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How to Control the Salary Negotiation

A properly prepared job candidate needn't dread or be tripped up by questions about compensation.

Well before you reach the point where an interviewer asks how much you want, formulate upper and lower bounds of your required pay range using separate methods, advises Jane Ashen Turkewitz, founder and president of T & Jam Resume Services and a former executive recruiter.

For the lower end, choose "a number you'd be happy with - and could live on," Turkewitz writes in a recent post on her blog, Let's Talk Turkey. Then, make sure to stick with the range you've chosen. "Don't deviate. If you say your bottom number is $75K and someone offers you $70K, you KNOW you are going to say 'no.'"

When fixing your lowest acceptable pay number, remember the law of gravity: any offers or raises you get in the future will start from your current salary at that time. And because markets will eventually recover, you will probably make another job move somewhere down the line. So if you do take a step back in your salary, Turkewitz says to limit it to "a baby step, so that you can catch up quickly with the next stage of your career."

What about the top of your range? Turkewitz says that should be a number you think is reasonable for a person with your qualifications. Coming up with that number usually requires a bit of research, such as checking salary surveys in your profession, or consulting a former boss or mentor.

One final point: While candidates often are advised to hold their cards close to the chest on pay until the last possible moment, don't expect to get away with that if you're interviewed by an external recruiter. Turkewitz warns that external recruiters "need to get the candidate to talk first," so they can use that information to screen out candidates whose pay requirements fall outside the client's budgeted range for the position.

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AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • Ja
    James
    30 May 2009

    Jon,

    I understand your point about having an upper hand in negotiation. However, if disclosing one's preferred pay range to the employer puts the candidate at a disadvantage, which makes perfect sense, then Michelle's statement that "The final point also holds true for in-house recruiter interviews. They, too, screen for pay requirements that might fall outside the internal client's budgeted range. It's important to answer those questions of both internal and external recruiters", is kind of hypocritical. No offense is intended to Michele, but it is not an advice that one should follow!

    An HR recruiter can always qualify disclosure of the company's pay range by saying something like: "Our pay range is $80-$90,000 depending on a candidate's experience." That gives both parties an opportunity to negotiate further and properly sets the candidate's expectations because the candidate will know that he may not get the top of the range offer because he may not have enough experience to get the top figure. It is still better than playing games with people.

  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    28 May 2009

    James, I think I can answer your question.

    The reason is much the same as in any other negotiation: whoever reveals their bottom line first loses (i.e., gives up any chance of doing better than their bottom-line figure - defined as the WORST figure they would settle for).

    For instance, I am negotiating now to purchase a co-op. A broker told me the ask was $1.85 million and she expects it will actually sell for around $1.75-1.80 million (these are not actual figures; I just made them up).

    That tells me the seller actually is willing to sell for somewhere below $1.75 million. Why? Because the broker has a duty to not expose her client's bottom line early in the game. So I know the seller's bottom line must be less than the figure the broker gave (even though it's already below the asking price). In other words, it was a well-telegraphed negotiating tactic.

    In the job context, candidates tell me whenever they named their pay requirement first, the offer (if any) always matched the exact bottom of their range. Without fail. Similarly, if an employer states the range first, the candidate will always hold out for the high end.

    -Jon Jacobs, eFinancialCareers News staff

  • Ja
    James
    28 May 2009

    On that very last point and Michele's comment...Here is a silly question. When a company puts together a job requisition, there is a very specific pay range that it budgets for the position. So, why wouldn't a company be straightforward and tell a candidate what that range is? Why play games?

  • Mi
    Michele Buchner
    27 May 2009

    The final point also holds true for in-house recruiter interviews. They, too, screen for pay requirements that might fall outside the internal client's budgeted range. It's important to answer those questions of both internal and external recruiters.

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