Salary Negotiation Best Practices: NBA’s Dallas Mavericks


Salary negotiations are going to look different post-Covid-19 than pre-pandemic. As the U.S. begins to reopen, companies are beginning to hire again. Although over 40 million people have filed for unemployment, reports state that in May alone, the U.S. economy added 2.5 million jobs. As more workers re-enter the workforce, many will have to negotiate a new salary or raise. Dr. Andria Johnson, director of human resources at NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, serves as a role model to others when navigating the negotiation landscape.

“Coming out of the pandemic,” Dr. Johnson states, “what a lot of people don’t realize is when they do get survey data or compensation, survey data is never real-time. It’s always literally a year or a year and a half behind because they have to compile all the compensation. Then they have to produce a report. If you are fortunate to have access to something like that, keep in mind it’s not going to reflect the current pandemic numbers and situation.”

Dr. Johnson has pivoted multiple times throughout her career, where she has had to negotiate and be her own advocate to earn what she deserved. After graduation, while applying for positions in the sports industry, she accepted a management position at Target through the new graduate management program. She quickly realized that she wouldn’t thrive in retail. She pivoted and began working at Northrop Grumman, an aerospace defense company, as a proposal analyst.

She then transitioned into recruitment as a talent acquisition manager. Still wanting to work in sports, she applied for positions at the NBA league office. Almost two years later, she heard from an NBA recruiter. After six years of trying to break into the industry, Dr. Johnson received an opportunity to work at the league office under a 10-month contract as a recruiter. She negotiated working three weeks out of the month from home. Eventually, they offered her a full-time position. She worked for the league for an additional two years before transitioning over to the Mavericks.

Dr. Johnson shares top tips for negotiating a salary:

Be realistic. “A lot of times,” she states, “people will say, ‘I want to make X amount, but they haven’t really looked at what that position pays in that industry in that geographical area.” The first thing is to do research and be realistic about what the ask is. Don’t head into the interview process with a mindset of “I’ll take whatever they offer me.” Have an idea of what the lowest amount of money is that you can survive on because the company may give you a number that is $20,000 less than you can survive on.

Don’t be afraid during the first interview to ask how much the role is paying. If the interviewer asks you how much you want to make, don’t lowball the amount. State what you want and then follow up with asking if that number is in the range of what the company is offering. If they say no, then you have to decide if the pay cut is worth the role.

Be intentional from the beginning. “I hate when people wait to the end because there are unfair compensation practices,” Dr. Johnson explains. “You may get to the end and find out the position is 100% commissioned. You’ve gotten your hopes up, you’ve gotten excited, and now you realize I don’t want 100% commission job. So, be very intentional in every stage of the process from the very first conversation, continuing through the interview process. A lot of times, the first conversation is a quick call. They give you a high level of what the position is, and you’re like, ‘okay, great. Something of this level, I would expect X amount.’ But, as you go through the interview process, and you’re asking those intentional questions about what does success look like in this role, and what will I be in responsible for, do I have to create a strategy or am I more executing it, as you continue to dive deeper, then you may say, ‘you know what, this position is actually a lot bigger than what I thought it was. So, for me to do this role, I actually am going to need an extra $10,000 because that seems competitive and fair to me.’”

Compromise, but do not settle. Sometimes companies legitimately cannot pay you what you want because of their budget. However, companies will compromise. Instead of paying you your annual ask, they could offer you a sign-on bonus. If they can’t give you a raise, they could offer you extra money on the annual offer. “If you honestly feel like the company is trying to meet you where you’re at and it’s a job that you really want, then compromises are part of the game,” she shares. “If you know for a fact that a company is lowballing you or you know for a fact that you cannot live off that salary, don’t settle. You’ll never catch back up to where you want to be when you come in at a lower level or a lower rate. You need to make sure that at that rate you’re comparable, you’re going to be able to bring your best self to work and be excited about your job at whatever pay they get you.”

Consider the whole compensation package. When transitioning into a new role at a new company, consider the entire package, not just the salary. Ask yourself what it would take for you to move. What does the annual bonus look like? Health benefits? Relocation? Personal development funds? Etc.

Understand that the scope of the role is different than performance. Your salary pays you for the scope; it pays for the role itself. It is not tied to your performance in that role, which is why people pay to the job, not the person. You don’t pay for the person. The salary equates to what’s competitive for the job in this market and the scope of the role. Annual bonuses are tied directly to performance.

“Everybody should go into an interview knowing that it’s a two-way interview,” concludes Dr. Johnson. “When people come into interviews, they get so nervous. They’re like, ‘okay, this is about me.’ No, it’s about the company as well. It needs to be a mutual match.”

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