The Ten Commandments of Salary Negotiation (Part 3): Salary expert Jack Chapman offers 10 lessons on salary negotiation in the vein of the Ten Commandments.
Employers want to know your most recent salary for one main reason: to screen you out. When faced with many applicants they use the salary as a quick shorthand way of assessing the fit and narrowing down the list. They will want you to “go first” in the compensation discussion and they’ll ask you to reveal your expectations and salary history. Going first is “sacred ground.” Don’t give it up or you can get screened.
Is it ever in your interest to get screened? There are exceptions where your situation would be improved upon by revealing your salary history. But in most scenarios, if you’re qualified for the job (or if you think the job can be altered to fit you), no! Your first objectives are to discern whether this job is a fit for you and to establish what you can do for the employer.
The risk you run by speaking first is that your salary history may scare them off. If you go first, you’ll either be too high, or too low. But since you won’t know ahead of time which of those three numbers applies to you, you can lose the offer by coming in too high or too low.
Instead, wait until you know they’re serious about hiring you — let them make you an offer. That way you lock in an offer and you've got the job — and you can negotiate from that place of security. Let them offer you the job and raise the question of salary.
By speaking first, you can also leave money on the table if you’re too low or within the range they are prepared to offer. The best strategy is to let them make the first offer first. That way, you know you have an offer, and you have a solid base from which to negotiate.
There are exceptions to the rule and situations in which it would help your cause to declare your salary history, including when speaking to an executive recruiter, where transparency is beneficial. Try to get their estimate of your market value first, though, so you know where you stand; then fill them in on your salary history and expectations.
Employers use salary as a screening tool. If you have already passed the screening and if you've gotten to the point where they definitely want to hire you, not your competitors, you can name a salary figure first. In other words, if you know you have the job locked up, then going first with a high number can act as a magnet and pull their offer up higher without risk of getting them upset and moving to the next candidate in line.
Looked at in another way, choosing who speaks first can offer either safety or momentum. If it’s the safety/security of the offer that’s most important to you, let them go first and establish the offer; it’s secure.
If you speak first, you can provide momentum to the salary offer. Going first with your top number will act like a magnet, pulling up the employer’s offer. If you are secure they will offer you a job, this method puts you in a strong position — it is easier to negotiate down from a high number than to push up from a low number.
Whichever strategy you choose, winning a job offer is the aim. Once you have achieved that you can consider the offer and accept or begin the back and forth of negotiating.
Read other installments in this series:
Part 1: Salary Negotiation Tips: Thou Shalt Not Speak Too Soon
Part 2: Salary Negotiation Tips: Thou Shalt Not Regret Salary Disclosure
Part 3: Salary Negotiation Tips: Let the Employer Make the First Salary Offer
Part 4: Salary Negotiation Tips: Thou Shalt Not Agree
Part 5: Salary Negotiation Tips: Know How Much Money You’re Worth
Part 6: Salary Negotiation Tips: Thou Shalt Covet Thine Own Benefits and Perks
Part 7: Salary Negotiation Tips: This Is the Job Thou Coveteth
Part 8: Salary Negotiation Tips: Thou Shalt Not Worry about Earthly Economy
Part 9: Salary Negotiation Tips: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of Thy Salary in Vain
Part 10: Salary Negotiation Tips: Honor Thy Wealth and Prosperity