How early in the process should you start negotiating? I’m beginning to learn that the answer is as late in the process as possible. 

There are many things to negotiate in today’s job market, and the time to start doing that depends almost wholly on the relationship you build with your future line manager. 

Don’t negotiate with HR. The HR process is designed to find red flags and eliminate them, whereas the relationship with your line manager will always be more nuanced. 

Let’s discuss HR Screening calls, and I’ll share my worst performance in an interview process with you.

Katherine Ann Byam is a  best-selling author, sustainability activist, coach and consultant for business resilience and sustainable change, partnering with leaders committed to a shared future.”  

A professional with 20+years change leadership experience in the FTSE Top 10, she started her consulting firm in 2019 to support sustainable development within SMEs. Katherine holds an MBA with distinction, specialising in Innovation Management as well as certificates in ESG, digital strategy, and sustainability management from established universities. She’s also a Fellow of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants.  

She’s the host of the internationally acclaimed Where Ideas Launch – Sustainable Innovation Podcast, ranked among the top 5% globally, achieving the top spot in 5 countries, and the top 10 in 21 separate charts.  

As a sought-after leadership and career transition coach and keynote speaker, she facilitates workshops and learning sessions for communities within global brands such as Amazon, Women Tech Global, ACCA, Stryker, Speak Up, Mind Channel and more. 

She loves spending her spare time in nature, walking the western and southern coasts of the UK, France, and Tobago, or on the Northern and eastern coasts of Trinidad with her partner Christophe. 

Show Notes

There are many things to negotiate in today’s job market.

Not every role will have the flexibility to be creative in the way your service is delivered and paid for, but where this is possible, a lot is changing in pockets around the economy that’s making this an important process to consider before making a shift.

Let’s take the location: remote work, hybrid work, or office based. Some companies are 100% remote – with a loose requirement to show up once a month, Many are hybrid: You are expected in the office 2 or 3 times per week. Some companies still are 100% about being in the office whether or not it adds value. French based companies are among the latter camp, and I had an interesting encounter with this recently, but more on this later.

The other huge area for negotiation is in the package. Most jobs that are not at board level have a fixed range with an agreed level of bonuses, the only thing left to negotiate is where you will fall on that range. Others you can negotiate sign on bonuses, fixed vs variable elements, more time off, you name it. Yet, going big on your negotiations upfront needs to be carefully evaluated, and realistically done when you have nothing to lose.

More complicated than either of these is the actual days of the week you work, and how you’d like to structure your week. How willing are companies to accept that you come with a side gig or other voluntary social project for example?

So far in my experience, not so much.

Are you allowed to be a Non Exec Director or Executive Director in another company? How does this work with the standards of business conduct? Are you allowed a genuine side hustle? Do people declare their side hustles?

What about part time or fractional work? Or can the engagement be contract based? 

When it comes to neurodiversity, there’s another challenge. Offices with cubicles. Distractions. Noise. And a burning need for  no meeting zones. When I started my own business I implemented clear days during the work week where I don’t allow others to book a meeting with me. I may choose strategically to still have a couple of meetings on those days, but they are off-brand days, and usually meetings that help me, rather than me helping others.

Are we allowed no meeting days in your big corporation?

As you start going down the list, things begin to get pretty uncomfortable for the HR person sitting on the other side of the conversation, and you’d be out before you got in.

Here’s what I experienced.

At my very first interview of the 5 I received, I was eliminated by the first HR process. I wasn’t expecting that, but there were probably a few contributing factors, not least of which were some of the interests I had around flexible work.

I was contacted by HR at a hotel chain, about a sustainability project manager role I applied for. The screening conversation started really well, until we got to the last HR question, and then my questions.

He asked me why I left my previous employer after 20 years to start my own business. I told him I had a burnout and made a decision to change the focus of my life and work, toward more impact focussed ventures. A look of concern flashed across his eyes, and eventually settled firmly on his face. I could see burnout was a red flag in their recruitment process. 

It led me to the thought process – If a company only wants to hire people who don’t admit to burnouts, they are probably in denial about the state of the mental health of their existing staff. It was a red flag for me too.

I want to address burnout for a brief minute. It happens primarily when there are more expectations than we can realistically meet, and we haven’t established appropriate boundaries at the start, which have led to not having any at the end. I didn’t enjoy feeling burnt out, but similarly it was useful; I now have information and experience I didn’t previously have to help me move forward.

Before I go forward I want to say this to all job seekers – don’t be afraid of red flags, as they work the same way for you and for them. They give actionable information for both parties to make a choice that works. 

The second moment of interest and I think the key moment of decision making was when the interviewer opened the door for me to ask questions. My main line of questioning was around flexibility – whether I can work remotely, and whether or not I could have a day in the week to pursue personal sustainability projects, compensating for that time on the other working days or on weekends.

I was promised an update that never came. 

When I reached out two weeks later, I was informed that the role cannot be an 80% FTE. Yet, never at any point of the process did I ask to be an 80% FTE. My inquiry was simply to know what was possible and what wasn’t, at the time of asking I was gauging their willingness to be flexible, not demanding it. 

The response however was enough to quell any questions I still had. This organisation was not nearly as progressive as I would like, and it would be a mistake in my view for me to have worked with them. It was clear that in the eyes of both me and the organisation, we would not be a good match for each other.

What lingers in my mind however is whether or not meeting my prospective line manager first, would have made a difference. It depends both on the company and the line manager to some degree, the flexibility they would allow, but much flexibility may be happening unknown to HR in some organisations. It’s generally not a good look for a progressive HR function though. 

Having worked from home most of my time as an entrepreneur, hiring freelancers who’s activities I don’t supervise who also work from home, I think large organisations have something to learn from the fringes: freelancers take pride in their work, and in their endorsements by their networks. They don’t need to work to a time schedule, they don’t need to be seen, The most you need is a timely update on the progress, the frequency of which depends on the nature of the contract. 

Consider this: If organisations cannot trust their people to deliver, they’ve likely hired the wrong people; either HR, the Line Manager or the employees, are at fault, or their people are overworked, or their processes and systems to facilitate collaborative working are ineffective. 

From the outside looking in I couldn’t say what’s wrong with this particular organisation, but something was definitely incoherent with modern trends!

On next Friday’s edition of my Career Journal, we explore my recruitment experience and interaction with a big tech firm from Silicon Valley. Stay with my journey for more insights.