The Salary Negotiation Dance


Three of my clients received job offers last week. After allowing myself a moment to bask in their glory, I thought about the fact that all three engaged in salary negotiations of one type or another. Salary negotiations are fraught with potential issues, but they can work out quite well if you follow a few tried and true rules.

Rely on Facts and Try to Avoid Emotion

Let’s say you receive an offer that is only about 70% or so of what you were expecting.  You could just shoot back an email indicating that the offer is way out of your range and ask the company to come back with something more competitive. You could even tell them exactly what you were expecting. Both would be perfectly acceptable approaches if your goal was to end the discussion and foreclose any possible future employment with the company. But, if your goal is to try to come to a salary compromise, here’s a better approach:

  • Obtain a firm understanding of what a competitive salary is for the position. Do some market research and talk to others in similar positions. Figure out if the salary you were aiming for is realistic.
  • Ask the potential employer how they came up with the number. Does the company have a pre-set grade-level system? Is the salary based upon job description or title? Is it based upon your level of experience? In short, try to determine the amount of flexibility the potential employer may have.
  • Once you have a dialogue going, take a look at all the aspects of the position. Benefits, stock options, vacations, etc. Ask if there is a way to bridge some of the gap using one or all of these areas of compensation.

Remember that you will have to work with the people you are now negotiating with. Approach this process as a collaborative effort to reach a common goal.

Focus On the Benefit You Will Bring to the Company, Not on What You Need

One of my clients was concerned because he was going to work in a more expensive city. As I reminded him, everyone in that office of the company works in the very same city! Presumably, the employer has taken that into account. Besides, the focus should be on what you bring to the table, not what you need from the job. Your financial needs are not the new employer’s problem. Frame the ask by referencing the value you will be bringing to the company. Explain why you believe your contributions are worth more than the amount at which they are valuing them. 

Additional Strategies: The Use of New Facts and Interim Reviews

One of my clients was offered her new position at the bottom of the salary range she’d provided. When she got the full offer, she realized that the benefits offered by the new company were inferior to her current benefits, with health insurance alone costing her $5,000 more per year. So, she went back and politely explained that she’d provided her initial salary range with the understanding that benefits would be more or less the same. She quickly received a revised offer that was $5,000 more than the original, and she happily accepted it.

Here’s another possibility.  Let’s say the potential employer indicates that they can’t budge on the initial offer, but you’re still interested. Consider asking for an expedited review. If the typical review time frame is a year, ask if you can have your initial review with a possible compensation increase in six months. Explain that you are confident you will provide significant value and you’d be happy to prove it, in order to bring the compensation in line with your expected salary.

As you consider your approach to the salary negotiation dance, think about how you would feel receiving the communication you are sending. If you wouldn’t feel neutral or better if you were on the receiving end, then go back to the proverbial drawing board and figure out how to re-state your request.

If you’re having trouble determining if your approach is appropriate, or if you think you might have a negotiation coming soon and you want to be prepared, give us a call at 301-520-9511 or email