Negotiating Salary? Know Your BATNA

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You’ve just finished interviewing for your dream role and you’re confident that an offer is in your future. This is an exciting time! And while it may feel like you’re in the home stretch, there’s still one big step before you make things official: salary negotiation.

Hopefully, you are well aware of your worth and what you bring to the table, but you need to make sure that you demonstrate to your potential future employer as well. One way to enter a negotiating conversation prepared and confident is by knowing your BATNA, or your Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement.

What is BATNA?

BATNA, developed by Harvard University negotiation experts Roger Fisher and William Ury, stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. It is an exercise that helps you determine what you’re aiming for in a given scenario and how to leverage the next-best thing (in case your number-one wish doesn’t work out).

In the case of salary negotiation, knowing your BATNA ahead of time will help you to:

  • Determine your ideal salary and prepare to ask for it.
  • Decide what you’d be willing to accept (or what you can work with) if your ideal situation doesn’t pan out.
  • Resist settling for something less desirable than your bottom line.

Start by identifying the best possible outcome

Before you accept an offer, allow yourself the space and time to decide on the exact salary that you believe you deserve.

By preparing a number (as well as an argument for why you feel you merit this figure), you will be able to achieve the following:

  • Start the discussion on a favorable note. When you introduce a higher number, it’s much more likely that the returning offer will be closer to your ideal figure.
  • Present your value to the organization. Coming prepared with research on salaries for comparable positions—and backing this up with your own skills and accomplishments—will ground your argument.
  • Advocate for yourself. While entering into a salary negotiation may be uncomfortable, it’s a great opportunity to display your confidence, leadership initiative, and your ability to gracefully navigate difficult discussions.

So in the event that a hiring manager asks you to share your desired number, be prepared to respond with something like, “My expectation is $X amount based on my qualifications, the scope of this position, and the salary research I’ve conducted on similar roles at this level.”

Know your bottom line

After you’ve done your research and decided on your ideal salary, it’s time to consider your bottom line. This is the absolute lowest amount you would be willing to accept.

To help you arrive at a value, take into account factors such as:

  • Commute. If you have considerable travel time and there is no pre-tax transportation program in place, consider what your commuting costs would entail.
  • Cost of living. Even though you’re pursuing a social-impact role, it’s okay to consider your financial obligations and to push for a higher number if you think you’re worth it.
  • Prior salary. While there are instances when a pay cut may be worth it—if you’re a sector-switcher and moving into an entry-level role, for example—keep your salary history in mind as you finalize your figure.

This means that if a hiring manager says that a certain amount is the highest she can offer, but it’s actually lower than your baseline, you could reiterate your ideal salary and say, “I really do feel that $X amount is more appropriate given my skill level and the value I’ll bring to the position and organization. Can we work toward arriving closer to that number?”

While it’s not necessary to volunteer your bottom line, having a concrete idea of the very lowest figure you can accept is a must. It will ensure that you do not leave the conversation blindsided by or feeling rushed into accepting an offer that is actually much lower than what you want and can afford.

Don’t walk away without an alternative

With your ideal salary and bottom line in place, you can now begin to formulate a favorable alternative to your number-one outcome. This may mean negotiating an offer so that other conditions are in place, such as:

It could also mean staying in your current role or continuing with your job search if a favorable middle ground cannot be reached.

You could offer something like, “I wonder if there would be room to discuss other aspects of my offer, such as negotiating my benefits package to include an extra week of vacation and allowing for telecommuting flexibility.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for some time to consider whatever is offered, whether that’s the initial salary or a counter-offer with revised benefits or a commitment to come back to salary negotiation after a certain number of days.

Knowing and being able to articulate this desired alternative is key to a successful salary negotiation and also key to knowing when to move on. This is the truly challenging part of the process, but when you know your BATNA, you will be better equipped to take the time to make your case and not rush through what can sometimes be an intimidating discussion.

Remember, asking for what you want professionally is not something you should feel guilty or hesitant about. Developing the practice of knowing what you deserve, the confidence to present your worth, and not just settling for the first offer will ensure that you ultimately get the appreciation and recognition you deserve.

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What do you think is the trickiest part of salary negotiation? What techniques do you use to help navigate salary talks?

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Yoona Wagener is a freelance writer and WordPress developer who believes in the value of nonlinear career paths. She has experience in academic publishing, teaching English abroad, serving up customer support to software end users, writing online help documentation, and mission-driven nonprofit marketing and communications.
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