Every so often, I see an otherwise highly qualified candidate try a negotiating tactic that results in their job offer being withdrawn, or worse, starts their employment off on the wrong foot. They fail to understand that commanding a high salary is not about negotiating, but rather about proving value.
If you are new to negotiating, you might hear people who tell you not to negotiate salary until a company makes you a job offer. One theory behind this “wait until the bitter end” advice is that your perceived value to the future employer goes up the more they get to know you (the reality is that it can just as easily go down). A second theory behind the “wait” advice is that you have more leverage once they decide you are the one (not necessarily true). A third theory is that whoever says their number first is at a disadvantage. But while all of these theories sound fine in your head, they ignore the context of interviewing.
The truth is that your perceived value to an employer is always taken in context relative to all the other people competing with you for the same position, and as the job seeker, you never have good information about all those other people.
A well designed interview sequence looks at salary considerations the whole way through the process. Smart employers know that salary is far too important to be left to the very end. So if you have been signaling comfort level with one salary all the way through, and suddenly change your demands, your negotiating tactics just make you look untrustworthy and unreliable.
So if you want to command the highest possible salary for yourself, skip the negotiating strategies and instead focus on building your business case. Only two things matter in salary negotiations, market rate and the premium a top performer can command.
- If you want to know the true market rate for your skills, make friends with someone in HR and ask them to look up your title using two or three reputable salary surveys (not the free online salary calculators).
- To command a premium over market rate, you must prove the business impact you can make – help your future employer understand why you are worth that premium. THAT is what the interview process is for, and THAT is how to negotiate the highest possible salary.