Now’s the Time to Negotiate for the Job—or Salary or Flexibility—You Want
Skip to content
Careers Aug 19, 2021

Now’s the Time to Negotiate for the Job—or Salary or Flexibility—You Want

Tips from an expert negotiator on how to ask without fear.

mentor and protege discuss careers

Yevgenia Nayberg

Based on insights from

Victoria Medvec

Let’s say you’ve got a new job offer in hand, but you’re not thrilled with the salary. Or you’re angling for a promotion at work, but your manager doesn’t seem to be on the same page. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with too many projects and you want to adjust your workload. All of this calls for a negotiation.

Negotiate Without Fear is now available for purchase. Learn more and buy your copy today

Read more

Does that fill you with a bit of dread? If so, you’re not alone, explains Victoria Medvec, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg, and CEO of Medvec and Associates consulting firm.

“When we are negotiating for ourselves, we get really afraid. Even experienced negotiators tend to get really afraid,” she explains. “So we want to unlock tools and strategies to help you have that conversation in a confident way.”

Medvec shared some of these tools and strategies, which come from her forthcoming book, Negotiate Without Fear, in a recent The Insightful Leader Live webinar.

Set Yourself Apart

To start with, make sure you are staying laser focused on the other party’s needs, not your own. Think about being a “pronoun checker,” she advises. If you’re saying “I” and “me” a whole lot, you’re not focusing on the right side.

“As I go into the negotiation, I have to have a compelling message and that message needs to focus on the company, not me,” Medvec says. “This is one of the hardest things for people to do when they’re negotiating for themselves. … Why? Because what I want is so salient to me.”

One way to translate your own wants into something that is salient to the other side is to think about your differentiators—what are the skills, qualities, and experiences that set you apart? Crucially, your differentiators need to be valuable to the person you’re negotiating with. If you’re fluent in Mandarin, but your company isn’t looking to do business in China, that’s not a differentiator in that context.

So how do you identify your differentiators? First of all, be confident that you have them. “I find differentiators in everyone I talk to,” Medvec says. “Everybody has unique capabilities, unique competencies, unique knowledge.”

Maybe your differentiator is that you’ve worked with a particular client for a long time and have a great relationship with them. Or you came from a competitor and therefore have unique business insights. Even things that may feel like a liability can yield differentiators, she says.

For example, if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, “be confident, because I doubt that you were out and did nothing that added to your differentiators,” she says. “Maybe it gave you persistence. Maybe it made you incredibly good at overcoming difficult challenges.”


Then, crucially, turn your differentiators into issues you can negotiate on. If one of your differentiators is that you’ve lived in Latin America, then explain how your understanding of the culture there will help you drive sales in that region. Or if your differentiator is that you came from a different industry and have a unique set of insights into your new industry, offer to do lunch-and-learns or briefings to senior leadership to share your knowledge with others.

Give Them Options

Medvec recommends going into a negotiation with multiple options for the other side. For example, if you’re negotiating for a promotion, the three options you present to your manager could have different titles and different pay, but also different project timelines and goals that are commensurate with those titles and pay. She suggests having these in writing, but showing them only after you’ve verbally conveyed the story about how you, uniquely, can address the other side’s needs.

“People love having choice,” she says. “They feel better having choice. And they’re going to react better to having choice.”

Medvec emphasizes that these tools can work in all sorts of negotiations, not just ones over pay or promotion.

For example, maybe you want to reduce your workload. First off, Medvec says, definitely negotiate on this instead of simply throwing up your hands and quitting. “I always tell people, never depart without a negotiation,” she says.

But remember your pronoun checker, and make sure you’re focusing on your employer’s needs. “It’s not about me being burned out,” she says. “It’s about the company having this challenge that needs more of my attention. And I don’t have the ability to focus on it right now because of this, this, and this. And we need to reorient so that I can give this an effective amount of time.”

Negotiate on Your Way Out

She even advises that people use these strategies to negotiate on their way out of a job.

But what do you do if you have this negotiation sprung on you with no time to prepare? Stall, Medvec says.

Let’s say there’s a new CEO at your company, and you have a hunch they’re going to clean house a bit and hire their own new people. It’s Friday afternoon, and you suddenly have a meeting with the CEO, and you spot your HR rep in the room.

“As soon as they start the conversation, you just look overwhelmed. And you say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I have to go. We can pick this up on Monday,’” Medvec says. And you leave the room.

Then spend the weekend figuring out your differentiators and how you can help that CEO get what they want. “I need to think about how to leave in the best possible way,” Medvec says. “And I have to negotiate to get that.”

Featured Faculty

Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management & Organizations; Executive Director of the Center for Executive Women

Most Popular This Week
  1. Will AI Eventually Replace Doctors?
    Maybe not entirely. But the doctor–patient relationship is likely to change dramatically.
    doctors offices in small nodules
  2. 3 Tips for Reinventing Your Career After a Layoff
    It’s crucial to reassess what you want to be doing instead of jumping at the first opportunity.
    woman standing confidently
  3. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  4. 6 Takeaways on Inflation and the Economy Right Now
    Are we headed into a recession? Kellogg’s Sergio Rebelo breaks down the latest trends.
    inflatable dollar sign tied down with mountains in background
  5. What Is the Purpose of a Corporation Today?
    Has anything changed in the three years since the Business Roundtable declared firms should prioritize more than shareholders?
    A city's skyscrapers interspersed with trees and rooftop gardens
  6. How to Get the Ear of Your CEO—And What to Say When You Have It
    Every interaction with the top boss is an audition for senior leadership.
    employee presents to CEO in elevator
  7. Why We Can’t All Get Away with Wearing Designer Clothes
    In certain professions, luxury goods can send the wrong signal.​
    Man wearing luxury-brand clothes walks with a cold wind behind him, chilling three people he passes.
  8. Why You Should Skip the Easy Wins and Tackle the Hard Task First
    New research shows that you and your organization lose out when you procrastinate on the difficult stuff.
    A to-do list with easy and hard tasks
  9. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  10. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  11. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  12. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  13. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  14. How Old Are Successful Tech Entrepreneurs?
    A definitive new study dispels the myth of the Silicon Valley wunderkind.
    successful entrepreneurs are most often middle aged
  15. How Offering a Product for Free Can Backfire
    It seems counterintuitive, but there are times customers would rather pay a small amount than get something for free.
    people in grocery store aisle choosing cheap over free option of same product.
  16. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  17. College Campuses Are Becoming More Diverse. But How Much Do Students from Different Backgrounds Actually Interact?
    Increasing diversity has been a key goal, “but far less attention is paid to what happens after we get people in the door.”
    College quad with students walking away from the center
  18. How Peer Pressure Can Lead Teens to Underachieve—Even in Schools Where It’s “Cool to Be Smart”
    New research offers lessons for administrators hoping to improve student performance.
    Eager student raises hand while other student hesitates.
More in Careers