By Martin Yate, CPC
Ask for too much and you might not get an offer; ask for too little and you could be kicking yourself for years. Under-negotiating your salary today has an impact on your lifetime earnings, because all future raises will be based on a lower starting point.
Fortunately, the correct answer can be found with a little research and a simple negotiation strategy.
Just as every job you interview for has an approved salary range, you should never go to a job interview without your own predetermined range. When you answer, “How much money do you want?” with a range rather than a single figure, you avoid nailing yourself down to a specific dollar figure that you might regret. At the same time, you dramatically increase the odds of the two salary ranges intersecting, and position yourself with room to negotiate.
How to Determine Your Salary Range
You can quickly determine a reasonable salary range for yourself in three simple steps:
Step One. Given your experience, determine the least you would need to put food on your table and a roof over your head.
Step Two. Determine what would constitute a fair offer for a suitable job with a stable company. Then compare and contrast what third-party research says your skills are worth: Google “salary calculator” and “salary report” and include terms like your job title, profession, job location, and/or industry in separate searches with your chosen salary calculator.
Step Three. Given the same considerations of a suitable job with a stable company, come up with the offer that would make you smile, drop dead, and go to heaven.
At the end of this process, you’ve got three salary numbers: a minimum, a midpoint, and a dream salary. Now kick out the lowest number, because it’s always easier to negotiate downwards. This leaves you with a salary range—your midpoint to your high point—that you can give with confidence, “I am looking for somewhere between . . .” Now you have a sensible salary range, just like every job you apply for.
The hiring manager wants you but doesn’t have you; this is probably the only time in your relationship with a new employer when you have even a slim negotiating edge, so use it.
Your primary goal is to get the interviewer to put a dollar figure on the table, so in response to, “How much do you want?” you begin with, “If I’m qualified for the job, which I believe I am because of A, B, C, D . . .” and briefly restate the responsibilities of the job and your matching skills, experiences, and achievements, building into your explanation what you know about the role of the job within the department. Your goal is to demonstrate a thorough grasp of the job, and your answer ends with, “So given these matching skills and requirements, I’m sure you’ll make me a fair offer. By the way, what is the salary range for this position?”
If any part of that range intersects with your range, you reply, “Excellent! We certainly have something to talk about because I was looking for between $x and $y. Obviously I’d like $y. How close do you think we can get?” or “That’s certainly something we can talk about. I’m looking for between $x and $y. How much flexibility is there?”
Of course, the interviewer might decline to tell you and instead ask again how much you want. Your next step is to offer your predetermined salary range from your midpoint to your high point. Remember, offering a range means you won’t run the danger of asking for too much, or accept too little, too soon.
The first offer that is put on the table is usually fairly close to any final offer, and you cannot sour negotiations by repeatedly pushing the money issue. Nevertheless, with an offer on the table, the hiring manager has made the decision that s/he can hire you, and everyone else involved wants to be done with this project, so you can negotiate in good faith and expect good faith in return.
How Important Is Money?
When you are climbing the ladder towards your long-term goals, sometimes you have to make strategic career moves that have little salary benefit but which support long-term career-management strategy. Money is important, but your career trajectory is more important. New jobs are pivotal points in your life that affect your whole life going forward. They shouldn’t represent decisions made purely on the basis of salary.
Martin Yate, CPC, author of Knock 'em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World, is a New York Times and international bestseller of job search and career management books. He is the author of 11 job search and career management books published throughout the English speaking world and in over 50 foreign language editions. Over thirty years in career management, including stints as an international technology headhunter, head of HR for a publicly traded company and Director of Training and Development for an international employment services organization.