Salary Negotiations 101

Of course not, that’s why you get it in writing. But if it does go to the lawsuit stage, then you’re probably suing for lost wages and breach of contract, and you’re not taking the job.

This might count as a thread derail, but I want to riff on something several people said as if it were 100% rock solid: that you should never be the first to name a figure. That is the conventional wisdom, but in my experience I have found negotiations to be a lot more complicated than that.

Specifically, if you are at the stage of the negotation where there is a general agreement to reach an agreement, and the primary issue is price, then I do think it is disadvantageous to go first on price at that point. Salary negotiations usually do come up in the context of an offer of a position so the conventional wisdom is probably correct most of the time in salary negotations.

However, I don’t think that applies to all negotiations as a general principle. Sometimes price can come up long before you have a general agreement to reach an agreement. If it comes up earlier, sometimes there are tactical or strategic reasons why you might want to name a price first.

For example, if you don’t yet have the outlines of a deal, you might want to put a number on the table to show the other side that you are in the general ballpark, to spark interest and elicit further negotiations. Or, you might want to put a figure on the table to show that you actually do have the money or to show that you are serious.

In salary negotiations, if salary comes up before the offer stage, it may be in your interest to name a price first, depending on circumstances. If the job involves negotiating as a job duty, or setting monetary value on various issues as a job duty, then the interviewer may ask you to a name a salary requirement as a test of your ability to place a value. I mean, if you don’t have a sense of what you are worth, how good are you going to be at valuing the work of other people or things? This probably mostly applies to managerial / advocacy type jobs and not so much to tech jobs.

Also I will say one thing: if you are trying to avoid naming a salary b/c you don’t know the general range of what the employer will offer, I think that shows a lack of preparation and probably means you don’t know as much about the employer and the job as you should. Sometimes you just can’t get that info ahead of time but there are a LOT of tools these days that can put you in the ball park. You should do the market research ahead of time and not use the interview as a time to do price research on the employer: you are almost always in a much weaker position if you find out their price info that late in the game. So if you can find out what they will likely offer beforehand, you should. And if you know the general range of what they will offer, its not always a bad idea to name a price first as it may show decisiveness or initiative which will increase your odds or receiving an offer.

It all depends but I wanted to say that the mighty conventional wisdom expressed here is, as is often the case, not a universal rule :0.

Exactly. Research the average salary, determine as objectively as you can where you fit against that average, and name a reasonable number. Never offer your previous salary, that’s a weak response if you get lowballed.

I always say upfront what I’m looking for. It’s important not to appear desperate, even if you are.

I hear this a lot… and I’m always puzzled by it.

You should determine your salary based on two things:

your experience relative to the job
what the market pays

This means you actually have to do a little homework and find out how much a position like the you’re applying for pays. Once you have, go into the interview highlighting the former to help boost the latter.

I usually say “negotiable” at phone interviews and on applications. When negotiating with HR I spit out the high-end figure from or something similar.

Last time this method got me an almost 20% raise.

HR: How did you arrive at this figure?
Me: Well, I’m expecting a promotion and a raise this summer if I stay at my current position, which will give me X; however, the position for which I’m interviewing has more responsibilities. suggests a salary of Y.

Edit: +/- 3%?? Why would you go through the headache and overhead of changing jobs for a lateral move?


And get back to work!

Before I settled down, the rule of thumb for our sector was 15% minimum to jump ship. Just FYI.

I’m happy with what I got

Scooter, you’re paid in pallets of Mr. Pibb, aren’t you.

What she said.
I got a 15% raise that way. Of course it depends on you position, education and the job market. If you’re one of 200 equally skilled appliciants or it’s your very first job, then you might need to do the +/- 3%. If you’re allready in a position then even though you really want the new job, there should be a significant raise involved in going through all the hassle of switching jobs.

Bzzt. Wrong. I get paid in pallets of Tab.

The advice about researching the position and salary ranges is spot on. A very basic negotiation tactic you can use is in response to their request for a salary is to give them a number without giving them a number.

Find the closest match to the position in salary calculators (try to check at least 7 or 8). Take the highest three and print them out and take those printouts with you to the interview.

When they ask you can be honest and say, “I want to work for a quality organization and I think a quality organization would pay a fair and competitive wage for the position and of course I would factor in other aspects of the job into that. I’m not sure what the current salary rate is for the position so I went online and checked some pay ranges.”

At that point, give them the printouts and don’t say anything. What you’ve done is give them a range without specifying if that is actually what you’re looking for, so you have flexibility. If what they’re willing to pay is less than what is on the printouts, you can still be open to it while giving the impression that you’re giving up a lot so you can get the upper end of what they’re willing to pay. Sometimes, they may look at the printouts and just say, “We can work with that.”

The key to this negotation tactic, and this is absolutely key, you need to stay silent after giving them the printout so that you can gauge their reaction. Evil chuckling or greedily rubbing your hands together also does not help your case.

There are more sophisticated approaches as mentioned by some of the others. If you’re fast on your feet and a good communicator, you can try and do a win-win. That was once described to me as you and the employer splitting 200 apples and each walking away with 120 apples each.

I don’t think they legally can, but if you sue your employer your career future is not good and I don’t know of anyone who would take that step over a minor benefit. Though I do know a few who changed jobs again rapidly when they decided their current employer was screwing them with tricks like this.

Plus of course there’s also the dodge that on the first day of employment there’s usually a trillion things to sign and one of them is usually along the lines of “I agree to abide by all HR policies of this organization” so the company can claim that you signed away anything said earlier to the contrary. Again, might not stand up in court but that’s the argument the HR drones will use if you complain.

Bottom line is that some employers are institutionally rigid and many are at least mildly organizationally dysfunctional. If you want to work for them you play by their odd rules or you don’t play at all. That’s why I always advocate asking questions about specific policies and trying to get some details so there’s no surprises :)

As a hiring manager, this is what I would suggest. The hiring manager needs to know because if your salary requirement is too high, there is no reason to waste anyone’s time (and I tell the candidate that, bluntly). That said, the number you give better be solid or else you rule yourself out of a job.