Everyone loves to get job offers—and for good reason. An offer is validation that your skills are valued and that you excelled over others competing for the same position.
But when it comes to the negotiation phase of a job offer, many people falter. They fear rejection and enter the negotiation process unsure of what to ask for as part of the salary/benefits package. Yet, with a little preparation, CPAs can—depending on the job and employer in question—negotiate for a variety of benefits and perks, including flex time, signing bonuses, day care options, health care, a guaranteed severance package, employer-provided cellphone plans, laptops, gym memberships, CPA license fees or continuing professional education (CPE), and, of course, vacation time.
“It is more important to negotiate for things other than salary,” said Joseph Rugger, CPA, CGMA, director of finance and operations for Jonesboro Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory in Jonesboro, Ark. “Millennials tend to value flexible work arrangements and paid time off a lot more than we value the bottom-line salary.”
So how does a CPA successfully navigate the negotiation process? Here’s some advice from negotiation experts:
Don’t negotiate until you’ve been given the offer. “You don’t want to go into the first and second interview and ask about negotiating,” said Matthew Briggson, CPA, CEO of Encoursa and author of The Accounting Interview Guide: An Insider’s Guide to Acing Accounting Interviews. Instead, wait until the offer is presented.
Don’t accept a job on the spot. Rugger, who has sat on both sides of the hiring desk, recommends that you take 24 to 48 hours to fully understand the offer. Don’t accept an offer out of excitement but instead review what the employer is offering and what other benefits you would like to negotiate.
Do your homework. Information is key, so do your research prior to negotiating. Check out the employer’s website. Connect with people on LinkedIn who are former employees or who have job titles similar to the one you are considering. Determine if the offer is in line with industry standards for your level of experience. Find out if the company covers CPE and CPA license fees.
Realize the differences between employers. The size of the company offering you a job will affect which perks you’re able to negotiate. For instance, small firms may offer fewer perks than larger ones but might make up for that in other ways—such as by offering more flexible scheduling.
Flex time is the perk that employees want nowadays, said Barry Franklin, CPA, founder of Barry H. Franklin, CPA, LLC, a small accounting firm in Tucker, Ga. “And for smaller CPA firms, that’s all we really have to offer, besides compensation.” His firm does not offer health insurance for its employees but tries to make up for it with higher compensation, he said. And his firm covers CPE and dues.
Determine how the employer defines success. “The more information you can find out about this position, the more leverage you will have,” Rugger said. Therefore, find out what the company deems important: What are the key performance indicators? How many billable hours are expected?
Avoid single-issue negotiation. Prioritize your top five benefits or perks outside of salary, and be prepared to give a reason why they are important. Figure out what that bundle is worth monetarily, said Lisa Gates, an executive coach and negotiation consultant, and co-founder of She Negotiates, a career consulting and training firm. Then, identify your deal breakers. If you don’t get what you want, be prepared to walk away, Rugger said.
Frame and justify your requests. “Give a reason for every negotiation,” Briggson suggested. “Present the case to the employer why they should give the extra perks and why it will be good for you and them.” If you ask to work remotely on Fridays, for example, note that your productivity for the company will be higher than if you work in the office. Or, if you ask for a gym membership, say you could potentially save your employer future health care costs.
Be straightforward, honest, and reasonable. Nothing is out of bounds, but don’t go overboard. “If you are a junior associate, you are not going to get a car,” Gates said. “However, if you are constantly taking your work home, there is no reason why you can’t ask for a computer.”
Anticipate pushback. Be prepared to hear the word “no” during negotiations. But when that happens, ask diagnostic questions: Is the request being rejected due to policy, preference, or opinion? As Gates said, “‘No’ is the beginning of the negotiation but not the end.”
Don’t accept an offer and try to negotiate shortly thereafter. “It is a rookie move” to accept a job and then make demands later to the employer, Rugger said. Instead, square everything away before you agree to take the job.
Know your worth. If you are being hired as a senior vice president, you don’t need to ask for permission to go to your child’s birthday party. “Just do it,” Gates said. “Some things you shouldn’t ask for.”
Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer.
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