Salary Negotiation Tips: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of Thy Salary in Vain

When you survey the salary landscape, seek the highest common ground.


The Ten Commandments of Salary Negotiation (Part 9): Salary expert Jack Chapman offers 10 lessons on salary negotiation in the vein of the Ten Commandments.

When you arrive for a final job interview, come armed with three numbers that I refer to by the initials I.S.N.:

  • Ideal
  • Satisfactory
  • No-Go

These “name” your salary and frame your negotiation. Your employer probably has his/her own three numbers as well. Good negotiations will find the common ground between you. Excellent negotiations on your part will be at the highest possible point of that common ground.

Let’s say you’re a convention coordinator, and in your present job you’re underpaid at $85,000. And let’s say you’d be ecstatic at $135,000 — a number bigger than you think you’d ever get, but it’s not a complete fantasy — it passes the “laugh test.”

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s no point in moving jobs for less than, say, $95,000. We’ve named the Ideal (top) and the No-go (bottom) numbers.

Now, consider the employer. She is pulling her hair out with the complaints she’s getting with her current coordinator. She’s in danger of losing an entire $290,000 account if she doesn’t get someone [like you] who’s good with attention to detail. She knows that the average salary for a coordinator is $75,000 for a plodder, up to $105,000 for a self-starter. The top of her range is $115,000.

Your common ground, then, is $95,000 to $115,000. That’s $95K for your lowest, and $115K for her highest. Neither of you know that common ground when you start negotiating. All you know is your own range.

To reach some agreement requires a whole negotiating dance. The step I want to emphasize in this commandment is your clarity. Before you begin serious money talk, think through your top, bottom and mid-ground numbers. If they are fuzzy, your negotiations will be fuzzy. If you’re not clear that $95,000 is as low as you’ll go, you might waffle. In the heat of the interview, experiencing great rapport, imagining friendly co-workers (not the grouches you work with now) you will be tempted to say, “OK. I’ll start there and work up.”

No! Do not take the name of your salary in vain! “I’m sorry, Ms. Employer. I would love to work here. I feel a great connection. I love your accounts, but somehow we have to reach a minimum of $95,000 and preferably $105. Let’s put our heads together and find a way, shall we?”

Negotiating Your Salary: How To Make a $1,000 a Minute” has more information about the ISN numbers.

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