Negotiating the salary you want

Published by | Tuesday, August 20th, 2013


When you open a salary discussion with the question “Is it negotiable?” you’ve weakened your position out of the gate by implying that you’d accept the salary even if it isn’t negotiable. You’re better off assuming that everything is negotiable. Prepare to open and close your next salary conversation strong by watching my course Negotiation Fundamentals, and Valerie Sutton’s course Negotiating Your Salary.

Here are a few tips that you can use when approaching your next salary negotiation:

First, determine your fair market value using salary research tools such as or Next, prioritize each element of your compensation package so you’re clear on exactly what you need, and what you’re willing to concede. Now it’s time to negotiate.

Negotiations are made up of offers, counteroffers, and concessions. You really only need to know two key numbers: your target number (your ideal salary) and your reservation point (the lowest salary you’re prepared to accept, or your walkaway number).

Let’s assume that your negotiation partner offers $75K for your dream job, and your research and preparation set you up with a target of $90K and a reservation point of $80K. In this example scenario, here are two possible ways the negotiation process might unfold.

Counter offer with your target

You counter the offer with $90K, and your partner counters again with $82K, basically splitting the difference. You then concede $4K and counter with $86, and your partner agrees to split the difference again by offering you $84, to which you agree. You’re below your target, but $4K better than your walkaway number.

Counter offer above your target

You counter offer for $95K, and your partner counters with $80K—a bump up of $5K. You match that by conceding $5K and counter with $90K. Your partner splits the difference and offers you $85K. You split that difference again and offer $88K, to which your partner responds with an offer of $86K. You say yes. You’re $6K above your reservation point, and only $4K from your target.

If these scenarios make your head swim, don’t fret—research has shown that the more give and take that occurs during a negotiation, the happier the parties tend to be with the outcome. Be sure to watch the following free movie from Negotiating Your Salary for more advice on evaluating the salary offers presented to you.

Best of luck on your next negotiation!

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2 Responses to “Negotiating the salary you want”

  1. Richard Bacher says:

    This is how I see it…I’d like a critique.

    “First, determine your fair market value using salary research tools such as or”


    You say $100k, they say “that’s very high… we’re happy to offer $75K and certainly in a year you’ll have an evaluation and opportunity for re-consideration.”

    You say … “I’ve thoroughly researched salaries, both through surveys and in-person interviews with those in a similar position and all make over $100k. Given my experience and value I confident I’m requesting a modest salary.”

    They will not call the bluff if the numbers show $90k and you’re confident. After all, what would they say? … we find the numbers are $90k? and you say ‘I accept the position if you split the difference.’

    They’re going to lowball on $90k …lets say they say $75k.

    You acknowledge before you defend… “Your offer is very reasonable for an quality employee and is in the same league as other offers I have received. But I require $100k which is an additional 33%.” (You should know these numbers cold … if they say $87,500 you say apx. 15% more.)

    They interviewer may leave. Maybe they’ll come back in five or fifteen minutes with one or two ‘big shots’ to knock you around.

    One of the big shots takes over and says: “Thank you but we’re not willing to pay $100k for this position at this time.”

    You can say, certainly reasonably so … “What paths can you offer to allow me to make $100k in this position?”

    This is something they won’t be used to being asked.

    They may pause.

    Great opportunity… after a minute or so you might offer “Is it reasonable to say you’d be willing to pay $100k for this position given the right candidate?”

    And then you can just plain wait.

    If they engage, perhaps say ‘don’t know’, you can ask what the maximum salary for the position is.

    If they’re not willing to answer (why would they?) you can directly ask what their maximum offer intends to be?

    If they say they don’t intend to make an offer then what kind of consideration do you expect they’d give you at review time? Is this really a dream job? You want, ideally, a company of people who are ‘mensches’ … and want to really reward good effort to stand up for yourself because that’s exactly how they you to stand up for them … again – in good faith but strong… NOT confrontational (such as asking them to justify their $75k number”).

    You need to get up and stop pretending this is a dream job. It’s not.

    • Lisa Gates says:

      @Richard you are doing so many things right. Not a lot to criticize. The first thing you did is to not cave at the first comeback, which is what so many do. And you were prepared with your research. Great. But perhaps the best strategy you used throughout this piece is the use of open ended, diagnostic questions to get at your bargaining partners interests, reasons, needs, preferences for countering or responding the way they do/did. So for everyone else here, when you hit a wall or resistance, ask more questions…especially those that uncover their true needs, so that you can respond with your value in their hands.

      Silence is another great strategy that you used. What people often do when they hit a silent moment is to assume the worst and start negotiating against themselves (lowering their requests).

      Using diagnostic questions along with persuasive argumentation, and acknowledgment before defense: “Your offer is very reasonable for an quality employee and is in the same league as other offers I have received. But I require $100k which is an additional 33%.”

      All in all, negotiating is an act of leadership which you are demonstrating, and like you said, if an employer bristles and bluffs, you probably don’t want to work there. More fish in the sea.

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