Know your non-negotiables before beginning your job search

Your non-negotiables are how you know when to say “No” to a job offer

Nick KossovanKnowing what you want from your next job, boss, and employer is one of the best ways to boost your job search confidence and earn respect from potential employers. The hiring managers I know don’t hire candidates they don’t have confidence in or respect.

I attribute my having committed myself (READ: created non-negotiables) to only accepting what I want and not accepting what I don’t want as the reason I don’t chase the wrong jobs and employers.

Having non-negotiables is how you know, nearly without hesitation – almost instinctually – what to say “No” to, thus freeing yourself to go after what you do want.

An additional benefit of non-negotiables: You know what questions to ask and what clarifications you need. Get what I call determining questions – questions that’ll help you decide whether a job is worth pursuing – off the table ASAP (e.g., during the initial phone screening). Before you begin the recruitment process, make sure the job and employer match your non-negotiables.

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Within a few minutes of first talking with a recruiter or employer who’s contacted me, I’ll say something along the lines of, “Before getting into the details of the job, let me ask a few questions to determine if it’s a good fit.” Then I’ll ask questions such as:

  • What’s the budgeted compensation?
  • What are the benefits, and when do they begin?
  • Where’s the position located, and is there free parking?
  • What are the expected working hours for this position?
  • Will I have an office with a door?
  • What are the call center hours? (I’m in call center management.)

Yes, I do ask such questions and several others.

Once, a major retailer approached me about managing its call center at its headquarters. Within a few minutes, I asked if the call center manager was expected to work weekends or statutory holidays. The answer was “Yes.” After thanking the HR manager for calling, I said I wasn’t interested in working weekends or holidays; therefore, the position wouldn’t work for me. I saved my time and the HR manager’s by asking this question early in the conversation.

Other non-negotiables for me include commute distance and free parking. I won’t accept an over 15 km commute and/or free parking not being available. Therefore, I get this off the table immediately. If working remotely is one of your non-negotiables, then bring it up ASAP. Continuing to talk with the employer if remote working isn’t going to happen is pointless.

Obviously, if the job description mentions your non-negotiable is part of the offer, which I presume is why you applied, you don’t need to ask, other than maybe to confirm.

A shoutout to employers: Writing job postings that answer the most common questions candidates will ask would greatly benefit you. The more details you provide, the better job seekers can self-select – apply or not. Hence, you won’t fill your hiring pipeline with candidates who’ll walk away halfway through your hiring process because the job doesn’t fit their needs. (e.g., compensation isn’t as expected)

I know the advice I just gave goes against everything self-professing job search experts are telling you. Having non-negotiables – criteria I decide must exist or not exist before I will accept an offer – has worked for me during my many job searches, hence my firm belief in having non-negotiables. Without thinking, I walk away when a non-negotiable isn’t part of the compensation package, such as dental benefits. Walking away is critical. It’s pointless to have non-negotiables if you talk yourself into thinking they’re “flexible.” If you’re non-negotiable is a $75,000 base salary, don’t talk yourself into taking a job with a $68,000 base because the employer has lunch brought in on Fridays.

What makes a person happy in their work life depends heavily on how much time they spend learning what they want and having enough self-respect to pursue it. Many employees are unhappy because they accepted a job, a compensation package, a commute, a boss, or a workplace they didn’t really want. I respond to complaints about hours, compensation, benefits, or commute by asking, “Didn’t you know this before you took the job?”

Unhappy employees are employees who settled.

When I meet a candidate for the first time, I can immediately tell if they know what they want from their job and employer. With such candidates, I can cut to the chase and ask, “Other than the obvious, what do you expect from me?” (Yes, I do ask this question.) We then have an open conversation about whether the company and I can deliver on the candidate’s “asks,” which is how all interviews should be conducted.

Some hard-learned advice: Ensure your job offer letter contains all your non-negotiables. Many job seekers tell me of accepting a job and discovering it and/or the workplace was “misrepresented.”

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job.

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