Rule Number One in Salary Negotiations

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Never be the first person to mention a salary amount. This is rule number one in salary negotiations. Only discuss salary after the employer makes an initial offer.

Almost career experts agree on this point.

You put yourself at a disadvantage when you tell an employer how much you are looking for or how much you’ll take. If you are filling out an application form that asks how much money you want, you should leave that part of the application blank.

Why it works

Most employers have already determined a fairly narrow salary range for what a job is worth. And most job seekers underestimate how much they are worth. Or they erroneously think that if they ask for less than they think the job is worth, they have a better chance of getting the job.

But that’s not how employers think. They first determine whether the candidate can actually do the job. It is always to the employer’s advantage to hire the best candidate over the second best candidate who may accept a few thousand dollars a year less, as long as the best candidate will accept a salary within the employer’s predetermined range.

Why it matters

If the employer wants to hire you, and you ask for a salary that is below the employer’s range, they will happily give you what you ask for. You need to consider that most annual raises and salary increases due to promotions are offered as a percentage of the employee’s current salary. By asking for too little, you may lock yourself into being underpaid for the rest of your career at that company.

What to say

Here are some recommended answers to give employers who ask how much compensation you will accept without first making you an offer.

  • I am much more interested in the kind of work I will be doing at your company than I am in the initial offer. Note that by referring to the “initial offer” you are acknowledging that you understand that this is a negotiation.
  • Could you tell me more about the job requirements and expectations so I can get a better idea of how much the job is worth? This switches the focus from how much you are worth to how much the job is worth.
  • I would like to be paid at the top range of what your company pays people in comparable positions. This is another great “stalling technique.”

Asking for more

If you politely continue to avoid naming a number, an employer who wants to hire you is eventually going to have to go first and make you an offer. This is the initial offer, probably near the middle or the bottom of the employer’s salary range. Unless the employer informs you to the contrary. It is not the final offer. The employer actually expects you to ask for more.

Ask for more and in addition to having a new job you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you negotiated the best possible deal for yourself.