Worth vs. Value in Job Negotiations

They are not synonymous, especially in the career arena, writes Michael A. Matrone, and you should not allow greed to damage good relations between you and a future employer.

August 8, 2016

I must admit that I did not intend to write this column. Originally, I planned to write about how to develop and maintain resiliency in your predoctoral and postdoctoral training. Aside from the passion you must have to pursue advanced training in your favorite subject, it takes an extraordinary amount of resiliency to pursue scholarly research that too often follows the Pareto principle: 20 percent of your efforts leads to 80 percent of your results. A great read on this topic is Thirteen Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin.

Unfortunately, resiliency will need to wait for another day, as I’d like to discuss job negotiations.

Recently, I bore witness to behavior during a negotiation that was self-destructive and potentially career derailing. So you may avoid that outcome, I’d like to convey to you that experience and provide advice on how to negotiate with grace.

How Not to Negotiate: A Case Study

Last month, I reviewed an offer letter for a prospective employee, whom we will call Parker -- a newly minted graduate from a dual-degree program without any postdegree experience. An entry-level salary was offered, and I approved the letter and moved on to other tasks.

A few days later, my phone rang. It was someone from the human resources department. It was about Parker. Unhappy with the salary in the offer letter, and displeased with a failed attempt to negotiate with the hiring manager, Parker was making phone calls to university offices in order to question the offered salary and discover justification to warrant a higher salary. In response, the hiring manager had called Parker to advise ceasing such behavior. I was also asked to intervene and call Parker to hear the concerns.

On the phone, Parker explained that, as a dual-degree recipient, one of those degrees fulfilled the position’s degree requirement. The second degree was the equivalent of five years of on-the-job experience. Parker argued for an additional $10,000 above the offered entry-level salary.

I countered that Parker’s interpretation was incorrect. The work accomplished was as a graduate student in fulfillment of two degrees, both of which were not completed and awarded until this month. Neither could be considered on-the-job experience, I explained. Despite Parker’s many attempted arguments to justify the requested salary, I held firm to the hiring manager’s offer and stated that the lack of any postdegree experience did not justify the requested higher salary, despite it being within the salary range. I also made clear it was Parker’s decision and right to accept or reject the offer. We ended the conversation politely.

During nonworking hours, a senior university administrator copied me on a reply to an email from Parker. Parker had gone above the hiring manager’s head to plea the case for a higher salary. Uninformed of my prior conversation, the senior administrator referred Parker to me. While composing a reply to this message, I received another message from Parker, sent not only to me, but also to two different senior university administrators. In the two lengthy emails, Parker argued how university policy did not fairly recognize and reward previous experience, and that the university should change its compensation policies accordingly. Parker’s tone was self-righteous, entitled and lecturing. Instead of replying to those messages, I forwarded them to the hiring manager with a synopsis of the situation.

Over the next few days, additional emails from Parker were forwarded to me -- one made false claims about the response from the first senior university administrator, and the second grossly misrepresented prior experience.

Throughout these communications, Parker made clear the intent to accept the position. In fact, the offer was made because Parker possessed the skills and knowledge for the job and was an excellent match to the hiring manager and to the group. Furthermore, Parker communicated that the job would serve as a good stepping-stone for a future career move. Had Parker simply accepted the position, then later advocated for a higher salary and policy change after starting the job, all may have worked out favorably. Unfortunately, by subverting a salary negotiation into a platform for equitable pay and compensation policies, and by conveying an entitled attitude and insubordinate and unprofessional behavior, Parker not only undermined the negotiation, but potentially derailed the career.

This case can be analyzed and used as a learning tool from many angles. Certainly, professionalism in both behavior and communication comes to mind. But I believe this situation arose from Parker’s disappointment due to unrealistic expectations of perceived worth and value relative to the actual worth and value of the position.

Understanding worth vs. value. Often, worth and value are terms used interchangeably; however, they are not synonymous, especially in the career arena. First, consider your own worth and value. Your worth is the amount of money you expect to receive for your level of training and experience. Your value is the strengths and the contributions you will bring to the position and to the organization. Second, consider the worth and value of the position to which you apply. The worth of a position is the organization’s salary range for the position. A position’s value is the organization’s needs of that position.

Part of being an excellent candidate for a job is matching your worth and value to those of the job and organization. For advanced-degree recipients entering the workforce, it is important to maintain realistic expectations or worth and value.

To know your worth, manage your expectations. Before applying to and interviewing for a job, and long before the negotiation stage, it is important to prevent disappointment by establishing in advance whether your worth realistically aligns with that of the job. You must realize that, before a job advertisement is posted, the position was approved for and budgeted within a predetermined salary range based on qualifications for, and the duties and responsibilities of, that position.

To manage your salary expectations, do your homework about the job. Many vertical search engines collect salary information by position title -- Indeed Salary Search, Salary.com and Glassdoor.com are a few. Such data are mined from job advertisements that disclose a salary range and submissions by individuals who previously held those positions. In addition, for jobs in the public sector, salary information is often searchable online in the interests of transparency. For example, Transparent California is a searchable database of California public employee salaries and pensions. Other states have similar sites.

With those data, you can determine a position’s worth and align your worth accordingly based on your qualifications and experience. The data will also allow you to approach a negotiation from an informed position. More importantly, understanding how your worth and the position's worth align will allow you to negotiate based on your value.

To earn your worth, negotiate your value. By the time of a negotiation, you have already effectively conveyed your experience and convinced the hiring manager, and the organization, that you are the right person for the job. In a negotiation, to earn your worth, you must emphasize your value. To successfully negotiate, you must:

  1. Recognize the organization’s worth and value of the position by negotiating within the stated salary range;
  2. Clearly state the various strengths and contributions you will bring to the organization and how each justifies your worth; and
  3. Communicate through the proper channels and respect the recruitment process.

The last point is particularly crucial, especially in light of Parker’s case. Disrespecting authority in an attempt to curry a more favorable outcome in a negotiation, especially among those people who have no part in your recruitment, is a surefire way to lose the salary, or even the job. In the end, that was Parker's fate. The offer was rescinded and an opportunity lost.

Remember, not all negotiations will be successful. And yes, it can be disappointing. You may not get the offer you want at first or in the end. When it is time to decide whether to accept the offer, ask yourself:

  1. Does the salary meet my expectations?
  2. Is the salary commensurate to the responsibility and ability needed to do the job?
  3. Does this position offer me experience that will open future doors to reach my professional goal?

Only you can answer these questions, but answer them with the bigger picture in mind -- not solely based on worth. Do not allow greed to damage good relations between you and your future employer. Worse yet, do not risk losing a position by allowing emotion to fuel unprofessional behavior.


Michael A. Matrone is the postdoctoral affairs officer at Oregon Health & Science University and the treasurer of the Graduate Career Consortium.


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