For the last two years, the working world has been on a rollercoaster.
At the start of the pandemic, lots of people found themselves out of work.
Soon, many people discovered the joys of working from home. And businesses found out how much they could gain by giving their workers the freedom to work remotely or part-time.
Then came the surprise labor shortage, and some businesses became desperate to get workers in the door. In fact, a recent CNBC report found that half of US companies surveyed say they are still understaffed as of November 2021.
This monumental shift has changed the game for workers, who suddenly find themselves with a new superpower of sorts: bargaining power.
Now, the tables have turned. Instead of jumping through hoops to get a desirable job, savvy workers can use their newfound advantages to get the job they want, on the terms they want.
What is bargaining power?
The phrase bargaining power refers to the advantages and leverage one party has over the other in a negotiation.
In the past, the phrase has been heavily associated with labor unions. Because labor unions typically advocate for workers, they often negotiate with legal professionals, private businesses, and government bodies. In these negotiations, the more bargaining power a union has, the easier it is to argue for wage increases or new benefits for its members.
In these cases, the workforce itself is often the token of bargaining power. Unions can tell their workers to strike, which is a powerful move if it shuts down an entire business or industry.
Economists also often talk about the “buyer’s bargaining power,” referring to the pressure consumers can put on a company to get them to change. One of the best-known instances of bargaining power of buyers involved Nike, which put an end to many of its poor labor practices after massive boycotts and protests in the 90s.
In this article, I’ll mostly be talking about bargaining power on an individual level. I’m going to show you how you can tap into your own bargaining power and negotiate a job that brings you joy, happiness, and prosperity—whatever that looks like for you.
6 steps to increase your bargaining power
The steps I’ve outlined here will help you increase the value of what you bring to the table in a job negotiation. But fair warning—negotiating is tricky stuff!
Even the best, most peaceful negotiations can be confrontational. You must be true to yourself, stand firm in your convictions, and know when to concede and when to walk away.
The absolute best thing you can do is to be prepared. Here’s exactly what you should do to get in the right mindset for a successful negotiation:
Step 1. Picture your ideal outcome
Before you start any job negotiation, you first have to understand what your ideal outcome would look like. In other words, you have to figure out exactly what matters most to you in a job.
The first question you should ask is, “How much do I want to get paid?”
Of course, the answer is probably, “As much as possible!” But having a realistic salary range will help you narrow down your job prospects and make it easier to negotiate with your future employer.
Think about how much you’ve been paid at previous jobs. This can help you find the bottom of your salary range, since you likely don’t want to switch to a job that pays less (unless it has amazing benefits).
After that, look into the median salaries for the role you’re going for. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good place to start, but you can also find salary data through an old-fashioned Google search.
Once you have a salary range in mind, there are other questions to consider:
What benefits do I need and want?
How much time off do I want?
Do I want the option to work remotely?
What promotion/growth opportunities do I want?
Write down a list of the most ideal circumstances for any job—these are your gold standards. In any negotiation going forward, your goal should be to obtain as many things on your list as possible.
In an ideal world, you’ll be able to find an employer who meets every criteria on your list of wants. But the reality is, in most cases, you’ll need to be willing to compromise on some of your demands to meet your future employer in the middle.
Now that you have written out your ideal outcomes, it’s time for the tricky part—prioritizing these wants. When you walk into a negotiation, you want to have some demands that are absolutely non-negotiable (like being paid at least the average rate) and others that are flexible (maybe you’ll take 4 weeks of vacation if you can’t get 6).
Try going through the list and assigning each item one, two, or three stars:
One Star: I can live without this, but it would be nice.
Two Stars: I’ll only compromise on this if they offer something excellent that balances it out.
Three Stars: This is non-negotiable. If a job can’t meet this need, I’ll walk away, no matter what else they offer.
Once this is done, you are already one step ahead of most people who enter into job negotiations. You’ll be walking in the room prepared, with a list of what you need and want—the things you’ll use your bargaining power to obtain.
Step 3. Get a deep understanding of what they want
This next step may be a bit more challenging because you’ll need to put yourself in the shoes of the person or company who is interviewing you.
To leverage your bargaining power, you must understand what matters most to your negotiating partner (in this case, an employer). Once you know what they want most of all, you can find ways to promise to meet this need. And once you demonstrate you can meet that need, you’ll have a lot more room to use your bargaining power to your advantage.
The best place to start this process is the job description itself—this is literally a list of your negotiating partner’s “must-haves.” The more evidence you have that you fit the job description, the more bargaining power you’ll have once it comes time to discuss things like salary and benefits.
Beyond the job description, you can look at the company’s website and social media pages to get a feel of what they’re looking for in their employees. Read over the company’s mission statements, and look for evidence of what their office culture is like—these can help you figure out which soft skills to highlight on your resume.
Step 4. Highlight your value in your resume and during interviews
Now that you have a list of your wants and a good understanding of your potential employer’s wants, it’s time to showcase the value you bring to the table.
Your resume and job interviews are the best places to highlight your skills, experiences, and traits that align with what the company is looking for.
For example, say a company wants someone skilled with social media. Your resume should include links to examples of your best social posts or evidence of any social media training and courses you’ve taken.
If the company says it’s actively seeking reliable and trustworthy workers, ask the people who write your references to specifically mention these traits.
The more value you can demonstrate early on, the more eager your potential employee will be to meet your demands.
Step 5. Come armed with alternatives
“Alternative” is a magical word when it comes to negotiation. In fact, having alternatives lined up is one of the best ways to use your bargaining power and get what you want.
For example, let’s say that one of the things you want out of this job is the opportunity to work remotely. But during the interview, the employer tells you that they expect all employees to be in the office five times a week.
If you haven’t prepared for this negotiation, you might cave and agree to trek into the office every day. Or you might decide to walk away altogether, turning your back on what otherwise would be a great job.
But if you have an alternative in mind, you can use this to work out a better deal. In this example, you might suggest that you’ll come into the office twice a week or any time there’s an important meeting or group project.
Because you’ve already demonstrated your value (see step 4), they’ll be more willing to compromise on what otherwise would be non-negotiable.
Step 6. Check your emotions at the door
Now comes the really challenging part—keeping your emotions in check!
Job negotiations are serious stuff. The conditions you agree to at the start of a new job will significantly impact your overall happiness at work and in your free time.
Such high stakes can lead to equally high emotions. It’s easy to get frustrated, angry, or intimidated when negotiating with someone. But letting these emotions take center stage is guaranteed to land you on the losing side of the bargain.
If you’re anxious or lacking confidence before a negotiation, you may want to try some mindful meditation to get you into the right headspace. It’s also a good idea to have a trusted friend or mentor around, whom you can call before or after the negotiation to let those emotions out (without compromising your bargaining power).
Negotiating the job you want is no easy task—but failure to negotiate well means you could end up in a job you hate. Fortunately, if you follow these steps to amp up your bargaining power ahead of time, it will be much easier to find a job that meets your wants and needs.