Negotiating Your Salary: Who Flinches First?

Wanting to hear some of this advice firsthand, I called Penelope Trunk, author of "Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success," and one of the most widely read career blogs on the Web. She suggested several different responses candidates can make:

"Let's talk about salary once I have a better picture of the job requirements." Then find out the particulars of what you'll be doing day to day and who or what projects you'll be managing.

"I think what you're really trying to do is determine whether my skill set is appropriate for the job, so let me tell you what I've done." Then list your most impressive, relevant achievements.

"Can you tell me more about your benefits package first?" In other words, you want to factor vacation time, health insurance and 401(k) matching into the negotiation equation.

All these are fine topics to cover before you talk dollars with a potential employer. But you can only stall so long. When the rep or hiring manager brings the conversation back to salary, as they invariably will, Trunk advises saying: "I'd like you to give the number first and then let's start negotiating."

When You Must Show Your Hand

Know that such punts won't always work. I informally polled a couple dozen human resources professionals and hiring managers over e-mail, and some simply won't move forward with a candidate who won't name a dollar figure first. Interview over.

I side with the workers and career coaches who find this practice ridiculous. And I'm not the only one.

"No one creates a position and says, 'Gee, we have no idea what we're going to pay for this,'" said Andrea Ballard, a human resources manager with CPA firm Peterson Sullivan PLLC in Seattle, and one of the few professionals I talked to who doesn't make candidates show their hand first.

But try as you might, if you can't get the employer to utter the words "This position pays $xx,xxx to $xx,xxx a year -- does that fall within your range?" you're going to have to give up the goods.

Rather than stating a salary range (for example, "I'm looking for $55,000 to $65,000), just give the employer one bottom-line number ("I'm looking for $65,000"). Otherwise, you're likely to get an offer of $56,500. Pad your number about 10 percent, too, in case the employer tries to negotiate.

One caveat: If you're dealing with an outside recruiter, you'll have to cough up a salary figure early on in the process -- and justifiably so.

"If an outside recruiter calls me and says, 'I have this fabulous candidate. Can you meet with them?' one of my first questions is, 'What kind of salary are they looking for?'" said Ballard, who's worked in human resources for 15 years. "Part of their job is getting that information for me."

In Praise of Talking Cash ASAP

Like many of you, I was taught to never talk dollars until an offer's on the table, no doubt by a career adviser who last interviewed for a job during the Nixon administration. While I don't advise bringing up money before the person interviewing you does, I do encourage you to talk financial turkey early in the interview process, rather than endlessly stonewalling or deflecting questions about how much money you're looking for.

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