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While there is no magic formula for negotiating customized employment
positions, there are some basic principles and strategies on how to negotiate.
The job seeker may negotiate with employers, or a support person such
as an employment specialist or job developer can represent the individual.
When a seasoned job developer or employment specialist is asked if negotiating
employment is more of an “art than science”, the reply most
likely will be “it is both an art and a science.” Implementing
strategies, such as the ones presented in this fact sheet, can lead to
an employment relationship that mutually benefits both the job seeker
with a disability and the employer who needs an employee.
Question: What does negotiation mean?
Answer: Some people think that negotiation
means persuading other people to accept their point of view. For example,
when someone haggles with a car salesperson and obtains the best deal,
we might say, “Gee, she’s a great negotiator.” However,
negotiation is not about using intimidation, getting your own way, or
giving in. That is what happens when people fail to negotiate. One definition
of negotiation is to discuss with the goal of finding a mutually acceptable
agreement. The goal of customized employment negotiations is “real
work” for competitive wages in a community business.
Negotiations with employers to identify a job of choice for an individual
with disabilities might include a number of different approaches. A
negotiator, such as the job developer or employment specialist, might
work with an employer to create a new position through job restructuring
that matches the job seeker’s interests and abilities. Another
negotiation strategy might involve making changes to various aspects
of existing jobs, such as allowing an employee to work different schedules
or change the way a job duty is performed. This also could include discussing
the need for accommodations and other workplace supports. Employment
negotiations may require compromise from those involved (i.e. the job
seeker and employer) but results in a win-win situation for both.
Question: What are some of the basic skills
needed for successful negotiations?
Answer: Negotiation is a sophisticated form
of communication. Therefore, job seekers or the agency staff who support
them need to become effective communicators and be able to speak in
a clear and concise manner. Knowing the job seeker’s abilities
as well as the supports that the agency has to offer businesses, anticipating
an employer’s potential needs and questions in advance, and using
marketing tools (i.e. brochure, educational materials, calling card)
will be key to successful negotiations.
As soon as two people meet, a relational climate begins to develop.
Many meanings can come from a single sentence just by shifting the emphasis
from one word to another. Vocal changes also give clues. If the speaker
is trying to hide fear or anger, the voice will probably sound higher
or louder, and the rate of talking will be faster than normal. Sadness
will produce the opposite vocal pattern, quieter, low-pitched speech
delivered at a slower rate.
Negotiations require good listening skills. When meeting with an employer
focus on what the other person is saying. Turn off that inner voice
that may be planning the next question rather than attending to what
is being said. When a person puts his or her whole attention on listening,
he or she is less likely to miss important nonverbal messages such as
facial expressions and voice inflections that provide valuable cues.
Checking what has been heard may also prove useful. For example, ask,
"I understood you to say…am I correct in this?" or "I
hear you saying…Is that how you feel?" This type of active
listening encourages understanding. It also assures the other person
that he or she is heard, accepted, and respected. The ability to actively
listen supports open, ongoing, negotiations.
Verbal messages certainly contribute to the tone of the relationship,
but many climate-shaping messages are non-verbal. Nonverbal communication
reveals attitudes and feelings. It consists of messages sent by the
distance between negotiators, touch, body posture and orientation, expressions
of the face and eyes, movement, vocal characteristics, clothing, and
physical environment. Interpreting non-verbal messages plays an important
role in reading an employer’s point of view.
Employment specialists should consider the messages that they are sending
through their body language. For example, sitting up straight and leaning
slightly toward the person speaking shows confidence and interest. The
eyes communicate another message. When someone glances toward us with
the proper facial expression, a clear message of interest is sent. At
the same time, when eye contact is avoided disinterest may be communicated.
Question: What is the best way to negotiate?
Answer: While there is no one “best”
way to negotiate, there are some basic steps that can lead toward successful
customized employment negotiations. Step one is to know the goal and
stay focused. Remember, the goal is to come to an agreement that is
mutually beneficial to both parties (job seeker and the employer).
This means beginning with a clear knowledge of the jobseeker’s
vocational interests, strengths, expectations, and support needs. If
an employment specialist is representing the person with a disability,
he or she must know the jobseeker’s bottom line. This should include
areas in which he or she can or cannot compromise. For instance, the
job seeker may have some flexibility in the number of hours worked during
the week but will not work on the weekends. Knowing the job seeker will
ensure that negotiations move in the right direction from the beginning
and that a job of choice for the individual is identified. Compromising
on features of a job to satisfy the employer that do not meet the needs
of the job seeker will not result in a mutually beneficial employment
Step two is to identify the employer’s needs. Successful negotiations
also require understanding the business and its operations. Time must
be spent building rapport with the employers, before negotiation is
attempted for a specific job seeker. Identify the company’s needs
and suggest possible work solutions that might resolve these needs.
One thing to remember is to not assume that what is important for one
person will be the same for another. For example, one job seeker may
be motivated to work for a paycheck while wearing a work uniform motivates
another. Or, one employer may be motivated to negotiate a job to save
money, while another may have a job task that current employees are
not completing. Remember, the end result is a mutually agreed upon job.
All sides should leave the negotiation feeling satisfied.
Question: How can the employment specialist
determine an employer’s needs?
Question: How does an employment specialist
convince an employer that customizing a job is a good idea?
Answer: Negotiations require spending time
with the employer. During this period, a relationship can be developed
and needs identified. The employment specialists should encourage an
employer to share thoughts and feelings by asking for feedback on what
is discussed. The negotiator’s responsibility is to ask questions
that will uncover the employer’s needs and interests that can
then be matched with the needs and interests of the job seeker. If the
employment specialist creates a receptive climate, he or she is more
likely to establish a relationship leading to a negotiated position.
Observing business operations and asking key questions may lead to
discovering opportunities for customizing a job. For example, some of
the following questions may be asked. Do employees have duties that
take time away from their main area of expertise? Do you routinely pay
overtime or need temporary work services? Are their tasks that do not
get done or that you would like to see done more often?
The employment specialist must also be ready to probe below the surface.
For example, consider asking questions such as the following. What's
your real need here? What values are important to your company? What's
the outcome or result that you want? The answers to these and other
questions can lead to cooperative problem solving. This in turn may
trigger discussions about negotiating a new job.
Question:Which employers should be approached
to negotiate customized jobs?
Answer: The employment specialist must
be ready to listen to employers! Listen and keep listening! It’s
vital to really understand what employers are saying and their points
of view. This shows respect and good intentions, and will make an employer
In the process, the employment specialist should learn more about a
company’s needs and what may be holding them back from proceeding
with negotiations. “Reading” employers and overcoming objections
will be key to success. Employment specialists should become familiar
with typical employer concerns and be able to address them. For example,
the employer may be wondering, “Will this cost my company money?
Will this agency deliver what they are promising? Will the person be
able to do the job?”
Pointing out that other businesses have successfully used the service
and hired individuals with disabilities may address these concerns.
Ask employers who have worked with the agency if their names can be
used as references. Discuss in advance with the job seeker the accommodations
that will be needed and what information is to be disclosed to the employer.
Know how you are going to represent the person’s strengths and
interests so that the employer does not have questions regarding the
individual’s ability to do the job that is being negotiated. Be
ready and able to describe how the job seeker will be a valued employee
to the company.
Answer: Large, medium, or small businesses
can be approached or in other words, any company that matches the individual’s
abilities and interests identified during the customized employment
process. Some employers will be receptive to negotiations and others
may not, but this is not necessarily dependent on the size of the company.
Those who are not initially receptive may become open if the employment
specialist identifies their concerns and is prepared to address them.
Regardless of the size of the company, the employment specialist needs
to determine who the decision maker is in the company. Who does the
hiring? Sometimes, this can be easier to determine in a small company
vs. a larger one.
Question: What is an example of an employment
Answer: Randall is a 28-year-old man who
has never worked. Due to the nature of his support needs, he has an
employment specialist, Bonita, who will assist him with customizing
a job. Bonita began the process by visiting Randall and his family in
their home, and she also went with him to the local one stop career
center. Bonita was able to learn about Randall’s abilities, work
preferences, and support needs.
For example, Randall has an outgoing, though sometimes boisterous personality;
learns new tasks with systematic instruction, prints first name, prepares
a simple meal, enjoys folding towels at home, enjoys wrapping items,
likes to go bowling, and assists with gardening. Bonita also learned
about his work preferences. He enjoys being outdoors, prefers to work
between the hours of 9am and 5pm, can work some weekends, dislikes washing
and drying dishes, and has trouble tolerating pressure on his finger
Bonita also learned about Randall’s vocational challenges. For
example, Randall gets easily distracted, performs some manual tasks
at a slow rate, may act inappropriate to gain attention, needs forewarning
of changes in routine, becomes frustrated when unable to complete task
and has limited transportation options. This information helped Bonita
create a vision of Randall’s abilities and possible support needs.
With insight into Randall’s vocational abilities and preferences,
his employment specialist set out to customize a job in the community.
She met with numerous employers, before identifying an employer who
was interested in discussing their operations in more detail. Mr. Brady,
the general manager of a large home improvement store, was interested
and arranged for Bonita to meet with his department heads to learn more
about the overall operations. During the meeting with the greenhouse
manager, Mike Smith, Bonita learned that several hours a day, in the
cold months and more in the summer, were spent watering and repotting
plants. Bonita inquired about the possibility of customizing a job that
involved watering and repotting plants.
Mike was interested, because this would allow him and his small staff
of two to complete other tasks during these hours. This included ordering
and stocking inventory, fertilizing and treating the plants for disease
or parasites, and waiting on customer. He stated that the person would
need to arrive at 7 am and would work until around noon, weekend work
would be required, and the pay would be $6.50 an hour.
With this information in hand, Bonita presented the idea to Randall
and his family. Although interested, concerns were raised about Randall’s
ability to lean the job and how his fingertip sensitivity might interfere
with potting the plants. They also hoped that the job could be further
negotiated to meet some of his work preferences.
After confirming his interest in pursuing work at the company, Bonita
went to back to the store to further negotiate Randall’s employment.
She explained to Mike that the person she had in mind for the job must
rely on specialized transportation and may not be able to arrive before
9 am each morning. She also stated that the person would like to have
at least a two Sundays off each month to attend family functions.
Mike agreed to one Sunday off a month, with the caveat that the person
would work every Saturday. But, he was reluctant to change the starting
time to 9 am, because the plants would get dried out. Bonita then asked
if the person could arrive to work at 9 am in the cool months (September
until April) and arrive earlier in the summer months (April until September).
Mike agreed that he was willing to try this schedule. Bonita discussed
these negotiations with Randall and his family who agreed and an interview
The interview seemed to go very well, however, Mike expressed concerns
about Randall’s ability to get the job done afterwards. Bonita
reiterated the fact that after receiving his new employee training,
she would be there to provide additional on the job skills training
as needed. She emphasized that her role was to simply complement what
the business already did well, and that she would be there to provide
or facilitate any additional supports that might needed. Upon remembering
this earlier conversation, Mike decided to hire Randall.
This example illustrates a successful employment negotiation that resulted
in a customized job for Randall. There was some give and take from each
party with the end result being a mutually agreed upon employment. Of
course, not every employer will be willing to negotiate. If this happens
leave a positive impression behind, by ending the negotiations politely,
with a thank you, smile, and firm handshake. Then, follow up with a
sincere hand written thank you note. This may pave the way for further
job negotiations at a later date.
Information for this FAQ sheet came from T-TAP: Training and Technical
Assistance for Providers. Contributors for this issue include Pam Targett,
T-TAP Training Associate and RRTC Director of Employment Services and
Dr. Katherine Inge, T-TAP Project Director. For additional information
on customized employment, you may contact ODEP at (202) 693-7880 or
or (804) 828-5956. For more information on T-TAP, please visit http://www.t-tap.org.