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Why Job Seekers Need to Negotiate More Than Money

Other perks can make you much happier — especially in midlife

By Marc Miller | February 12, 2014
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Marc Miller's career journey has included 22 years at IBM, several tech startups, a stint as a school teacher and training employees in 35 countries. He now works as a career design expert and is the author of Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers.

Have you ever noticed that someone at work seemed to have a sweet deal and wondered how they got it? Maybe they’re allowed to work from home two days a week. Or they take three weeks’ vacation, while others get two. Or they come in at a different time from everybody else.

I’ll tell you why: They negotiated for it. These people thought about what they needed to be happy in the job and bargained to get the perk (or perks) before accepting an offer.

What Would Make You Happy at Work?

As a career-design coach for boomers and author of Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers, I can tell you: If you’re looking for work, you should negotiate for these types of perks, too — especially if you’re over 50 and have life priorities that matter more than (or at least as much as) money.

(MORE: The Right Way to Evaluate a Job Offer)

If you think about it, the things that make or break a job have more to do with how the job is structured than with salary. 

Obviously, we need to make enough to take care of our needs. But research shows that, after a certain minimum salary point, more money doesn’t necessarily make us happier. Tweaking the job to fit our lifestyles does.

Life Issues You Might Negotiate

That means things like being able to take Mom to the doctor or having the freedom to take a workout break during the day. This kind of stuff can make a huge difference to your job satisfaction. But most of us never think of negotiating for these kinds of perks.

(MORE: The No. 1 Way to Get Hired Today)

Asking for them after you’ve started a job generally results in a “No.” The key moment to bargain for them is right after you’ve been offered a job and just before you’ve started talking salary.

The Right Time to Bring Them Up

At that juncture, the employer is focused on the money: How much are we going to have to pay this person? They’ve given you a number and don’t want the needle to go up much. So if you ask for things that won’t move the needle, there’s a really good chance you’ll get a “Yes.”

When you receive an offer, the business or nonprofit has told you that they want you. Usually, just about everything is negotiable. So use this moment to negotiate for the things that caused you to leave your last job, make you happy, reduce stress or make your life easier.

(MORE: 7 Ways Older Job Hunters Can Win at Job Interviews)

Two Life-Perk Negotiating Success Stories

I had a client who was looking for a job and truly needed one. She also needed to travel out of state once a month to see her ailing mother.  When she knew she was about to get an offer, I coached her to ask the firm if she could work remotely one Friday a month so she could fly out to see her mother. They said: “Yes.”

Another client was contacted by her former employer who wanted her back. Okay, she said, but she had four demands: She wanted to write her own job description; she wanted the company to pay for her cell phone service and her networking events; she wanted to work remotely a couple days a week and she wanted two display screens for her computer. She got all but the two screens.

My Own Perk Story

I discovered this negotiating principle one time when I was applying for a job. It was December, and my wife and I had planned a trip abroad the following September. During the job discussions, I said I’d need three weeks vacation. Normally taking time off in September,  the end of their sales cycle, would be an insane request. But since it didn’t move the needle and was so far off, they said “Yes.”

What You Should Figure Out

What do you really need to make your work life great?

It might be something you’re stressed about. Or either a certain amount of paid time off or a particular configuration...like one week every four months. Maybe you’d like to work from home two days a week to cut down on painful commuting. Or you need a special computer screen or office chair to accommodate a physical limitation; I know that when I ruptured a disc in my back, I gained a healthy admiration for ergonomic chairs.

It might even be something as seemingly trivial as working near a window. I actually know a lot of people whose entire outlook is lifted by being able to see outside during the workday. In places like Austin, where I live, it might be bringing your dog to work — that’s big here.

You know what would make the difference between a good job and a great job in your circumstances. The important thing is to make a list of these issues while you’re looking for jobs, so that when you’re given the opportunity to accept a new position, you’re ready to bring them up.

We rarely leave jobs because of the money. It’s usually everything else: the work environment, too much stress… Instead of just dreaming of your perfect job, negotiate for it.
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