The 4 Steps to Negotiating After a Career Break

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Relaunching your career is lots of things: exhilarating, rewarding, challenging. Despite years of experience as a professional, you’re going out into the workforce with a fledgling perspective. You wonder: what should my resume look like? What should I say in the interview? And, my gosh, once I’m over that hurdle, what can I expect from a new hire perspective?

iRelaunch’s Return to Work Conference, held in New York City on Oct. 3, 2019, answered these questions for an audience of career relaunchers through a variety of panels, keynotes and breakout groups. In a safe environment of hundreds of people overcoming the same challenges, the iRelaunch team and its invited speakers were able to approach even the toughest complexities of relaunching. 

One such complexity? Setting expectations for compensation — and working to exceed them.  

In a panel called Salary Negotiation for Re-launchers: What You Need to Know, Ginny Brzezinski, a contributor to, Mary Beth Barrett-Newman, the founder of 2nd Career Consulting, and Carroll Welch, Founder of Carroll Welch Consulting, tackled this topic. They established a four-step formula for career re-launchers to negotiate a compensation package that meets their needs — and, hopefully, provides a little more. 

Step 1: Get clarity about your wants and needs before you begin negotiating

Before you approach a negotiation conversation, Mary Beth Barrett-Newman advocates for getting your compensation wants and needs on a piece of paper. What are you willing to compromise on, and what are your non-negotiables? 

First, the panel suggests trying to parse out “the 4 Cs” of your job offer: control, content, compensation and culture. These are aspects of the job that can add or detract value, even if they aren’t traditional benefits. Much of this information should be found in the job offer. The panel advocates for getting a job offer in writing, with more context than just your salary. Ask for your title, who you’re reporting to and your starting date. If possible, ask to see a summary of the benefits, along with a bonus or commission plan, if applicable. 

While you may be able to discern some of this from the job offer, you may have to seek some of this information from your contact, your network at the organization or online resources like Fairygodboss.

For control, find out how much control you have over your day. Would you be able to leave work on time and spend time with your family? Would you be able to leave for a doctor’s appointment, or arrive late when you need to take care of something? Would you have the weekends completely off, or would you need to be on-call? Having more control over your day can add value if you need — or want — a strong work-life balance and flexible schedule. 

For content, find out the actual responsibilities of the job. Do these things align with your interests or passions? Would these things align with your career development goals, or would you feel stagnant? Is there an opportunity for upward mobility? Having clear career pathing and a challenging role can add value if that’s what you’re seeking out of this job. 

For compensation, find out how much the organization is planning to literally compensate you. What would your salary be? What would your benefits look like? What is your Paid Time Off policy? The panel was sure to remind the audience that while many career re-launchers have partners with benefits, they aren’t something to overlook. Everyone needs their own retirement benefits, and who knows? You may be able to secure better health benefits than your partner. 

Then, for culture, try to discern the company’s culture. Is there technically a flexible work policy, but no one uses it? Is there a strong performance culture with little leniency? Or is it a friendly environment? Having a company culture that aligns with your personality and goals can be critical to your happiness in the role. 

Once you’ve gathered this information, write it down and decide if each “C” aligns with your personal needs. Does the salary exceed your expenses? Does the culture allow for you to manage your personal responsibilities? Is the culture one you can thrive in? Then, see how it aligns with your wants. Write out any gaps you notice. Maybe you were expecting more than 10 days of PTO (you should, according to the panel), or more than $55,000 a year. Knowing where the job offer is lacking will help you make a coherent argument for a better offer later. 

Step 2: Do your homework! Research the market value of the position.

Now that you know how the position aligns with your wants and needs, it’s time to research how to approach their offer and check more of those boxes. The panel advocates for using a wealth of resources — people in your network, sites like Fairygodboss, or even a 990 in the non-profit sector — to find the “normal” compensation for your role. Scout out the average salary of people in your position, along with the typical benefits and paid time off policies, so you can ask for what you’re worth. 

Not only does this provide evidence for you to advocate for a higher salary, it also allows you to be realistic about your asks of the role. If you want or need a higher salary, but see the offered salary is towards the high-side for your role and organization, it may be worth it to look for another position that better aligns with your goals. The same goes for benefits, paid time off and those other value-adds. 

One thing the panel made clear: you do not need to discount yourself because you are a career re-launcher! What you made in a role 10 years ago has little relevance to what you should make now, and asking about your salary history is becoming increasingly illegal as more states and localities pass laws banning it. Put aside your imposter syndrome and ask for what others are making; you deserve it. 

Step 3: Anticipate and understand today’s hiring and negotiation processes.

Now that you know what you want and what you can ask for, it’s time to ask. The panel emphasized that negotiating is the norm in today’s workforce — it’s expected almost every time someone accepts a role — and that it takes only a few small moves to really improve your negotiation presentation. 

First, make sure you don’t accept a call from the hiring manager or interviewer when you aren’t prepared to talk. In other words, according to the panelists, if you’re in line at Trader Joe’s or driving carpool, it’s best to send the call to voicemail. Once you do answer, ask for the offer in writing and tell them you will get back to them in a reasonable timeframe that aligns with your communication thus far. 

After you’ve completed the above steps, Barrett-Newman suggests role-playing the discussion with a friend or partner. Once you feel confident about your pitch, it’s time to give them a call back. 

The panel advises not negotiating single-items but holistically, as it’s easier for the person on the other side of the conversation to say “no” to everything after your initial ask. Also, be sure to be firm, even-paced and confident. You researched this! 

Sometimes, negotiation will not be possible. And sometimes, you won’t get what you want. The panel advises responding positively after you are told changes aren’t possible to maintain a positive relationship with the hiring body. 

After you’ve negotiated — successful or not — ask for the offer with amendments in writing. Then, let them know you’ll respond in a reasonable timeframe. Now, it’s time for step four. 

Step 4: Take into account how the position fits within your long-term goals.

Now that you have the final offer and know how it aligns with your needs and wants, it’s time to evaluate it again, considering all of the intangible factors of the role. Consider how it fits into your long-term goals and what opportunities it presents. For instance, maybe it’s a start in the industry you’re interested in, even if the pay isn’t what you want. Maybe the title is more mid-level than you’d prefer, but it has an amazing educational package that would allow you to obtain a master’s. 

Now, it’s time to make a final call — empowered and impressed by your negotiation skills. 

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