“What’s your desired salary?” Few elements of the job search create as much fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and unadulterated panic as those four little words. At The Hired Guns, we’re always coaching people on salary and benefits negotiation. A large part of that process involves dispelling rumors and disabusing professionals of the terrible advice they’ve accumulated from friends, family, and fevered Google searches.
Negotiating your salary at a new job doesn’t need to be frustrating or confusing. It doesn’t need to involve white-knuckle terror or lying through your teeth. When done right, it’s a simple, straightforward process that leaves both sides of the table satisfied.
Know your compensation needs before the process starts
Before you even start interviewing, sit down and figure out how much you want to make at your next position. This isn’t limited to just salary + bonus, either. Consider everything, including the cost of your benefits and how much you spend on commuting. Decide how flexible you are. Are you willing to take a lower base salary with a higher potential bonus? Are you willing to take a lower base for a better commute? Would you take a higher base, even if your contribution to health care is higher at the new place?
If all of this seems a bit premature, it’s not. If you click with a hiring manager, they’re going to want to move forward immediately. You never know when lightning may strike, so keep this info in your back pocket at every stage of the interview process.
Be honest about your needs from the start
If you need to make $100,000 a year all-in, tell that to the hiring manager as soon as they ask. “But,” you’ll say, “if I give them a lower salary at the start of the process, I’m more likely to get the interview. Right?” Wrong. If you tell them a number, they’re going to operate on the assumption that it’s actually your number. Few things enrage hiring managers more than candidates who suddenly inflate their salary at the last minute. Speaking of…
Don’t suddenly inflate your salary at the last minute
If you find out the job pays $75,000 and you need to make $90,000, ask if there’s room to negotiate. If you’ve made a great case for yourself, and if the hiring manager truly needs someone of your considerable skill, they’ll find the money. Really. Nine times out of ten, if the candidate is the perfect fit and can help the company (and the hiring manager) move to the next level, they’ll find the money. But they’ll do this only if you’ve been open about your needs from the start.
If they’ve told you there’s wiggle room, they know you’re going to want to wiggle. (If you find out that there isn’t wiggle room, then don’t waste your time.) But if you didn’t bat an eye at $75K, only to lobby for more later on, expect them to place a call to their second choice as soon as you step into the elevator.
Stop thinking that they’re out to screw you
Salary negotiation is not a trap. They’re not trying to trip you up, or trick you into saying the wrong thing. The hiring manager wants to hire you. They want to find the right person as soon as possible. They need the new person to step in and help carry the water on their big project. Also, they really want to stop interviewing and get back to work. They don’t have time for head games. They do, of course, want the best skills for the lowest cost, but that’s just business. If you’re an ideal candidate, they’ll work with your needs to get you in as soon as possible.
Know how much leverage you have
You should always negotiate with confidence, but there’s a line between confidence and hubris. Check Salary.com and find out how your salary compares to your peer group. If you’re overpaid, lobbying for a big increase might not be your best bet. If you’re underpaid, be prepared to ask for a larger increase, and be sure to have the market data to back it up. If you’re changing careers, know that you might have to take a cut to get into a new field or industry.
Also, if you’ve been unemployed for a long stretch, but previously made a very high salary, know that a prospective employer may call you on it if you ask for the same salary (or higher). Be strategic. Know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.
Don’t make them wait
As Ally says, “time kills all deals.” If there’s an offer on the table that matches your stated needs, don’t linger. 24 hours is fine. 48 is pushing it. 72 or more will have them calling their second choice.