Bargaining power: How to make the most of the strong jobs market

Higher wages plus your choice of working hours and office location.

It sounds too good to be true, but career experts say it’s all on the table for workers with the right skills and negotiation tools as job vacancies hover around record highs.

Indeed career insights specialist Kate Furey said there is currently about one job vacancy for every 35 people in the labour market – which means employees and job seekers have more bargaining power to ask for higher pay and better conditions.

“Employers are very aware of the need to attract and retain great talent,” Ms Furey said.

“So that’s definitely giving that bargaining power to anybody in a role or looking for a role at the moment – whatever their industry happens to be.”

Employees must build a case to convince their employers to give them what they want, though.

And it’s often a good idea to suggest trialling your changes before setting them in concrete – as we discuss in greater detail below.

Employers in bidding war

Melbourne-based Rachael has a story that epitomises the job market for graduates with sought-after skills today.

Rachael completed her university studies in commerce and IT in December, and managed to nail down her dream job at one of the “big four” accounting firms.

Soon afterwards, however, she received another job offer from a major telco.

When Rachael told the new contender she had already accepted a job, they weren’t deterred. Instead, it stepped up its game.

“They asked me whether there was anything that could persuade me [to go] with them,” she said.

“[They] tried to talk me through, ‘Oh, we do rotations, and we can give you these opportunities on a more competitive rate’, but ultimately, it wasn’t really the area that I saw myself going into.

“At this stage, I wanted to do something that I really liked, and that I had an interest in.”

The company Rachael chose to work for were also open to negotiations.

They agreed to only roster her on her preferred days during her final year of university, and allowed her to choose her working hours when she transitions to a full-time position.

“When you’re going through university you think if you go to a grad role that’s like the bottom of the totem pole,” she said.

“I think a lot of companies these days look for the right person … so if they find someone … they’re prepared to offer a little more, or be a lot more flexible.”

Want to make a change? Frame it as a ‘trial’

Job site Seek published data last year showing job vacancies in November had soared more than 50 per cent above pre-pandemic levels.

The data revealed hospitality, tourism, health care and trades recorded the strongest growth in job ads.

But David Carney, executive director at Career Industry Council, said the strong demand for workers didn’t give job seekers and existing employees carte blanche to make whatever demands they like.

Mr Carney said there is a “fine balance” that must be struck between negotiating pay and conditions and proving your worth as an employee.

If you’re looking to change your working conditions, such as switching from working at the office to working from home, offering to ease into the change could help your case.

Mr Carney said if your employer is hesitant, suggesting a trial period of a couple of months to ensure the arrangement works for both parties could be a smart move.

Demonstrate your value to demand more

Career coach Heidi Winney said before heading into any negotiation, whether it be for more pay or more flexible hours, make sure you are armed with “negotiating power”.

No matter your position within a company, think about your achievements and how you have added, or could add, value to the organisation – and write this all down.

Ask yourself: How have you added value to the company? Have you increased profitability or improved efficiency? By how much?

And if you’re negotiating something like your salary, do your research on what you can expect in your position, and start negotiations off as high as possible without being unreasonable, Ms Winney said.

“You can always come down, but once you nominate a figure, you can’t go up,” she said.

She said you should also avoid bringing up another company’s offerings directly in negotiations.

“It’s not really productive to say, ‘Well, the company XYZ would pay an extra $10,000 or would offer something else’,” Ms Winney said.

“You’re better off as an employee to learn to negotiate with what you have, what you bring to the organisation.”

How to broach the topic

If you’re looking for specific conditions or perks as a job seeker, Ms Furey said there should be a natural point of conversation during the interview process where it make sense to bring up the topic.

She said it’s better to discuss it sooner rather than later, so that each party knows the other’s expectations from the outset.

If you are already in a role but looking to make some changes, schedule a conversation with your manager, but don’t spring the topic on them.

“Warn them that conversation is coming, and give them a little bit of a heads up on that, so they can talk to you about it,” Ms Furey said.

Topics: Work
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