Job Negotiations

by Steven J. Owens (unless otherwise attributed)

If the job description asks for a salary history, do you really have to send one?

I wouldn't. In fact I strongly recommend refusing to discuss your salary history with potential employers. I could spend several pages explaining why, and addressing the usual replies employers will try to make to justify their needing to know your salary. However, I'm tired and I owe my current employer more of my attention at the moment :-).

So let's just leave it at this: in today's market your best opportunity to get a raise is when you change jobs. Them asking for your salary history is a bullshit negotiating tactic. Do you get to see their corporate budget before commencing negotiations? I didn't think so. The trick, of course, is to deflect the request politely. This isn't the way I'd like to do it, but then again I don't dictate the market and accepted practices.

For example, let's say you're making $25K and you know you're grossly underpaid, and you decide you need more money, and you know you're not going to get it from your current employer (let's face it, if they were enlightened and fair you wouldn't need to shop around).

The job hunting books usually say something like "they'll have a range in mind, say $25-30K, so what you want to do is ask for $30-35K."

Of course how you figure this out is another question. You have to do some basic research in your field, check with professional organizations to determine what typical pay rates are, talk to fellow professionals at other companies to find out what the market's like, factor in for local cost-of-living. Let's pretend that you do this and decide you need, deserve and should get about $30K.

Ideally you should actually have a range that the kind of job you're going for typically gets, and then be able to factor that in for the particular industry and size of company, etc. Of course, there's a balancing act. You don't want to underbid yourself. Not only do you get less money, but this can actually hurt your chances for the job. "He's only asking for $28K? What's wrong with him that he's willing to take that little?" On the other hand, you don't want to sticker shock them either. "He's out of his mind if he thinks he's getting that much!"

However, as a practical matter I find you're a lot less likely to sticker shock them than you might think. Figure out what you think is the reasonable upper limit on what you can ask for. Then add 10% on top of that, because let's face it, if you're sharp you probably underestimate your own worth:

Estimating Your Competence

Let's say you decide you should get at least $28K and you think you deserve $30K, and you figure you could reasonably ask for $33K and let them talk you down to $30K. Ask for $36K. If you're really not sure you have a good shot of getting it (you're probably fooling yourself, but) then phrase it as a range, $33K-$36K. (see Note On Ranges, below).

When they ask for your salary history or your current salary, you respond with "my salary requirement is $36K/year."

If they say, "no, I meant your current salary" you smile calmly and reply with "I'll need $36K/year." Don't be angry, don't be smug, don't be annoyed, just be serene.

The idea is that, instead of being confrontational, you force them to either become confrontational or to accept that you're not going to tell them. Always keep the burden of proof on them. If they get in your face and confrontational, that's probably a good sign that this interview is a waste of your time anyway. If they're going to be like that before they've even hired you, what's it going to be like to work for them?

Note: On Ranges. Why is it that with salaries, as with schedule estimates, every time you say a range (from low to high) the only thing they remember is the low number?? You can turn this around to your advantage, if you get the chance; the highest number they mentioned is always your salary :-). However, most of the time this will only kick in to your detriment (it's a lot easier to use this tactic when negotiating to purchase a car, for example).

See original (unformatted) article


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