Salary Negotiation

Salary Negotiation for Sissies.

First off, may I say, I really SUCK something awful at negotiating salary. And why wouldn’t I? I do it maybe once a year, if that; I’m negotiating directly for myself (no middleman), and it’s outside my core skill as an engineer. I want to move past this as fast as possible and get back to doing what I love: everything BUT talking about money. Well, guess what? That’s the story of every other programmer I’ve ever met.

I’ll do you a solid and not drone on endlessly what you can read in more detail (and much better written) elsewhere. But, it does come down to these points:

  • Never give a number.
  • Salary negotiation is the most important financial decision you make. More even than owning a home.
  • Your actual (fully loaded) cost to an employer is several times your base salary. They will not get a bonus by nickel and diming you, and they will not be offended if you ask. You will not be blackballed. $5,000 is, in the scheme of things, chump change.
  • They’ve sunk thousands invested in just talking with you, so – assuming you have agreement-in-principle after several rounds of interviews – they want you. Negotiating will never make worthwhile offers worse.
  • Once again, never be the first to give a number.
  • Use words like “We” and “You” (which is better, since people care a lot more about their problem than yours.)

Ahead of time you should know the following:

  • What the marketplace will support.
  • What you are worth, what value you provide – with specific examples.
  • Know your three numbers – the money you want, a good “settle” number, and the drop dead bottom line. NEVER tell them that third number!

Do NOT say – “What’s the salary range?” You should already know this from your market research. Dice and LinkedIn exist, use them! In your tone, don’t be adversarial – and give longer answers than in interviews. Iterate that you’re excited about the job. The tone is, I want to be here, I’m going to add a tremendous amount of value, here’s what I’m worth – let’s find a fair # that works for both of us.

Talking Points

So here’s some scripts to talk from:

“What’s your current salary?”

  • Do NOT say: A specific number. You can’t lie here. But you are backed into a corner… and this isn’t the time to So you evade:
  • I’m willing to entertain any reasonable offer.
  • I’m confident I’m within your range.

“I really need a number to move the process forward.”

  • Do NOT say: First and foremost, NEVER give a number. They’re trying to get you to compromise your negotiating position.
  • Say: “I’m more concerned about discovering whether we’re a mutual fit. If we’re a great fit, then I can be flexible on the numbers with you and you can be flexible with me. If we’re not a great fit, then numbers are ultimately irrelevant, because your companies only hires A players and I only work at roles where I would be an A player.”
  • Honorable mention: It’s so important to me that this is a good mutual fit. Let’s talk about why I’m a great fit for this position; I know you’re concerned about ____. In addition to my previous successes, I have some great ideas on what I’d do on this… Would you like me to drill into those or is there another job area you’re more concerned about.”
  • Well, you know, I would hate to have to walk away from the negotiation over this. Working with your company looked like it would have been such a wonderful opportunity. The market is tight right now. Hmm. Well, salary is one part of the total compensation package. In terms of total compensation, we’re probably looking at something like $200K, correct? (30-50% + FT salary)
    • OTHER AREAS: Training. Vacation days. Project assignments. Travel.
  • “Hmmm. This is an important decision where we both have to walk away happy. That means me taking a specific number to my wife for consideration.

“We were thinking about $60,000 and maybe throwing in a can of pork and beans.”

  • “60,000 is interesting but not quite where we need to be to get this done. Do you have any flexibility on that number? … That isn’t quite what I had in mind, but the right package offer could make that attractive. How much vacation comes with the package?… If you could do X days a year (or a bonus of $___, etc), I could compromise on $*****.”
  • “First off, I just want to say, I’m very excited about this opportunity. I really want to work for XCORP. The experience I bring to the table in previous roles directly translates to this and I believe warrants a much higher salary. In terms of my own research on the marketplace, the range is more like $XXXX to XXXX. Given my experience and my ability to deliver value, I believe I deserve to be at the higher end of the scale.
  • At the end of the day, I would look at this as an investment. At the end of the day, I think I’ll be able to deliver more than that $XXX difference.

OK, I talked with my manager, and he’s offering $67,000. Plus two cans of pork and beans. Would that be acceptable?

  • “You know, one of the things we didn’t talk about was all the things around salary. Stock options, bonuses, vacation days. What can you come to the table with here.”
  • “I think that goes a long way towards closing the gap. I really appreciate your flexibility there, because I am committed to this role, and options are a great way to demonstrate you’re committed. What would the review cycle be for my performance as far as evaluating my candidacy for a promotion and a raise? My understanding is that it tends to be a year, ”


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