Why Salary and Job Negotiation is Like Buying A New Car

Two years ago, I bought a new car.  I was pretty excited, because it was the first one I had purchased in about 5 years – we all know that giddy feeling!  All the new bells and whistles looked especially shiny, and I was pretty stoked about having such a sweet ride with all the new technology add-ons.

But unfortunately, something bad happened along the way to happy car ownership. The vehicle ended up being a complete and utter lemon. I kept making the 40-minute round trip back to the dealer trying to get the problems fixed, but to no avail. Frustrated, I realized that it was probably best to dump the problem vehicle and bite the bullet… buying yet another car in hopes that starting from scratch would be the best option.

So here I found myself in the dealership yet again.

Most of us grit our teeth in dreaded anticipation of the grueling negotiation process on the actual price of the car.  Me? I actually like it.  It tests my mettle and gives me the opportunity to practice the art of negotiation.  Being relaxed about the process and not caving to emotion helps me understand my negotiating strength as well as my emotional stamina… all valuable skills.

Weird, huh?

But if you think about it, the parallels between salary negotiation and buying a new car are actually uncanny:

  • You each want a deal to happen. Car dealerships want to move inventory and you need a vehicle… and similarly, you want the job and they have brought you in for the interview because they think you could be an asset to the organization.  That’s what brings you both together.
  • Each of you should have a good idea of what your end product is worth. The employer has a finite line that they won’t cross in terms of what they will and won’t pay in salary… and you have to be the same way.  Know your value, and stick to it.  Otherwise, it will be a mistake you’ll live to regret… even for years to come.
  • You both are trying to get the other person to tip their hand on what their “final number” really is. It’s the big dance, actually, like to adversaries slowly circling each other and trying to find out the other’s weak spot. The weak spot being what that number is and how it can be worked to considerable advantage in the final deal.  Be fair, but also be cautious when disclosing that final number.  Give yourself (and the employer or car dealer) a little wiggle room to be reasonable, but stick to your guns.
  • Each of you are trying to highlight the selling points of what you have to offer.  Like trade-ins with a few dents, sometimes our work history has a few dents too, so we are working hard to polish up the rest of our background to make it outshine those imperfections.  Make sure your selling points are standouts to justify your value.
  • Keeping emotions out of the negotiation game is paramount to getting what you really want.  The moment that you reveal how badly you want something, you’ve just made it infinitely harder to actually get that because you have just handed over significant negotiation power over to the other person… it’s call the law of supply and demand… otherwise known as not putting all of your eggs into one basket.  Just like that moment when you start to WANT that car or job more than anything else in the WORLD… you have made an emotional connection that can tear at your good sensibilities and cause you to make decisions you’ll regret later… like taking a lower salary.

But the one place that many job seekers don’t pay attention to is this: They aren’t willing to walk when the offer, value, or fit isn’t right.

Of course, it’s one thing to walk when you are discussing buying a car; but a job interview represents your livelihood and has much more on the line in terms of life impact than the car decision.

But why not treat it the same way?  Survival jobs aside, how many times have you taken a job and ground your teeth later that you KNEW you should have walked away and declined accepting the position?  These are the jobs where our hair is on fire, our stomachs churn with acid, we have sleepless nights, and our therapist is getting wealthy from all of our sessions.  Those are the jobs that make us sick every single day, and we hate going to work.

And the kicker?

We know in our heart of hearts that we should have held out for a better deal.

Salary and job negotiation is just like buying a new car… you need to be savvy about what it is that you offer, know what you bring to the table, and be very clear on your “final number” and what you will/won’t accept as the final deal.  Keeping these in mind can help you keep your sanity as well as negotiate to a better outcome.

What happened to me today at the dealership?  I got a square deal.  I got a fair price on my trade-in and on the new car.  The dealership still made some money, but they were in the ballpark of where I wanted to be. I walked out with what I wanted at a price that I liked, and they got some profit and moved some inventory off the lot.  Creating win-win scenarios are what successful negotiations should be all about!