Winning the Salary Negotiation Battle by Cultivitae

Unless you’re Kanye, you probably don’t feel comfortable speaking about money. For job seekers and employees alike, speaking about salary is often nerve racking whether it’s a job offer or requesting a raise. The desired outcome is that you’re paid at the top dollar range, if not at the median average salary.

But if people don’t openly share their salaries with their friends or old colleagues, how do they know what to ask for? Sure, there are sites like Glassdoor, Salary {link:}, and LinkedIn Salary, but more often than not, the discrepancies are so wide. Not only that, but you don’t know the background of the person submitting their salary information. Do they have a Bachelors or a Masters? A certification or no certification? Did they work for large employers or boutique firms before? OK, PayScale actually offers up that information, but anyone can type anything and soon after reviewing multiple submissions, you’ll notice salaries are still all over the map.

The only salaries I know personally are my partner’s, a handful of friends, and all government employees’. Life would be so much easier if private companies openly disclosed salaries like the government, eh?

Perhaps if we all started talking about our salaries more openly, money wouldn’t be as much of a taboo subject any longer, and we would feel confident and comfortable going into these money conversations.

Personal Tales of Learning the Hard Way

“I like you so I’m going to let you in on a tip. In the future, you should always ask, ‘What does your best employee or top performer rake in?’”Vice President I interviewed with

I will never forget the first job I applied to out of college. I became a top performer and one day at lunch, I found out my peer in my training class made $5K more than me. He brought in half the sales and took more days off, yet he negotiated $5K more with the same level of education and years of experience. As a newly unleashed introvert into the corporate world, I was confused and upset, but never did anything about it.

A year later, when I received an offer for a new job, the CEO slipped a napkin to me and asked me to write a number. I thought this type of move only happened in the movies. I was very ill prepared (can you tell I could have really benefited from a career coach back in the day?), and contemplated writing $1,000,000 since him and I joked around a lot prior to that moment. Instead, I froze. After 5 minutes of twiddling my thumbs, I replied, “I’m eager for the opportunity. I’m hungry. I want to learn as much as I can. I will take what you have budgeted for the role.” I believe my CEO really appreciated my honesty and was genuinely nice to me as I was ultimately happy he provided a bump from my previous one. Was it competitive? Could I have gotten more? Probably.

Several years later, I was reached out to on LinkedIn about another opportunity. I agreed to interview and I will never forget what the VP of Sales taught me. When he asked what I would like to make, I responded with, “I’m not quite sure as this is the first commission based position I have applied for. Historically speaking, what does your average performer make?”

He smirked and said, “I like you so I’m going to let you in on a tip. In the future, you should always ask, ‘What does your best employee or top performer rake in?’” This made sense, as I wasn’t aiming to be “just average”.

The Person Who Gives a Number First Loses: Deflect, Deflect, Deflect!

Finally, after being in recruiting for 5 years and being on the other side of the negotiation table, I finally got how the inside benchmarking and approval budgets worked for roles. I understood the behind the doors discussion and analysis. I understood what compensation analysts did. I finally understood the most important thing you can do to position yourself in winning the salary negotiation battle.

And that, my friends, is to deflect. Deflect. Deflect. Deflect. The first person to give a number sets the bar. If you’re asked, “What are your salary expectations?” and you respond with “I would be comfortable with anywhere from $50K – $60K” all the recruiter hears is, “Great. She’s willing to accept $50K.” And what if they were willing to offer $65K? You just low balled yourself.

So, what does this look like if done correctly?

What are your salary expectations?
You: I’d like to learn more about the roles and responsibilities. I’ve done quite a bit of research on Company and know that you pay fair market value. I am confident that if there is a mutual fit, we’ll be able to come to an agreement.

Some recruiters can be quite persistent – they may ask follow up questions aiming at the same answer, either immediately after or in future conversations.

Recruiter: What did you make at your last job?
You: This position and company aren’t exactly identical to my last job. Let’s discuss what my responsibilities are and determine the fair salary aligned with this role.

If they are asking again, it’s completely fair to turn the conversation around and see if they are willing to share first.

Recruiter: In order to move forward, we need to make sure we can afford you. Can you give me a ballpark of what you are looking for?
You: I am more interested in learning about the scope of the role and responsibilities to determine if it’s a right match. That being said, I understand you want to make sure we’re aligned in compensation. {Insert name}, would you mind sharing with me what you have budgeted for this role?

If they are unwilling to share, it suddenly doesn’t become very fair to continue pressing you to share. This is how you can really get the salary conversation halted until there is an established interest in providing you with an offer.

Generally speaking, it is best to receive a written offer before any negotiations happen. Some companies will provide a verbal offer before drafting up a formal offer letter. If this is the case, you can ask if you can have all of the offer details in writing/email so you can take the total package into consideration (401k, sign-on bonus, tuition reimbursement, commission structure, healthcare costs, etc.). Once you can see what they are willing to offer and they really want to hire you, you can go back and start the negotiation process asking for more in certain areas.

One Last Tip: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Your ultimate goal is to politely decline from stating a number first. Practice these phrases with your friends until you feel confident and you can recite it smoothly to memory. As with anything, practice makes perfect! And with practice you’re on your way to winning the salary negotiation battle!

I know this doesn’t eliminate those butterflies or queasy, anxious moments, but hopefully by rehearsing these responses, you’ll walk in more confident knowing you can politely deflect and place the money talk until they give you a number to work with first.

If you found this article helpful, you can learn about how Emily Liou, Career Happiness Coach at CultiVitae guides corporate professionals to wake up happy on Mondays! Emily works with ambitious corporate professionals in her private coaching program called The Corporate Ladder of Purpose. She also teaches job seekers how to conquer every stage of the job search process through her comprehensive e-course and group coaching program, The Happily Hired Formula

Leave a Comment