Now we get to the juicy part of every job interview… the part where most job applicants blow it. Read my lips: After an employer makes you an offer, you cannot just ask for more money without explaining why more money for you is good for the company.

Duh… Yet job candidates sit there and say, “Uh, you ought to raise the offer because it’s not enough. The salary surveys say a job like this pays 20% more than you’re offering me…”

And when the savvy employer responds, “Oh, yeah? Show me the exact same job as this one that pays 20% more,” you look like an idiot. Because no salary survey describes the exact same job you’re talking about…

In this week’s Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks:

I’m considering a position, but I have no idea how much such a position ought to pay. My last employer compensated me at approximately $60K plus stock options, etc. How can I figure this out?

If you read the newsletter, you know what my advice is. I’ll post part of it here soon… but I’d rather hear your suggestions first. (Even if you want to suggest that I should sit on my advice and rotate. ;-)

The reader who submitted this question hopes you have a good suggestion regardless… (But do me a favor, subscribe to the newsletter — it’s free — and at least we’ll all be on the same page the next time we do one of these.)


  1. Obviously, the best way is to show how the value you’ll bring to the company more than justifies the salary request. This is harder to do in some jobs than others, of course since not every job is about making the employer money. But every job IS about getting results. So you can talk in terms of the results you’re capable of bringing will justify the pay.

    Of course, that means you have to actually be someone who kicks ass…

  2. IMHO, Nick is right on the money.
    He suggests you prove your worth in that company’s eyes, not just salary surveys.
    In Chapter 5 of “Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute” I suggest a formula.
    ORV + IV + RF = value
    Objectively researched value, plus your individual value, plus “risk factor” dollars equals your worth.
    The”IV” part is where you make yourself valuable.
    –Jack Chapman

  3. This is all very fine in theory, but in practice “this requires the employer to put some numbers on the table: What they have paid in the past, and how the job contributes to the bottom line” as Nick said and I have found that employers refuse to provide any information about this and are shocked to be asked.

    When I am asked in an interview what I want to make in the new position I always say I want to make what it’s worth to the company. This doesn’t go over well.

    Interviewers want to know how much I make now and/or how much I am asking for the new position. I want to know how much the position is worth to them and what they pay for similar positions now. So we have an impasse with neither side willing to give a number.

    How do you get the employer to answer any questions about what they have paid in the past or intend to pay now?

  4. @G: I think the key is to avoid “asking” for information directly, and instead to start a discussion about it that engages them.

    For example, “I’ve talked with other companies about a similar position… salaries seem to vary depending on the objectives of the position. Could you tell me more about what you want a new hire to accomplish in this position during the first 6 months?”

    Let them talk. That’s a safer question. Then bring it back to salary. “Suppose you could hire someone who could make those objectives, and then some… If you were to engage in a bit of fantasy, what more would you want?”

    If you can get them talking about “more,” that gives you an opening to explain how you could pull it off. Of course, that puts the ball in your court and that’s a challenge. But if you can do it, it sets you up to negotiate for a higher salary when/if they make an offer. You just refer back to that discussion… point out what “extra” you will bring. Even suggest they make the extra pay contingent on you achieving the extra goals… Just get it in writing so they can’t ignore it later!

  5. The ‘get them talking’ technique should be useful when talking to actual hiring managers but many places insist on an HR screen before allowing applicants to talk to the hiring managers.

    I’ll have to try deflecting the HR screener who demands salary requirements/history with questions related to ‘Can you explain more about the position?’ and see if that works. Maybe I wouldn’t want a job in a company with such a silly HR department.

    But even in interviews with hiring managers, and even with the questions about expected accomplishments, I have a hard time believing that the interviewer is going to mention any salary number any time before a definite offer is made.

    Does anyone have any real stories where they managed to do this successfully? Especially in the kind of job that is not directly related to money, that is, not a manager who controls a budget or a salesrep.

  6. @G: Check out Peter Kraatz’s method (scroll down a bit on that page, it’s in a blue box):

    It takes some doing, but I think this kind of approach can be used when an employer asks for YOUR numbers… let’s flip it around and do some mutual disclosure… What’s good for the goose…

    Clearly, this cannot be done in a presumptuous or rude way. Gently. With the attitude that “we can help one another out by sharing information we’ll both need to make a good decision about working together.”

    It cracks me up: Employers get all hot under the collar when candidates won’t disclose their salary history, BUT the employer won’t disclose the salary history of the position being discussed… To me, this reveals a huge discrepancy and a failure to think about business intelligently.

    Nudge gently, and show reasons why it’s good to share information.

  7. A friend suggest this wording for dealing with the ‘what are your salary requirements’ questions: “I like to start the compensation negotiation with a tropical island but I’m willing to be flexible for the right position.” When they persist, I usually follow that up with a deflecting: “I like to look at the entire compensation package when making my decision, some of the intangibles can be just as important as the pay; obvious intangibles like vacation, benefits and retirement play into it but I look at things like responsibility, opportunity and growth as well.” If they ask again after that I put another notch in the “not the kind of place I want to work” column.

  8. This is waste of time. You know they type of organization you are going into. You know their comp structure (or you should).

    You get as much as you can initially; if you don’t like what they are giving you, leave. It’s fairly pointless to ask for more (outside of the established bonus structure).

    Companies are NOT invested in you. That time is way past, gone with the Rockwell painting. They pay you, and hope they get something good. But they are paying for a “great job to be done”, so coming for more money means you think you’ve done better than “great”, which is usually not the case (the old “90% of people think they are above average” adage.)

    Companies should know how a person affects their bottom line – if they don’t, they are doomed.

    All pay structures should be flat (same for all in that band, and known by all). Bonus should be the variable part, and a bigger component.

    “He’s your “great job” pay, now the bonus is for the “supremely excellent work””

    This is why financial industry comp is insanely high and completely untied to real performance – they believe they are all “great”, but deserve supreme pay because of the “club”. Guess what – you aren’t are great as you think you are.

    Bottom line – you want more money, go somewhere else. I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times, and I encourage people to leave if they need more comp (because the company is not set-up to pay more) – it’s not personal, just business.