Few job seekers are prepared to discuss their pay requirements prior to a job offer or to negotiate it well after a job offer is made. As a result of their blunders, many job seekers are eliminated from consideration during the selection process without even knowing why. Others who do get a job offer too often mishandle the discussion of pay in a way that results in their being paid less than they might have received-or losing a job offer they might have accepted.
The fact is that most people don't negotiate their salaries at all because few know how to negotiate effectively. At one time or another, each of us has probably failed at this process. Most job seekers accept the first offer thrown their way because they're afraid that negotiating will kill any chances to get the job. I personally never attempted to negotiate a salary package during the early years of my career because nodding politely and saying "That's fine" was the path of least resistance. But in today's economy, that passive acceptance can cost us more than we can afford to lose.
Negotiation experts cite four strategic mistakes that novice negotiators often make. Although these mistakes refer to negotiations in general, they are often at the root of salary negotiation problems as well.
1. Lack of persistence. Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything, told USAir magazine, "People present something to the other side, and if the other side doesn't 'buy' it right away, they shrug and move on to something else. If that's a quality you have, I suggest you change it. Learn to hang in there. You must be tenacious."
2. Impatience. As Michael Schatzki, owner of the New Jersey-based Negotiation Dynamics warns, "The impatient negotiator has two strikes against him. He's not willing to let the process work itself out, and he's not willing to be deadlocked for a while and see what happens. And time often is the key to successfully concluding a negotiation."
3. Going in too low. All too often one side in the negotiation process accepts in advance a settlement that is lower than the other side had in mind. Once a low position is revealed, an experienced negotiator is unlikely to go higher.
4. Lack of research. Few people are prepared with facts to back up their position in negotiations. They go on "feel" to establish a value. Lack of preparation can be a very expensive mistake.
Farr's Four Rules of Salary Negotiation
To avoid these problems, I've developed four basic rules of salary negotiation that you should keep in mind.
Early Pay Discussions Can Screen You Out
Early in the traditional screening process, many employers want to know how much you expect to be paid. Before the interview, they may seek this information on applications and in want ads. And some employers ask you how much you expect to earn very early in the interview process.
Just why is this information so important to them? The reason is that many employers don't want to waste their time with people who have salary expectations far above what they are willing to pay. Put simply, they want the information so that they can screen you out.
Employers look for ways to eliminate as many people as possible during the early phases of a traditional interview process. There may be many applicants for an opening, particularly if the job was advertised or is reasonably attractive in some way. Employers will try to find out whether you want more money than they are willing to pay. If so, they figure that, if hired, you may soon leave for a better-paying job. That is the reason for my first rule regarding salary negotiations.
Farr's Salary Negotiation Rule #1
Never talk money until after an employer decides he or she wants you.
Discussing salary early in the interviewing process is not to your advantage. Your best position is to use techniques that are likely to satisfy a curious employer without giving a specific dollar amount. Here are a few ways you could respond to an initial interview inquiry about your pay expectations:
• "What salary range do you pay for positions with similar requirements?"
• "I'm very interested in the position, and my salary would be negotiable."
• "Tell me what you have in mind for the salary range."
• "I am interested in the job and would consider any reasonable offer you might make."
"Employers are anxious to know how your joining the organization will impact their bottom line, and they'll try to get to the subject as soon as possible," says Doug Matthews, Executive Vice President of Career Transition Services for Right Management Associates, an executive outplacement firm. Salary issues are the main reasons candidates are knocked out of the running during the screening process, according to outplacement industry surveys. Responding appropriately to salary questions can get you past screening interviewers, who rarely have authority to negotiate salaries, and in front of decision-makers with whom the real negotiations take place.
So always defer the question as many times as you have to until you are sure it's the real thing and not just part of a screening process. Then, when the timing is right, maneuver the interviewer into naming the starting point. Just remember the most important rule of salary negotiations: The one who speaks first loses.
With a bit of luck, stall tactics such as these will get the employer to tell you the salary range or at least delay further discussion until later, when it matters. If that doesn't work and the employer still insists on knowing your salary expectations, there are still some things you can do.