Employers who want to hire you expect that you might want to negotiate the terms of your employment before you accept the job, especially if you have valuable skills.
Also, entry-level jobs or positions where you’re placed on a grid based on your education and/or experience may have some room for negotiation. Here’s how to do it:
Understanding what you can expect in negotiations and the language used in an offer will help you make good decisions.
Research industry standards
If you haven’t done so already, check out the standard salaries, benefits, working conditions, and prospects for your occupation and region. Here’s how:
- Research occupational profile information on more than 550 occupations in Alberta.
- View wages and salaries in Alberta by occupation, geographic area, and industry group.
- Conduct information interviews with people in your network, especially those who work in the same or a similar occupation.
- Check out related Job Search Tools for salaries and other terms offered for comparable positions.
- Ask your professional association or union, if applicable.
- Explore Where to Find Labour Market Information for your occupation and region.
- Check out the term and conditions in ads for similar positions posted on job search websites.
Understand the language
Terms of employment
You and your employer will discuss your responsibilities and benefits at the time of your hiring. These are your terms of employment. They can include:
- The employer’s expectations, such as hours of work, shift work, overtime, dress code, travel, and the use of your own vehicle
- Salary and benefits, such as vacation, health and dental coverage, and pension
- Other perks, such as employee wellness programs, vehicle allowance, and parking
The terms of employment are often listed in an employee handbook or company policy manual.
Employment agreements and contracts
Employment agreements will include the terms of employment that you and your employer have agreed to. Employment contracts may include extra terms about:
- Nondisclosure or confidentiality, so you don’t share company, client, or patient information.
- Non-competition, so you don’t set up a business to compete with your employer
- Soliciting, so you don’t take customers or employees away from your employer
These terms not only apply while you are employed by the company but can extend for a specified amount of time after you’ve left.
In general, contracts are more formal and legally binding than agreements. They are typically used for positions with greater responsibility, such as professional or executive roles.
7 steps to negotiating a job offer
Once you understand what a job offer involves, these 7 steps will help you negotiate successfully.
1. Get the offer in writing
Ask the employer to give you a copy of the offer of employment, which should include the terms of employment. If that’s not possible, take detailed notes of the verbal offer and give a copy back for confirmation. Ask the employer to approve this version of the offer before you continue.
2. Clarify unfamiliar or vague terms
- You understand everything in the offer. If you don’t, ask the employer to explain.
- The details are clearly defined. For example, it’s not enough to be hired “for the summer season.” Your offer should list your start and end dates.
3. Negotiate a response time
Most employers expect you to think about the offer before you accept it or turn it down. Let the employer know that you are interested in the job, and that you’ll have an answer within a specific period, such as 24 hours or 3 days.
4. Compare the offer to industry standards
These are the salaries, benefits, working conditions and prospects you researched. Are they in line with what other companies offer for similar positions?
5. Look at the offer from the employer’s point of view
Several factors have guided the employer to make this particular offer. For example, if during the interview the employer learns that you will need additional training to perform some parts of the job, they might offer a lower salary. Understanding the employer’s position will help you decide how to respond. Ask yourself:
- Who is competing with you for this job?
- How strong are your qualifications?
- How quickly does the employer want to fill this position?
- What are the unemployment rate and the overall labour market like in your region and industry?
Talk the offer over with family, friends, a mentor, or professional advisor. Some factors might affect how you feel about the salary, benefits, and other terms of employment. Ask yourself:
- Will the job bring you closer to your career goals?
- Will you like the work?
- Will you feel comfortable in this work environment?
- How do you feel about your potential supervisor (if you’ve met)?
- Are the terms of this job better than your current one?
- If you haven’t been working, how long have you been looking for a job?
- What other opportunities are you considering, how strong are your prospects and would any of the other opportunities be more attractive?
6. Decide how to respond
You have 3 options when responding to a job offer:
If you’re happy with the offer or if a union agreement sets the terms of employment, you may decide to accept it as is. Be aware that once you accept the job, you will not be able to negotiate changes. If you decide to accept the offer, let the employer know that you’re looking forward to getting started.
Negotiate to improve some terms of the offer
Follow these tips to make a counter offer:
- Decide what you want and what you’ll accept. Think about how you’ll compromise.
- If there is no collective agreement, you may be able to negotiate terms such as:
- Starting salary
- Benefits such as health and dental insurance coverage
- More frequent salary increases
- Cost-of-living raises or merit raises
- Vacation time
- Different start and end times
- More interesting responsibilities
- Be prepared to show what makes you worth the additional salary or benefits.
- Write out the terms of your counter offer. Practise what you’ll say to the employer. For example:
I’m excited about the prospect of working for you. I believe I have the skills and experience to bring about the results you’re looking for. However, the overtime expectations are a problem for me. What if we look at the possibility of doing some of that work from home?
- Tell the employer you’re interested in the job, but you would like to discuss some terms before reaching a decision. Ask if there’s any flexibility in the offer. If there is, arrange to meet the employer to present your counter offer. If there’s no flexibility, you’ll have to decide if the offer is acceptable as is.
- Be polite, positive, professional, and prepared to compromise.
- If you reach a verbal agreement, ask for confirmation in writing. Then put the negotiations behind you and turn up for work on your first day ready to commit to the position and the employer.
Turn the offer down
If you decide to turn the offer down, tell the employer politely, and express your appreciation for the offer. Follow up with a letter thanking the employer. You never know when your career paths will cross again and gestures like this help to keep your options open.
7. And finally …
If you accept a job offer, make sure you:
- Send your current employer a letter of resignation giving the appropriate notice based on employment standards or your contract.
- Contact your network and thank them for their help.
- Withdraw any other applications.
Each job will have different areas and opportunities for negotiation. Knowing the terms and steps to negotiating will help lead you to making career decisions you are comfortable with.