Both as an executive coach and recruiter I have worked on negotiations involving offers in the multiple six-figures. These big offers have a lot of moving parts and involve experienced professionals on both sides of the negotiation table (candidate and employer). So I’m always surprised when I’m coaching a candidate who leaves out key items that should be discussed in every executive package.
Here are five negotiable items even savvy professionals forget to ask for:
Sure, the employer really loves you now so is offering a generous package now. But what happens when things go wrong? (Notice I say “when” and not “if,” because things will go wrong.)
The experienced candidate is confident and skilled and assumes that s/he can right the ship when things go wrong, but several critical success factors are completely out of your control – change of executive management, change in executive priorities or change in market conditions to name a few big ones. Through no fault of your own, your role may be eliminated – when new management comes in with their own multiple six-figure hire, when priorities point resources (like the ones supporting your salary and your team) to other areas, when a downturn in the market renders your efforts fruitless.
I once coached a professional with a half a million dollar package who was relocating her family for a new role. She was most excited that I helped bump her package up 10% but I was most excited that she added one year of guaranteed severance into her contract. Employers often build in claw-back provisions whereby you owe back the sign-on and/or relocation money and/or bonus accrued if you leave prematurely.
Do you have your own “claw-back” In place?
Many offers at the executive level are generous because of the bonus structure. But the package may not really be so generous if it’s based on a bonus that is unrealistic.
I once coached a C-level executive who was leaving a Fortune 100 company where he had a long proven track record of success to helm a new business launch whose prospects were anything but guaranteed. It was his dream job, yes, and much of the dream was the high risk/high reward equation. But that risk still could be better managed with better information and assurances at the outset. What is the history of this company with new launches? What is the track record with bonus payouts? How much of the bonus criteria is subjective (e.g., management opinion) vs. actions the candidate controls?
For this executive, the new launch entailed government agency approvals that were completely out of his control, so the bonus was renegotiated to depend on his part in bringing the product up for approval, not the approval itself.
Do you have a bonus that you can hit?
Not just your bonus but your day-to-day job depends on the resources you get. So the employer who really wants you will promise you resources – yes, you can hire a team, key stakeholders really support your initiative, you will have time and autonomy to focus on this key thing that is tied to your success. Then you get there and budget for your team is not approved, senior management or internal colleagues who you need to work with are not supportive, and you are pulled in many different directions in addition to (or sometimes instead of) the reason that you joined.
If you know that meeting your goals requires certain resources, get these assurances in writing. I once coached a non-profit executive who was tasked with an aggressive fundraising goal – not too aggressive for her skill set – but fundraising at that level requires support of the board and enough time and resources to go out and make the donor requests. She knew she could do her part, so she needed to focus the negotiation on what the organization needed to give her – the specific number and type of team support, the corresponding Board responsibilities to complement her own.
Yes, part of your job is navigating the company culture and negotiating for resources once you get there, but if you know from the outset there are certain resources you absolutely need, negotiate for these before you get there.
Do you have guaranteed resources in place to support your success?
Many times an executive package is complex with one number influencing the others.
One sales executive I coached had a number of upside items (commission kickers, equity, retirement contributions) that were supposedly determined by base salary bands. Up the base and all these benefits down the stream should be increased. This executive was very savvy negotiating his base upward but needed to carry his gains over into all of these downstream benefits. When we reviewed his contract, the obvious numbers changed (base amount, bonus as a percentage of the new base), but the new math didn’t carry all the way forward. The additional kickers and the stock were still based on the lower base.
Do the actual math! Even if the employer says the figures are just illustrative, and yes you’ll be included in the higher ranges because of your salary, have your offer letter changed all the way through to reflect the entirety of the new offer. This is a document you can refer to if there are any conflicts down the road.
Have you checked all items of your offer to ensure that changes in one area carry all the way forward?
Concessions After You Have Joined
Maybe you’re lucky enough that all of these oft-forgotten items are already taken care of – you get a guaranteed severance, your bonus criteria are realistic, your resources are assured, the math is correct. So you join and three months out you need something.
The best time to ask for everything, even concessions after you have joined, is that initial offer stage, when the employer is still wooing you. Of course, there will be some things you can’t anticipate, but if there is anything you can anticipate, bring it up before you accept.
One business development executive I coached was expecting a second child and wanted to have increased flexibility in work schedule and location shortly after starting. He didn’t get this in writing but it was important that his employer was aware and open to what was shortly coming before the candidate accepted. It may not seem like a big deal to you (maybe you had this flexibility at your previous employer) but don’t assume how your new employer will react. Get as many concessions as you can at the offer stage, even ones that don’t kick in till after you have joined.
Are there assumptions you are making that you need to discuss openly?
There is so much more to an offer than base and bonus. What additional items have you negotiated for?
A version of this post originally appeared in my column for Forbes.com.