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Improving Your Negotiating Skills

The best person to negotiate salary is you. The negotiation is ultimately about the work you are willing to perform in return for compensation. Understandably, this is a difficult issue to negotiate through a third party. However, you may choose to allow a third party, such as a recruiter, to negotiate on your behalf. If you do use a recruiter, get the best representation available. Your negotiator must have game industry knowledge and preferably first-hand experience specifically with your work functions. If the recruiting firm you choose is staffed with amateurs who only know some industry buzzwords—never played a game themselves, let alone have hands-on experience in the development of a game—don't expect professional, effective representation.

When negotiating compensation, you want to avoid being aggressive or confrontational. You also want to avoid the perception that you are only interested in money or benefits, not the job itself. Always come from a space that you're "psyched" about the job and can't wait to get started after you work out a few details. Simply talk first about the job itself, and then explain why it is you want something. You will avoid being perceived as selfish if you speak in a collaborative way.

Also, make sure you are negotiating your salary with the right person. You're negotiating with the wrong person if your compensation requirements are almost the same as the person you're talking to. If you discover this is the case, move the negotiation on to this person's supervisor who should be at the correct level to negotiate with you.

Don't make the mistake of paying too much attention to the hiring manager who says the job is only paying $60,000 when you know you must earn at least $70,000 to stay afloat. Always postpone salary negotiations until the end of the interview process. If you interview well, you can position yourself for a job that has not yet been completely defined. Remember that in the interview process your goal is to co-create a job that works for both you and the hiring manager. During this customization, make sure the job is appropriate for your salary requirements.

Preparing for Negotiation

The best way to prepare for negotiating compensation is to get clear on your goals and gather all the facts for each company.

When negotiating compensation, don't foolishly focus solely on the base salary. The game industry is an amalgam of small start-ups, established third-party developers, and corporate giants. Issues such as the availability of publicly traded stock, IPO status, royalty percentages, and bonus programs play a significant factor in your compensation package, so pay attention to these numbers and your options.

Determine the market rate salary range for your type of position. Decide before each interview the salary you want versus what you need to live on, as well as what you will be willing to compromise based on the specifics of each of your target game companies. The degree to which a compensation package is negotiable depends on the position, the manager, the game company, and your perceived value. Again, be realistic—entry-level salaries are less negotiable than salaries for mid-level or executive positions.

The Dreaded Salary Question

Here's how to address salary questions during the interview:

  • "What are your salary requirements?"

    Summarize the requirements of the position as you understand them and then ask the interviewer for the normal salary range in the company for that type of position.

  • "How much did you earn on your last job?"

    Tell the interviewer that you would prefer learning more about the current position before you discuss compensation, and that you are confident you will be able to reach a mutual agreement about salary at that time.

  • "The salary range for this position is $28,000 to $32,000—will this work for you?"

    Tell the interviewer that it does come near what you were expecting, and then offer a range that places the top of the employer's range into the bottom of your range. For example, "I was thinking in terms of $32,000 to $36,000." Be sure, however, that the range you were thinking about is consistent with what you learned about the market rate for that position.

Avoid answering the question, "What are you currently earning?" until the end of the interview. To do this, simply request delaying salary conversations until you understand more about the job. Let the interviewer know that you are very interested in working for his company and that you are willing to make an investment, so salary won't be a problem. If you feel forced to answer this question, don't answer with a specific number; rather, provide the hiring manager with a salary range. For example, "My skills in the market go for about $78,000 to $92,000. Let's focus on defining the specifics of the job. I know we will work out a win/win on salary."

Whenever possible, try to highlight the common goals and points of agreement between you. After all, this isn't war; it's a negotiation. For the most part, you both have similar goals. It's your ideas on how to achieve these goals that differ. When responding, use phrases that show you agree with the other person's position such as, "I agree with that," or, "That's a great point." If you make the other person feel like a winner, both sides will be.

Understand Your Skills and Their Worth

Enter into compensation negotiation with a firm understanding of your skills and what they are worth. Be prepared to defend or present justification. If you've ever seen a debate, you know the most prepared person usually wins. How did you arrive at your compensation expectations? Share this data with your new employer. Here are a few things you can do to research and prepare:

  • Find printed evidence to back up your oral arguments. Collect surveys and articles. Bring these to your interview and use them.

  • Highlight or underline key facts to make them leap off the page.

  • Factor the entire compensation package including, for example, tuition benefits, investment options, health plan, and any perks, along with salary into your negotiation discussion.

  • For a more realistic picture, compute the total dollar worth of these benefits and add this figure to the salary. If it is important to you, you may decide to negotiate benefits rather than an actual dollar amount increase.

Sometimes, the trade-off of a slightly lower base for a chance to join a start-up company and obtain founder's stock is sensible. Or, if you're making a transition into the industry from another discipline, initially, you may have to prove yourself in the market before commanding the salary you actually deserve. This is fine. Remember: this industry rewards risk taking. Another reason for accepting a lower base salary is that the position you are considering may place you in the industry spotlight, thus making you very visible and positioning you for other opportunities. Perks like car allowance, airline or fitness club memberships, first class travel, and special development equipment can also offset base salary. Your creativity is the limit here—just get clear with yourself and your goal.

When negotiating, reach for your goal, but be prepared to accept any offer between a minimum and maximum range. All companies operate within some sort of compensation structure. You can't guess this structure, but you can assume that that the first offer extended will be mid-range on their scale. Don't leave money on the table! Generally, there is $5,000 more available, so try for $5,000 more. Make a counter offer. You might not get it, but ask. However, don't get greedy and max yourself out compared to what others reasonably earn.

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