A solid approach to putting your future employment deal together is to decide in advance whether you want the job -- before an offer is extended. I'm not talking just about the money because, unless you're motivated solely by money, it's doubtful that a few extra dollars will turn a bad job into a good one. But deciding in advance clarifies whether a job suits your needs.
"Bottom line" refers to the amount of compensation you feel is absolutely necessary to accept a job offer. If, for example, you really want $130,000, but you would think about $120,000 and you'd settle for $115,000 or maybe slightly less for the perfect opportunity, then you haven't established your bottom line. The bottom line is one dollar more than the figure from which you would absolutely walk away. Setting a bottom line clarifies your sense of worth and helps avoid an unpredictable bargaining session.
"Negotiating" an offer in the classic sense is not recommended. This procedure is where the company makes a proposal, you counter it, they counter your counter, and so on. While this type of back and forth format may be customary for negotiating a residential real estate deal, job offers should be handled in a more straight-forward manner.
Here's how: Determine your bottom line in advance, then look for and wait for that offer. If the company offers you more than your bottom line, great. If they offer you less, then you have the option of turning the offer down or revealing to them your bottom line as a condition of your acceptance. At that point, they can raise the ante or walk away. Once the bottom line is known, you can avoid the haggling that so often causes aggravation, disappointment or hurt feelings.
By determining your own acceptance conditions in advance, you'll never be accused of negotiating in bad faith or of being indecisive. Whether you're representing yourself or working with a recruiter, learning to differentiate between financial fact and fantasy will facilitate the job changing process.
This is not to say you shouldn't look deeper into the content of your offer to determine if your bottom line has been met. For example, you may be working at a private law firm which pays only for your personal medical benefits and does not pay for your entire family, which you pay in after-tax dollars. You may find that a corporation offers you less compensation than your current law firm salary, but is willing to pay for your health benefits, as well as health benefits for your entire family, thus saving you dollars which become a part of your bottom line number.
You may be able to otherwise justify your salary request by itemizing any loss of income generated in your job change, such as benefits, loss of stock options, geographic relocation costs not covered by moving allowance, auto expenses and so forth.
Beyond the bottom line, there are also other considerations which need to be satisfied before an offer is accepted. Those factors might include new position title, review periods, training, desired management responsibilities, work schedule, vacation allowance, long-term benefits and promotional opportunities.
You can use this approach to quantify each consideration or "point" you need to satisfy as a condition of acceptance. Once you and the company settle on each point, you won't need to go back later to negotiate "one more thing". Since you've established a set of quantifiable conditions needed for acceptance, knowing your bottom line puts you in a better position to get what you want.