Ask the Headhunter: How to negotiate flexibility into your job offer

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Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I just received a fantastic offer from a growing company that comes with a huge salary increase. I have a few days to decide before we negotiate the details.

My current job is close to home and incredibly flexible with my time. I would be giving much of that up for more salary and responsibility. In my industry it's common to work 60 or 70 hours a week and then fall back to a normal load during slow times. But the reality of my job makes it important to maintain work-life balance. I am hoping to negotiate some flexibility into my offer.

The company expects nine hours at the office with a one-hour break for lunch. I eat at my desk nearly every day. I don't need an hour for lunch. The extra 30 minutes with my toddler before bedtime means a lot more to me. I am going to end up working during lunch anyway. Reducing my lunch to 30 minutes so I can leave at 5 p.m. would make a big difference. This is the only reservation I have about the job, and I believe I am prepared to take it either way. I am ready to give up a lot of flexibility because it is a great professional move, but I am hoping to keep a bit of work-life balance. How can I negotiate this without the perception that I just want to cut out early every day?

Nick Corcodilos: Even if you win this concession, there's a gotcha that's even more important. We'll talk about that in a minute.

"The worst position to be in when negotiating is when you have already decided to accept the other guy's terms as they are."

You've already decided to take the job regardless of the 30-minute issue. So, please ask yourself, what's really important to you? If it's time with your child, then make that your priority. If you can live without that 30 minutes of family time, and you absolutely want this job and the extra money, then don't negotiate. The worst position to be in when negotiating is when you have already decided to accept the other guy's terms as they are. (In "Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers," I discuss a powerful negotiating position to take if you already know what concessions you're willing to make. See "Am I unwise to accept their first offer?", pp. 8-9.)

But if you really want that time at home, then don't feel guilty or hesitate to fight for it. When you discuss the offer, explain that you want the job and are eager to start, but your acceptance hinges on one issue.

How to Say It:
"I'd like to accept your offer and will deliver nine hours at the office. But I'd like to swap 30 minutes of lunch time so I can leave work 30 minutes earlier to be with my child. When I need to work late during a crunch, I'll do that. I'd like the written offer to reflect the 30-minute time trade. Otherwise, I'm ready to accept your offer."

There's nothing inappropriate about your requirement. But you have to ask to make it happen. (By the way, I think you're right – you will always eat at your desk anyway.)

You can add this: "You may need assurance that I will not abuse the 30-minute trade-off. How could we ensure it's handled properly? What I ask in return is that it be stated in my written offer."

By letting the employer set some terms around this, you help them make the concession. But you should absolutely get it in writing if they agree. An oral commitment from the employer is not sufficient.

I'd like to emphasize this last point. It's the gotcha I referred to earlier. You might win the concession, but lose it later. Any terms you negotiate in a job offer must be written into the agreement. If your boss changes, or if whoever made the promise disappears, this deal likely will come to a quick halt. Even under the best circumstances, people forget what they agreed to. (In the worst circumstances, an employer will just lie to you.) There's nothing like being able to produce a piece of paper with a signature on it to ensure you're getting the deal you signed. Don't lose what you gained!

Please use your best judgment — not just my advice. Congratulations on the offer. It's nice you're so pumped about it. Now make sure the terms are what you really want. (See "That's why it's called compensation.")

Dear Readers: Oral promises don't mean much when the rest of the deal is in writing. Have you ever felt cheated out of a promise after you started a job?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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