Advice by Carly Inkpen, Justin Wright and Tad Mayer

Three Negotiations to Achieve Career Fulfillment

You’ve no doubt heard the tired truism that “getting a job is all about connections.” Well, it’s true, getting a job is all about connections, but that conclusion, vague as it is, can’t take you very far. What exactly are these “connections,” and where do they come from?

From summer jobs you loved and hated; through late-night talks about what to do with your life; during informational interviews and mentoring sessions; to salary talks and promotion discussions—every step of defining and pursuing your career path requires you to interact and negotiate with other people. In each one of these encounters, you’re seeking to access something that you couldn’t get on your own: advice, clarity, new skills, a broader network of contacts, job offers, money, recognition, career satisfaction and stability. The back-and-forth of these exchanges generates ideas and provides guidance, encouragement, and work opportunities that would never come about if you were just sitting alone at your computer, applying anonymously to job posting after job posting, sending your resume and your potential into the ether.

Core proposition

The core proposition is this: get better at negotiating with others and you’ll get better at building, managing, and advancing your career, no matter what career you’re seeking.

Three Types of Negotiation

Drawing on leading ideas and research from sociology, behavioral psychology, social justice and collaborative negotiation theory, we’ve developed a powerful career development framework to help you harness the generative potential of honest and skillful negotiation. The process consists of three types of negotiations, which together form the core of the approach:

  1. Negotiating with yourself – to get clarity about your values, long-term goals, and immediate next steps. Without clarity, you’re stuck, either in a fruitless job hunt or in the rut of an unfulfilling job. Identify your core needs and interests that underlie your professional ambitions so that you can negotiate with purpose and direction for what’s truly important to you.
  1. Negotiating with connectors – to get the information and contacts you need to understand, enter, and excel in your field. By engaging and collaborating with connectors, you’ll catalyze ideas, strategies, and next steps you never would have dreamed of on your own.
  1. Negotiating with gatekeepers – to get concrete training and work opportunities that advance your professional goals. Every professional opportunity – be it a job, professional development training, or the chance to publicize your work – can only be accessed through other people. Use the “yesable” proposal, which is exactly what it sounds like: asking for something that meets your needs and also meets theirs, making it easy for them to say, “YES!”

Four Phases

These three types of negotiation will come up again and again in your work (as well as your personal life). But what you negotiate for and about – how you approach the conversation, and how you interact with your counterparts – changes dramatically depending on where you find yourself in your career development. You will utilize the three negotiations continuously as you move through four distinct phases of career advancement:

Phase 1 – Finding focus.  Effective career management begins with developing an understanding of what drives you, where you want to go, and where you honestly stand.

Phase 2 – Gaining access.  You then strategically negotiate for the support, assistance, and collaboration you need from others – connectors – in order to understand the professional landscape you’ve chosen and gain entry to paths that previously seemed unavailable, or were entirely unknown to you.

Phase 3 – Doing the work you love.  “Expand the pie” and make creative agreements that meet both your needs and those of employers – gatekeepers – to land work opportunities that give you perspective, skills, credibility, and leverage. As you get established and your bargaining power improves, you can begin to refine your workflow and opportunities to better meet your interests and ambitions.

Phase 4 – Building fulfillment.  Managing your career ultimately becomes a process of creation and ingenuity. Honing your work-life balance, spending your time doing what’s important to you, and seeking to shape your impact on the world are crucial to reaching a place of personal fulfillment.

Applying the framework – An Example

To illustrate a piece of the framework, below is an example showing how to initiate preparation for the second negotiation (Negotiating with Connectors) while in Phase 2 (Gaining Access). This example illustrates how to think about asking for an informational interview by focusing on both your interests and those of the person granting the interview – the connector.

One of the common misconceptions about informational interviews is that the prospective interviewer (you) is asking for a favor – i.e. for advice and guidance – without offering anything in return. This misconception can undermine informational interviews in a couple of serious ways. First of all, asking for a favor can be intimidating and therefore prohibitive: “You mean I have to approach this big wig and grovel for a chance to soak up their wisdom? Why would they want to talk to little old me? No thanks.” Or second, and perhaps more likely, this misconception will simply limit your notion of what the informational interview is, thereby compromising your entire effort.

Focus on interests – yours and theirs

If, however, you view the informational interview as a negotiation, then it plays out in a similar manner to all other negotiations. Hence, you’ll be asking: “How do I get what I need from this interview, in a way that meets the connector’s interests as well?”

We’ve talked to hundreds of connectors over the years, and we’ve also functioned as connectors ourselves. In our experience there are certain interests that are common to nearly all connectors, regardless of their field. When preparing to initiate an informational interview, try to put yourself in the connector’s shoes, and consider some of the basic values that you’re in a position to offer them, such as:

  • Recognition: being valued for their expertise
  • Reputation: being viewed as a facilitator or mentor
  • Convenience: having their schedule accommodated (and therefore respected)
  • Insight: understanding you and your perspectives on the field; and how their advice helps to advance an up-and-comer
  • Utility: meeting a potential collaborator/employee who may fill their staffing needs in the future
  • Affiliation: enjoying the opportunity to have an engaging interaction with an interesting (and perhaps likeminded) individual
  • Status: distinguishing them as someone of prominence and importance in the field
  • Appreciation: acknowledging the sharing of their time, attention, and wisdom

The above glimpse into identifying your interests and those of an informational interviewer shows how the approach opens new possibilities. Thinking in terms of interests is the foundation for all three of the negotiations in the framework. (If you would like more information about approaching informational interviews as negotiations, please read, “Getting Their Ear: Understanding Connectors’ Interests.”)

The framework described in this article offers you a solid foundation for negotiating and managing one of the most important long-term projects a person can have – a satisfying working life.

Carly Inkpen, Justin Wright and Tad Mayer

carlyThis article is drawn from concepts in End the Job Hunt, an upcoming book by Carly Inkpen, Justin Wright and Tad Mayer, due to be published in 2015. Carly has worked in negotiation training, cross cultural communications, mediation, research and writing, and she is now earning a Master of Social Work. Justin is an experienced ADR practitioner who has expertise providing transactional assistance, behavioral change, facilitations and both mediation and negotiation training and coaching. Tad is a negotiation consultant, mediator, facilitator, trainer and coach. You can reach them at

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