Aren’t You Worth the Money? How Not to Negotiate Salary

Posted: 02/02/2011 in Interviewing, Job Search, Salary Negotiation, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Congratulations – you have a job offer! All those months (years?) of job hunting; sending targeted resumes and cover letters to hiring managers showing them how you can impale their nasty little dragons on the head of a spear; enduring the smirks of passersby on the street after a networking event because you forgot to take off your name tag. You’ve been offered the job you wanted and a salary that will allow you to pay your Verizon bill from 3 months ago and stop rationing the toilet paper.

Now what? Do you just take the salary that’s offered, ‘cuz you’re just so happy to have the job? Do you stammer, “Do you think maybe you could go just a wee bit higher?” I think you know the answer to that. Keep in mind that every job/salary affects your financial situation for years to come, probably for the rest of your life (how’s that for pressure?).

Here are some don’ts when it comes to negotiating salary.

  • Don’t be too humble. I am, of course, assuming that you wouldn’t literally bend down to the floor and chant, “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!” But sometimes people are so grateful to have a job offer, especially after a long and difficult search, that they aren’t assertive enough about what they’re worth. You wouldn’t be getting hired if the employer didn’t think you have a lot to offer, so you want to approach the negotiation process with an “I’m awesome, you’re awesome” mindset. Remember the whole “mutual benefit” thing.
  • Don’t take the first offer without negotiating at all. Your new employer expects you to negotiate. If you don’t, it makes you look  a. desperate,  b. insecure,  c. gutless,  and  d. kinda goofy. Not a good way to start off in a new job. Even if the company has a tight budget, if they’re doing well enough to hire a new employee, they have some leeway in the salary range. Even if it’s a nonprofit, don’t assume they can’t be flexible. The range may be smaller for a 5-person nonprofit than for a Fortune 500 company, but there still is one (range, that is). I did once get hired years ago for a position with the City of Boston that boasted a non-negotiable salary of $14.63 an hour (how the hell did they come up with THAT figure??), but that’s pretty rare. So negotiate if you want your new employer’s respect!
  • Don’t be out in left field with your counteroffer. Do your research so you know what your market value is, based on the position, your level of experience, and the city you’re in. The typical salary range for a software developer is a bit different in New York City than Butte, Montana. Look on sites like salary.com, glassdoor.com and payscale.com for info.
  • Don’t give too specific a salary when asked for your requirement. “I figured out I need $53,400 to be able to pay my bills” is not a good answer. Give a wide range; $50 – 60K is the range I’m focusing on” is much better.
  • Don’t give your current or recent salary in your cover letter or in an interview (don’t give a fake one, either). It’s really not the employer’s business what you made before; it’s their business what they should pay you based on your experience. If asked this question, give your target range instead (be upfront about it; don’t pretend your target range is your recent salary).
  • If you have absolutely no clue what salary range they’re offering by the second interview, ask (something like, “Could you give me an idea what the salary range is, so we know we’re in the same ballpark?”). If it’s outlandishly below your range, say so (not in those exact words). No point in wasting your or their time if they’re paying $30,000 below what you need to buy cat food. That goes double if the interview is in another state.
  • If you find out when you get an offer that the salary is just a tad lower than your range, express enthusiasm about the job and see if you can negotiate up. If not, try to negotiate other benefits – early salary review, bonus, extra vacation time, tuition reimbursement, discount card for Whole Foods, time-share in the Cayman Islands, date with the sexy admin assistant guy, etc. Just kidding about the last three. But you knew that.
  • Don’t assume the offer is carved in stone if it’s just verbal. Once you have a salary that’s mutually agreeable, get it in writing.
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Comments
    • Paula Cohen says:

      Laurie, excellent guidelines.
      Question – During an interview for a management-level position at a consulting firm the interviewer, head of HR, asked about my previous salary. Normally, not so off base, but my previous employment was a part-time, non-profit grant of a very specific (and quite low) amount. A position I took to gain experience in an innovative field. I didn’t want to reveal my fee, and explained every which way that it was definitely not apples-to-apples. He would not let the questioning go.
      What would you suggest as an appropriate response to hold my own, not be rude, and still leave the door open for the new position?
      Many thanks for all your excellent insights

      Paula Cohen

      • Hi Paula,

        I’d start out with something pretty much like what you said – “My previous employment was with a part-time nonprofit, and wouldn’t represent my current target range, which is…..Is that in your ball park?” That way, you’ve given a question he/she has to answer that re-focuses the conversation where it should be, which is – what you’re worth!

  1. Natalie says:

    Very good advice!

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