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The 5 steps to successfully negotiate your return-to-work role

We know that many women returners are more likely to gratefully accept any terms rather than to consider negotiating when offered a job after a career break. However, it’s important to make the role work for you for it to be sustainable. That’s why we’re happy to welcome this week’s guest blogger, Natalie Reynolds, a negotiation expert, to help you to sharpen up your negotiation skills.
We negotiate every day, in many different ways and with many different people. It is a fundamental requirement in reaching agreement, resolving dispute and succeeding in business. We might find ourselves negotiating our salary, a contract or a deadline … or in the case of those returning to work, negotiating a job which fits our new circumstances, maybe with a whole new way of working.
Negotiation can be intimidating at the best of times,
never mind when it’s going to impact on our family and lifestyle. With this in
mind, the following DEALS approach is designed to highlight the key steps to take when you’re planning for and negotiating your job offer with your potential new employer.
Discover: Before you get anywhere near the negotiation table you need to discover as much as you can about the
role and the organisation. Do your research, know the facts, understand the
market and look at what has been agreed with current employees in terms of pay and ways of working. If you want flexible working, check who is working in this way currently and on what basis (part-time/job-share/remote working) – this will give you a sense of what’s feasible. It is essential that we are
creative with this process as we often just think about the obvious issues … but
perhaps the key to unlocking this deal sits in an area you just hadn’t
considered:  could you ask for extra leave in the summer holidays, or annualised hours for example? Find out who will be involved in the negotiation process – are you talking to the decision maker? As you’re likely to be out of touch with salaries, are
there ex-colagues you can talk to for current data or industry baselines you can look at (see website such as for salary data)? Crucially, make sure you’re clear on what you are bringing to the business and any unique
skills that you can offer.
Establish: Next up is to establish some boundaries and priorities. Establish
what your key priorities are … as well as what theirs might be. To create a
win/win outcome you need to understand what success looks like for them also.
Reciprocity means if they feel they have won, they are more likely to help you
win too. You also need to establish the areas where you can’t compromise and your breakpoint or walkaway point. This is
the worst case outcome for you. Once you’ve established it – stick to it! In
the heat of a negotiation we often agree to things we wouldn’t if we were more
calm or confident.
Ask: This is about making sure you make your proposals in the most
effective way. Package all the issues in your proposal (eg. base pay, bonus, benefits, working hours, holidays) rather than going issue by issue. When you make a proposal always make sure you open ‘ambitiously
but credibly’. Ask for slightly more than you need to give yourself wriggle
room to explore what they might be willing to give you, but don’t go for a completely unrealistic opening offer. If you can, try and
make the first move in the negotiation. Anchoring is a phenomenon from the
world of psychology that means we are often overly influenced by the first
number put on the table and you are then likely to finish closer to that
figure. Don’t worry if you don’t manage to go first though; just remember to
not reinforce their proposal by going on and on about it. Instead recognise the
best way to beat their opening proposal is to make one of your own. Simply, the
more you talk about what you want and why, the more likely you are to get it.
It’s also essential that you plan several moves in advance … and again, be
creative! Think of lots of different angles to try and reach an agreement and
don’t be afraid to make lots of suggestions. If you’re asking for flexible hours/location make sure you present the business case of how it can work for the team rather than just for you.
Lead: This refers to taking the lead in the negotiation. Be confident.
Take a deep breath and speak calmly and professionally. Don’t allow your
emotions to control you. A simple tip to help with this is to remember that
even the most confident of people will often feel awkward and nervous when
negotiating; they are probably just doing a better job of hiding it!
Seal: And last but not least is to seal the deal in the right way. Get it
in writing as soon as you can. One of the most dangerous phases in a
negotiation is the ‘post-deal, pre-paperwork’ phase. This is the period after
the deal has been agreed with a handshake or verbal agreement, but the ink is
not yet on the contract or formal agreement. This is the phase where if your
counterparty has any doubts about the deal they have just done, they will come
back and try to alter terms they are unhappy with, or walk away from the
agreement in that form altogether.  To
try and limit the risk of this, be gracious rather than over the top if you get
a great outcome and make your counterparty feel satisfied with their result.
Agreements are stronger if each side feels like they are winning.
Natalie Reynolds is an negotiation expert at Advantage Spring. She has also written the popular  book ‘We Have a Deal: How to negotiate with intelligence, flexibility and power’ which is published by Icon Books. To find out more about advantageSPRING’s
negotiation programmes visit

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