Richard Hoare on negotiating your dream job
- Written by
- Richard Hoare
- Illustration by
- Ryan Gillett
Need a hand on bringing your A game to the negotiating table? This month we're bringing you an extract from the newly published Do Deal by music lawyers, Richard Hoare and Andrew Gummer. In this chapter, Richard shares his experience of a job offer gone wrong and his top tips for better negotiating when accepting your dream opportunity.
‘In business, like they say, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.’ – Jay Z, Decoded
Richard Hoare has worked in his dream job as a music lawyer for about 20 years. His firm Hoare Associates’ clients include AJ Tracey, Kelis, Joel Corry and Glastonbury Festival. But his first experience of negotiation in the music industry wasn’t a particularly impressive one…
It was the Millennium and the world hadn’t ended due to a glitch in the matrix but, rather depressingly, Irish boyband Westlife were still at number one (just as they had been in December 1999) with a grimly forgettable cover version of Abba’s ‘I Have a Dream’.
I was doing a law degree at the time and was looking for a work placement for the third ‘sandwich’ year of the course. I had an interview lined up with the director of legal and business affairs at a major record label (the same label as Westlife were signed to, in fact) — a very experienced and formidable lawyer called Clive Rich.
I was 21 at the time, fresh from the rolling hills of Dartmoor where I grew up, via a sleepy seaside university town. This interview represented my first-ever real-life negotiation in the cut-and-thrust music industry.
So, how did I do?
Pretty badly as it turns out.
I did get the job, but when the question of salary came up, Clive proposed that I would be paid — wait for it — £6,000 for the year. Even in the year 2000, that was a pittance to live on in central London.
How did I respond to this incredibly low opening offer?
I simply accepted it. No questions asked. No negotiation at all really. (To be fair, Clive did go on to write a bestselling guide to negotiation, The Yes Book).
So, I had a foot in the door, barely — but as far as first negotiation experiences are concerned, it was a disaster. On the train back to university that day, I felt it was a missed opportunity to prove my negotiation chops, by haggling the salary up a little bit at least.
In my mind, I had ‘lost’ this negotiation.
But let’s not be too down about this, there are some important bits of information that I left out:
— I didn’t mention that, prior to this interview, I had written to every single record label, music publisher and music law firm in London, to try to secure a year’s work placement during his degree course.
— The interview I was attending on that day was the result of the single, solitary reply that I had received to all of those letters.
— It was my only chance; there was no Plan B. If I didn’t secure that job, I was going to have to start looking in other sectors for my placement year. Shipping law, maybe, or matrimonial law. There’s nothing bad about either of those disciplines, but I had his heart set on music.
With hindsight, I can also see that accepting that placement was the first step in helping to build the relationships and knowhow that would set the foundations for the rest of my working life.
The salary was low, but I’d been living as a student on loans and grants for the past two years, so ... if you’d asked what my bottom line would have been in terms of an acceptable salary? It might have been even lower than £6,000. In fact, knowing now what the alternative might have been, I would probably have paid them to take me on.
Framed in this light, it doesn’t feel so much like a ‘lost’ negotiation at all.
Clearly though, I could have negotiated better in that interview.
But what does ‘better’ mean in this context, and what would I have done differently now, with the benefit of hindsight and years of negotiation experience in the bag?
I would have prepared so much more for the interview. I would have used whatever means at my disposal to find out what the range of salaries was for a role like this. So that when the question of salary came up, if I knew what the norms were, I could either:
- question it credibly; or
- if I found out it was in fact the going rate, acknowledge that, and show that I’d done my homework, and turn instead to any other areas where there was room for improvement (for example would any expenses be covered, was there room for improvement over the course of the year from this starting salary etc)
(as it turned out, when I started the job, I realised I was one of about a dozen students taking up similar roles in different departments at the label and we were all on the same basic rates).
Pack your BATNA
Negotiation theory is full of awful acronyms, but if you remember just one it should be BATNA: The Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Put simply, it’s the ‘Plan B’ I alluded to in the story. I didn’t have one, but I absolutely should have made sure I did. Even if that Plan B is a long shot, it pays to have it in the back of your mind.
In some instances, it may be advantageous to be quite open about the fact that you have a great Plan B in your back pocket (in this instance, ‘I’ve got a couple of other interviews after this one,’ for example). In other cases, you might want to stay very quiet about it. But psychologically, whether your counterpart knows the details of your BATNA or not, if you know in your heart that you have other options, the confidence that gives you will mean you present yourself with greater poise.
As mentioned above, the salary itself was considered the ‘norm’ for this role, within this particular organisation. But if we consider the wider job market at the time, was that salary still within the acceptable range? I doubt it was. Again, with some research and preparation, I could have established this, and my position could have been, ‘I get that this is what this company can pay and there’s no room to manoeuvre there, but I know elsewhere I could earn £x, so what can this role offer which other places can’t?’
We have then ‘flipped the script’ and the conversation becomes about what the company can offer me, not vice versa. There’s a tightrope to walk here, to ensure that you don’t come across as arrogant or crass, so I would recommend approaching these types of conversations with genuine curiosity, rather than pushiness or any sense of entitlement.
Taking one or more of these approaches in that first job interview, might have had further benefits if done right:
- it would have given subtle cues to my employer/future colleagues, about the type of negotiator I was; and crucially
- the big factor in any negotiation, the one that is going to overarch any individual negotiation trait, is your credibility and authenticity at the bargaining table.
If I’d set my stall out early, regardless of the result of that negotiation, once I was in the role, the benefits of being someone who is a considered and conscientious negotiator, would undoubtedly help in all kinds of ways. So often it’s not what we end up negotiating which counts, but how we negotiate.
This piece is an adapted extract from DO/ DEAL: Negotiate better. Find hidden value. Enrich relationships by Richard Hoare & Andrew Gummer. Published by the Do Book Co., 3rd March 2022. To purchase a copy go via the Do Book Co website and use the code GOODDEAL for 10% off.
We're also running a competition to give away three free Do Deal books. Follow the link to our Instagram page to enter. The competition closes on Tuesday 15th March 2022 at 5pm GMT.
Richard Hoare is a lawyer working within the music industry. He runs Hoare Associates that he established five years ago after a decade working at Clintons. Based in Frome, Somerset, they maintain an extremely high quality and diverse roster that currently includes AJ Tracey, Kelis and Glastonbury Festival. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s ‘Negotiation Mastery’ programme and, along with his co-author Andrew Gummer, runs an online Music Business Negotiation course. Do Deal is their first book publication.
Published by The Do Book Co the go to publishers for inspirational pocket guides to help creative entrepreneurs, makers and Doers work smarter and create positive change. Written by experts whose stories and ideas have inspired others to go and Do, the collection spans business, design, wellbeing and sustainable living, with each book focusing on the ‘doing’ rather than the background theory. Books to inspire action.
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