Emerge as the winner in the game of salary negotiation

By Scott Sargis
Published In The Chicago Tribune
February 27, 2002

The salary question is one of the difficult questions in the interview process. Candidates often mishandle it because they are ill prepared. If you master three simple rules you will be in a better bargaining position when the question arises:

  • As in poker, never show your hand until you absolutely have to. On a first interview, any stated amount will usually be too high or too low. If too high, you may be disqualified at an early stage in the interview process. If too low, you may cheat yourself out of an additional $1,000 to $2,000 obtainable through negotiation. Your best answer is usually, “I am open on the money; the key is the opportunity.” No matter how hard the employer pushes, stay open.You may mention how much you earn, but don’t ask for a specific amount until later in the process.
  • The salary question may only be a test. Often employers may suggest an artificially low figure as a starting point for negotiation. One example is a retiring chairman, who interviewed one of my candidates for a CEO position.The position was being groomed as his successor. The candidate was earning about $470,000. The chairman asked the candidate if he would consider $400,000. The candidate taking this as an insult, responded with expletive and walked out. The next day the chairman called me in disbelief saying, “His real intention was to offer this candidate a package totaling almost $1 million!” Instead, you should confirm the offer by asking “Do I understand that you are offering me (the amount in question)?”

    Even if the low figure appears to be a real offer, ask for a day or two to consider it. If you still feel it is too low, give a counter offer and reasons why you are worth it. Remember that everything is negotiable.

  • The company and the candidate have conflicting goals. The employer is trying to minimize expenses while you are trying to maximize revenues. Somewhere in between equilibrium is achieved. The best defense is a good offense.

Remember the mantra “sell, sell, sell!” Take every chance you have to sell your related accomplishments as a solution to the employer’s needs. Even if your salary requirements are above the employer’s set parameters, make a compelling business argument for how you can better meet their needs than the competition. Remember that companies are in business to make money. The more your argument is based on benefit to the employer’s return on investment, the more likely you will achieve your goals.

Salary negotiation is a winnable game if you know the rules and are prepared. If that is the case, you will be the victor.