to services (if you need VA access, mass transportation access or other services).

Your negotiables include things you might be able to be more flexible on, such as job title, work hours and benefits -- if you have benefits elsewhere.

What's in the Offer Package?

When it comes time to negotiate a job offer, it's critical that you avoid communicating need to the hiring manager. If they offer you a position, they want you on the team. Likely the hiring manager will prepare an offer package of salary, benefits, perks (possibly bonuses, stock options, car expense reimbursements, etc.) that reflect your worth to the company.

When you receive this offer package, say "thank you" and let the hiring manager know that you will strongly consider the offer and get back to them shortly. You might want to discuss the offer with your spouse, coach or a close friend.

Know This if You Want to Negotiate

  1. The hiring manager likely presented to you their best offer, given your skills, experience, talents and value to the company, as they perceive it. To negotiate for "more" can be seen as "greedy" if not framed in the right way by the candidate.
  2. If you want to ask for a better package, look at industry averages for the job, align your skills and expertise with those who are paid more in the position, and highlight where and how you will add value to the business in terms of tangible results.
  3. In some cases, hiring managers expect you will negotiate. They might offer a bit less, expecting to raise the value of their offer package when challenged. Some hiring managers leave "wiggle room" in what they first present to the candidate.
  4. If you discussed salary, benefits, amount of travel required and perks before the offer was presented, then you should not be surprised by what you receive if it's consistent with what was communicated. If the offer is vastly different from the discussion, it makes sense to list out what you believe was discussed and where gaps exist between the offer and that conversation.

It's Not About What You Need

Hiring managers want candidates to feel good about job offers. They might stretch a bit in the compensation or perks to get you excited about the job and the company. That said, their responsibility is to their employer, not to you and what you need to feed your family. It is not advised to tell the hiring manager what you "need to live on." If you bought a lavish car, live in an affluent neighborhood or have expensive tastes in clothing, it is not the hiring manager's concern. They have a range of what the position pays for someone with the skills and experience to do the job, and who will add exponential value to the company.

It Is About What You're Worth

Similarly, if you try to spell out what you believe you are worth at the offer negotiation, you missed the point of the interview process. From your initial contact with the employer, to your resume, cover letter, interviews, thank-you notes and follow-up conversations, you should be communicating your worth and value. To leave your value proposition to the end of the process is a misstep.


When you receive the offer package from a potential employer, consider the aspects of the job and offer that excite you, and the ones that might not meet your standards. Are the disappointing aspects of the offer something you can improve once you are on the job? Are they on your list of non-negotiables? Could you jeopardize the offer if you try to negotiate too strongly?

Not every offer will be ideal. Consider the parameters the hiring manager has to work within, and remember that you can demonstrate your value when you're on the job, hopefully improving your circumstances at the company.

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