A reader wants to negotiate salary without being greedy, in the December 8, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.
Employers never make their best offer. You have to negotiate for a few rounds. I’ve read books and articles that give you tactics to improve an offer. I definitely want to get the most money I can, but I don’t want to press so hard that I talk them out of an offer altogether or come off like a jerk. What do you advise?
Negotiate salary to get all you can, of course. But don’t be greedy.
Too often, people get battered by stingy employers in salary negotiations. This creates a climate in which job candidates feel there’s no choice but to turn up the heat to get every buck they can. I expect we’ll hear some ire about my advice: When you negotiate compensation, leave something on the table. Be assertive, but don’t be greedy.
I’d like to caution you that some employers do make their best offer off the bat. If you have reason to believe otherwise, go for it. But only a naïve job seeker automatically asks for more. Take stock of the specific employer. Use your judgment.
So, what am I talking about?
Leave something on the table
In America we are taught to eat heartily but not to take the last portion from the serving plate, out of respect for the generosity of our host. This is a good lesson in salary negotiations, too. Get all you need, but leave something on the table as a show of respect to your new employer.
Does this mean you should decline more money? Of course not. But remember that a job offer can have several components. Smart job hunters know how to negotiate for more than salary.
Negotiate more than salary
For example, a cornucopia of compensation components may be on the table: salary, bonus, performance incentives, relocation costs, vacation, company stock, job title, first review, tools to be used on the job, and so on. The more components you negotiate, the more you might be able to win — and the more opportunity you have to make some concessions as a show of respect and reciprocation.
A negotiation should never be adversarial and it should never include only demands. A good negotiation is a friendly acknowledgment and frank discussion of each party’s needs and limits.
For example, a candidate may not be able to accept less than a certain base salary because of fixed family expenses. A company may not be able to pay a higher salary due to budgetary constraints. As a solution to these issues, the candidate might forgo a higher salary if the company agrees to a guaranteed bonus to be paid every six months for two years until the new employee has a chance to get promoted and earn raises. (Part of the secret behind this is that bonuses are not fixed costs on the employer’s ledger, like salaries are.) The only way to get creative is to talk it through together.
Respect is paramount in a successful negotiation. (If you feel an employer is not negotiating in good faith, then nothing you consent to is going to make this a good place to work! Walk away.) That’s why such discussions are handled better on the phone than in e-mail, and better in person than on the phone. That is, make it as personal as circumstances permit — but face to face is best.
If both parties are to understand one another, a job interview requires a personal, nuanced exchange. So does negotiating the terms of employment. This promotes personal responsibility and a higher regard for one another’s needs. And that’s where concessions are important.
Negotiate a relationship
When you’re dealing with a good employer that demonstrates a high regard for you and your needs, don’t automatically apply tactics to get every dollar you think you can. Consider the long-term value of demonstrating your ability to let the other guy win, too. The end of your negotiations marks the beginning of a business relationship. What do you want that to look and feel like to you and to your new employer?
Take what you need, but leave something on the table as a sign of respect for the other party’s willingness to negotiate with you. If the employer is worth working for, this can pay off after you start your job, because you will be regarded as a worker who is concerned not only for their own well-being, but also for the employer’s.
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Is it worth a few bucks to signal your belief in a win-win deal? Did you ever fight for every last dollar in a salary negotiation only to regret it? What happened? On the other hand, did you win big and still make everybody happy? Tell us about it!