The principles of salary negotiation

A. The first principle of salary negotiation is deferral.

Delay any discussion of compensation as long as possible.

There are two reasons for this tactic. First, you do not want to damage your chances of getting a job by throwing out a number that effectively removes you from the employer’s consideration. If you were to suggest a high figure with the intention of letting a potential employer know that you will not be pushed around, you have sent the wrong message. In this instance, many employers will screen you out of consideration, figuring that you would not be happy with their offer. They keep looking and you are out of the picture.

Another reason for delaying talk of pay is to avoid selling yourself short by confining yourself to less money than you might have gotten had you not offered a particular figure. Once an employer has heard your asking price, it is highly unlikely that he or she will offer you more — regardless of whether he or she was willing to pay more in the first place. Your answer could cost you thousands of dollars over the years.

To win at salary negotiation, don’t be the first one to mention a figure.

Here are some examples of dialogue meant to postpone a discussion of money, or to get an employer to mention a figure first:

  • “It is my understanding that your organization pays a competitive rate. I want to make sure this is in line with my compensation requirements, and this is a good time to confirm that. What is your salary range for the job?”
  • “To be frank, I’m not comfortable discussing salary issues until you’ve decided you definitely want me and I’ve decided I will be able to help with your tasks here.”
  • “I’ll gladly talk compensation with you, but could you first help me to better understand what the job involves?”
  • “Salary is not the main issue here. What is more important to me is the job, company, environment, etc. …”
  • “I am open to any reasonable offer, and I’m sure that you pay a fair wage.”

Sometimes, salary requirements will be used by a potential employer to decide whether or not to schedule an interview in the first place. In such cases, you will receive a salary screening phone call. Here are two responses, both of which ensure that you will get to the interview phase and protect your monetary interests:

  • “I know we don’t want to waste each other’s time if we’re far apart on the issue of money. May I ask you, then, what type of compensatory range you are considering at the moment for this position?”
  • “Depending, of course, on the management philosophy of the company, the number of overtime hours required, the medical and dental benefits, my commuting and/or travel time, how well the position fits my long-term career goals, and how much room for advancement you offer, my salary expectations range from $_____ to $_____ [give a very wide range]. When would you like to get together to talk further about the position?”

If you have to throw out a number, make it a range. That’s because companies almost always arrange their salaries on a sliding scale, which factors in experience and seniority within the company. The difference from one end to the other can be as much as 50%. If you feel you must give a salary figure, offer a range. Your range might go from 10% below your most recent salary level to 20% above that number. The idea is to create some room for negotiation. You don’t want to accept a 10% cut in pay, but you can negotiate the offer upward if the company really wants to bring you on board. To be sure, you don’t want to cheat yourself out of an opportunity to receive more pay than you did previously.

B. The second principle of salary negotiation is preparedness.

Know what you’re worth in the marketplace.

There are many ways to determine your competitive market value. For example, you could:

  • Look up salary surveys in your field or in popular magazines, which often feature annual salary surveys.
  • Ask other people in your field. Your best bets would be those people in your network who most closely approximate your age and/or experience level.
  • Call similar companies directly and inquire about their salary ranges for the type of job you are seeking.