Outfielder Jason Heyward reportedly left about $16 million on the negotiating table by choosing the Cubs over the Nats and Cardinals this past offseason. An exception to the rule, if there ever was one. Fact: you and your favorite athlete want to make more money. Getting the dollars you want—from a current or soon-to-be employer—is the hard part. For most of us, the task is an uncomfortable, sweat-inducing endeavor. We’re taught to avoid conflict in the workplace; compensation talks are just that. Some of us eventually learn the skills needed to gracefully handle the process though too many of us take what we’re offered and leave a lot on the table. The quicker you get used to the salary haggle, the heftier your paychecks will be.
Don’t ask if there is room for negotiation. Uttering that question to a hiring manager or human resources staffer kills your leverage. Assume that a company’s first offer is the beginning of a discussion. If it doesn’t blow you away, confidently counter the proposal. Your prep work: do research on what the market value is for that position as well as how much people doing similar work at that company earn. The data is out there so use it to help make your case. You’re already at a disadvantage—you don’t haggle for a living—so don’t give up your leverage with a question like this.
Make it about them too. You’re valuable and you’re in demand. You wouldn’t be getting a job offer if you weren’t. Every interview process is about two things—you and them. Sell yourself with a well-written cover letter, well-designed resume as well as stellar phone screens and in-person interviews. Your successes, personality and work ethic are up for judgment from the time you applied for the job. Companies hire people to do great work for them. Your negotiations should strike a balance between why you deserve a bigger paycheck and the things you’ll do to make them a winner. Each time you use a phrase like “I’ll help you with this” or “I’ll make your department function smoother” it shows you’re about more than just your paycheck. Meshing salary discussion with other goals helps your employer connect the dollars to future results.
Be honest—kind of. It’s important to be upfront about your salary desires when negotiation time comes around. You can’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it, right? And you’ll kick yourself months into the job if you took less than what you deserve simply because you didn’t want to engage in some debate. When it’s time to talk numbers, the person on the other side of the table (or phone) will inevitably ask what you currently make or what you expect to make in this new role. They want to hear your number first. Being completely honest about your current paycheck will minimize the pay bump you stand to get at your new job. Don’t be afraid to round your number up but be smart about it. Your counterpart likely knows the salary range of professionals in your position so be realistic. Your other option is to decline answering the question. Something like “I’d rather not talk about my current salary. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about for pay in this role.” should help avoid a direct answer.
Determine your “deal breaker” ahead of time. Salary negotiations are emotional. You’ll feel the pressure of trying to win the negotiation while also dealing with the stresses of not wanting to let a primo job slip away. Your prospective employer wants to offer you a fair deal without stretching themselves to the highest end of the salary range spectrum. Each conversation about pay will feel like an all-important battle of wits so, before you get started, know what you’re willing to accept. You might have a dream number in mind but you should also have a floor that you’re not willing to drop below. Don’t come up with that dollar figure based on what feels right during the conversation. Have a number in your head and be willing to walk away from the table if that, at minimum, isn’t met.
Sleep on it. You’ll eventually land on a final number, a dollar figure that your counterpart won’t budge past. Don’t accept or decline that offer in the moment. Ask for a day or two to think it over. Accepting a new job is a big deal and any employer worth working for knows that it isn’t a decision to be made in the moment. Talk to your family, debate pros and cons with your close friend and confer with your mentor. Then make the decision based on pay, location, growth potential and other benefits and perks. Oh yeah… remember that whole “exception to the rule” thing we talked about earlier? If you get an amazing offer to do your dream job, snap it up. When it’s right, it’s right.