Ready, Set, Switch! Nail The Negotiations!


Money will come up two times during hiring discussions, but there’s only one right time to negotiate: when you get an official offer.

The First Ask

You’ll be asked for a salary number early in the hiring process, but this is to establish one thing:

That both you and the employer are in the same ballpark regarding compensation, and therefore it makes sense to continue with the interview process.

This is legit since it would be a waste of time to complete three rounds of interviews only to realize that the salary was significantly below what you’d consider.  Your best strategy at this stage is to keep the conversation brief, persuading the hirer to offer a number first (usually a salary band range). If they push back, remain professional and have your desired range ready to share based on your market research, prefacing your response with “Based on what I know about the role at this time, I’m looking for…” This gives you some wiggle room later in the process.

If you’re asked what you currently make (which thankfully is now banned in some States with many others planning to follow suit), politely respond with what you’d find acceptable for the role you’re applying to. If pressed with veiled threats (e.g., we can’t move forward with the process without your current salary), rather than get into a battle, go ahead and share it, followed by what you would knowingly accept. For example, “Currently at the non-profit where I work I make $48000, and based on what I know about this role, I’d be looking for $60k – $80k.”  This way, you’re answering the question, but also setting expectations.

The truth is, you may be underpaid currently due to working in a different industry (e.g., non-profit) or because you were at a company for several years and your annual increases haven’t kept up with market rates. Regardless, if a retiring neurosurgeon decided to work as a barista in Starbuck’s, you can be sure they’d offer her $10/hour as opposed to her physician’s salary. Why? Because employees should get paid for the work they are doing, not based on what they made last year or in their previous roles.

The Real Negotiation

The real negotiation begins once the company decides you’re the candidate of choice. Now, they envision you on the team taking work off of their plate and solving their problems. They’re excited the hiring process is concluding and eager for you to say “I accept.

As a job seeker, you may not realize that Managers don’t like the hiring process any more than you do. Their primary job is time-consuming enough without adding resume reviews and interviews to their calendars, which means once you get the offer, you have some leverage. Don’t waste it!

Step 1. Reconnaissance: The more information you have, the better able you are to create a negotiation strategy. For example, does the company have a strong #2 candidate or are you the lead by a long shot? Is there a need to fill the role quickly, or is it a new role the company has been able to live without? Pay attention and ask insightful questions during the interview process to gather useful data.

Step 2. Time: Even if the offer is better than expected, there’s always something to negotiate. Base pay is most important, but if there’s no flexibility there, how about a bonus, vacation time, start date or tuition reimbursement? The trick is to figure out what will add more money to your pocket at the end of each month. Perks that might be very meaningful to you could be negligible to the company.

Step 3. Value: Review your notes from the interviews and determine how your skills and experience solve the department’s biggest problems. This is your negotiating power – the value you bring to the role. A hiring manager doesn’t care what you want or need, they care about what you can deliver and the results you can produce that impact the bottom line. Use this as your rationale for asking for more.

Step 4. Strategy: Plan a brief call with the hiring manager, not Human Resources. This is a great time to see how your potential new boss shows up to tough conversations, which is good to know before you accept. Plus, the hiring manager is closer to the work and recognizes your value beyond what’s on the job description. Before the conversation, know what you want starting with base, then the next most valuable perk, and then the next. While you can certainly create an endless wish list, if you ask for more than three additional things, you may risk damaging the relationship.

Step 5. Execute: Demonstrate excitement about the role, reiterate how you’ll hit the ground running, thank them for the opportunity and ask, “Is there any flexibility?”  Then pause. Wait for a response. Silence is golden in a negotiation discussion. You’ll likely get asked what you had in mind, and this is when you start with your base salary and then go from there.  They’ll likely meet you in the middle so aim a little high, being sure to share how your value warrants the additional bump (see Step 3).

Step 6. Bond: Get the revised terms in writing. If you’ve asked for perks that aren’t standard, you don’t want to be caught later if your boss is suddenly reassigned or has an unfortunate memory lapse.

In a salary negotiation, both the relationship and the task are important. You don’t want to nail a fabulous compensation package while alienating your new colleagues. However, if you follow the steps above, you’ll be able to balance both so everyone wins.

Final thought: One of my favorite sayings is, “you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate” (Chester L Karrass). Simply put, if you don’t ask, the answer is always “no.” If salary negotiations make you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. But isn’t a little discomfort worth an extra $5k, $10k or more?

Happy hunting!

If you’ve missed earlier articles in the Ready, Set, Switch! series, click here.

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