Negotiating Salary? Three Steps to a Bigger, Better Offer


You look across the table and your eyes meet. You blink and then quickly look away. Was that a smile you detected? You hope so, because you were smiling, too. No, you’re not on a date. You’re at a job interview and it’s going well. It’s the second time you’ve met with the prospective employer and you feel like it’s a really good fit.

You’ve gotten past the resume screen, the first interview and now the second is almost over. The employer has expressed definite interest in your services. The only question is what’s it going to cost them? Now – gulp – it’s time for the tricky part: salary negotiations.

Salary negotiations are like a first kiss: You’re thinking about it the whole time and nervous before you start, but once you get going, it should come naturally and be easy – if you follow three simple tips:

1. Don’t forget to negotiate.

Seems simple, right? But most people don’t know that they can negotiate and few do. The reasons not to negotiate are emotional: What if they say no? What if they get angry? What if they decide they no longer want to hire you?

Calm down, tiger. Hiring is a very serious business and most employers spend a lot of their time thinking about recruiting and retaining the best talent. If they want you, they want you, and the fact that you want more money isn’t going to stop them from wanting you. They could say no, but unless you insult them with your demands — $250,000-a-year for an entry-level job – they are unlikely to throw you out of their office.

So, always try to negotiate, no matter what – you really have nothing to lose.

2. Never, ever, ever make the first move.

If they ask you how much you want, you should say something like, “I’m really interested in the position and I’m sure we can work out an agreement that is acceptable to all.” If they press, don’t be afraid to come out and ask them what salary range they were thinking. The key is: Get them to throw out the first number.

More often than not, they’ll have an idea of what they want to pay and they want to tell you a number that will make you happy. They could even surprise you by offering you a lot more than you initially expected and would have demanded. Either way, you’ll gain a lot of information about what they hope to pay for the role.

By getting them to throw out the first number, you set yourself up to be able to ask for more, which is what you should almost always do (see tip No. 1). Hiring managers will rarely tell you the most they can afford to pay for a position, so there’s always wiggle room.

3. Know your floor.

This is the most crucial negotiation advice you can get: Know what the minimum is that you would accept and be happy. It’s not about what you can afford; it’s not about what you think you deserve; it’s about happiness. What’s the least you can accept and be happy? Ask yourself this over and over until you truly know the answer.

For instance, if you know that you won’t be happy at a new job unless the minimum they pay you is $75,000-a-year and they initially offer $65,000 (if you followed rule No. 2, they’ve thrown out the first number), it should be very easy for you to tell them, “That’s a very generous offer, but I can’t accept for anything lower than $75,000.”

Once you know your floor, you have tremendous power in the negotiation: You win no matter how they react to that statement. If they say, “We can’t afford more than $70,000,” you know that you need to decline the job offer. Why? Because you know that you will be unhappy making $70,000 at that job. If they say, “I think we can meet your terms,” then you got what you wanted: a new job at a salary that makes you happy. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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