I am the worst employee in history.
If you hire me I’m guaranteed to be lazy and daydream the day away. Why? All I want to do is write. Business puts me to sleep. Spreadsheet rots my mind. Meetings ignite my rage and make me a nasty little boy.
Despite all of this, I got good over the years at salary negotiation. In my first big promotion I thought I was a master salesman for getting a $20,000 pay rise. I learned later that all the other people in my team with that title actually made $20,000 more than me.
The manager I negotiated with for the job laughed about it often. I vowed never to negotiate like a pussy ever again. So I read everything on the subject of negotiation.
Steal these simple tactics to get paid what you’re worth.
Get this through your head right now
There is no salary number. There is no budget. It’s all a mind game. The salary you earn is entirely subjective. Every salary package is customizable. HR intentionally tells managers not to let anybody know this. HR pretends there are set rates to keep things fair.
The truth: any manager can override a salary range. Here’s why.
The best employees are worth 10x more than the average employee. So paying them 2x is a steal — Matthew Kobach
Matt sums it up beautifully. Talent isn’t equal. In one job I worked at I dealt with 160 requests per day. The guy who trained me dealt with 120. Everybody else in the team did about 30 requests per day. My colleagues refused to do more. They threatened to call the union. Me and my buddy? We didn’t care. So we earned twice as much as them. Nobody told them.
Companies will hand out gold bars to people who help them generate revenue and have figured out systems and ways to make customers scream with excitement. Oh, and when you have an extremely happy customer, they can help with your salary negotiation. Get them to put their positive feedback into an email. Then show it to your boss. Then, during a salary negotiation, you open your folder of customer testimonials as evidence. It makes sense to pay you more now, doesn’t it?
Find your point of difference so your employer can’t afford to lose you.
Utilize this non-financial superpower
When you think of salary from now on, move past the idea of money. Money is time. Use the salary negotiation to buy back time.
In one job I couldn’t get the money I wanted. I convinced them to let me work four days per week. In the next job I repeated the same pony trick, thinking it wouldn’t work twice. It did. One friend asked his new employer for six weeks of holidays per year instead of four. They didn’t blink an eye. He was only joking but they said yes so he took it. Genius.
Companies don’t value time as much as money. Whereas humans value time a lot. Use this paradox to negotiate an easier win.
The #1 thing that stuffs up salary negotiations
This one makes steam come out of my orifices like a boiling teapot.
When you go into a salary negotiation never give the first number. When they ask your expectations act like a dumb dog. “It’s too early to price myself. I don’t know enough about the job.”
Then when you do know enough you say “I look forward to your remuneration proposal.” A company only wants to know your salary range so they can lowball you. They’re dying to pay you less than you’re worth. And guess what? Most suckers fall straight into their trap and light a bucketload of money on fire. DON’T. DO. IT.
Never give out a number first.
The first number is a practical joke
Every salary you’re offered is negotiable. They will always start low. Your job is to always start high. Slowly, you work together to find a middle point. They know that and pretend it’s not the case. It is.
Ask for the salary range to get a rough idea. Then like an old man from the 1900s puffing a pipe and leaning back in his leather office chair, say with your most confident voice, “I’m assuming this is negotiable, right?”
That one line lets the other side understand you know the game.
Don’t be a wise-ass
I’ve seen plenty of candidates as a hiring manager turn into a giant wise-ass when the salary negotiation happens. They start making demands and being rude. This will get you nowhere. Leave your ego at the door.
Use these positive psychology sentences in your negotiation.
- “Could we perhaps do…?”
- “I was thinking more…?”
- “ Your thoughts?”
- “How does that work for you?”
- “Would that give you what you need?”
- Could we make … happen?”
Many people head into negotiations like a General ready for war. That’s amateur hour. Think of your employer as a partner. With a partner there are compromises. You’re not there to screw them. No. When they win you win.
Write your own pitch script
“No doubt you’ll have to take this proposal back internally. I respect that. Is there anything I can do to help make the internal conversation easier?”
This sentence you can steal is key. One trick I’ve used is to write down a few dot points for the recruiter, hiring manager, or HR person to use internally. When you start to customize your remuneration it can require approvals.
Write the script for the person pitching you internally to get more money. This hack is overlooked, but it bloody works miracles. Trust me.
Reconfigure the incentives with logic
There are other ways to get more money without getting a higher salary. In my last job I got them to change their incentive structure.
I told them “Look, your base salary is extremely low, but I can produce results. Make the bonus uncapped just for me. If I suck then it won’t cost you a dollar. If I’m good then you’ll make a lot more money than my measly bonus.”
See what I did there? I used logic. I explained their downside was tiny and their upside was enormous. They found my proposal irresistible. I got a fully customized salary and bonus from a Fortune 500 company. People asked me “how did you do that?”
My stupidly simple answer: “I asked.”
My grandma used to say if you don’t ask you don’t get. Granny’s timeless advice can work for you too.
They have more negotiation experience than you
I’m the exception. I’ve been in business a long time and learned to negotiate at 19-years-old. Most of you don’t have that sort of experience.
Picture the person who will negotiate your salary. They do this every day. If it’s a recruiter then they’ve likely done the salary dance thousands of times. You on the other hand? You only negotiate a salary occasionally when you shift jobs.
Read over articles like this before you negotiate. Have the negotiation game fresh in your mind before you sit down.
Don’t make decisions in the moment
My rule is never to make a salary decision in the moment. If an offer is made I always say “let me sleep on it.” This is your career we’re talking about. It’s too much pressure to give an answer to an offer as soon as you hear it.
Sleep on it because you’ll feel different about the offer tomorrow. Talk to your mentors and get their advice on your offer. Speak to the other companies that are making you offers too. Talk to current employees who work for the company in question.
Check the salary stats on LinkedIn and Glassdoor to give you a rough idea of the highest amount of money for that job. Don’t let the data limit you, though. Even if they have never paid someone $200K for that job before, doesn’t mean you won’t be the first. Big companies, especially, don’t care about a few thousand dollars, or even a few hundred thousand extra — it’s pocket change to them, even though it’s not for you.
Dance between the phone and email
Email is official. The phone is unofficial. Dance between both. Email is great because it’s harder for an offer to be disputed. The phone is where I fish for information.
Often, the person doing the salary negotiation can act like your ally and tell you things they shouldn’t. After all, they just want this over. On email they’ll act all smart and official. On the phone they’ll be more of a cowboy and shoot their mouth off. This is good for you. When they let facts slip it helps you know if the negotiation will end in your proposal being accepted.
I had one salary negotiation last three months because of certain people leaving the company. I would have given up and taken one of the other offers if the hiring manager didn’t say “this is only a formality, we’re definitely hiring you.” So I held on … and got the offer of a lifetime. Worth every minute.
Accept a rock bottom salary
Wait, what? Hear me out. Even if the salary negotiation fails and you faceplant, there’s an upside to a low salary.
With a lower salary you don’t buy dumb sh*t — Gary Vee
When I worked in a call center on minimum wage I had barely enough money to pay my bills. I learned about minimalism and had to watch every dollar. I had 99 cent tin soup every day to save money. Those frugal habits allowed me to invest money later in life and do pretty well.
A salary negotiation determines how much money you will have. Money buys back your time. Money can help give you options, and lets you make weird decisions your colleagues don’t understand.
Never mention the first salary number. Be humble. Don’t decide on an offer as soon as you hear it. Treat the other side like a partner. Most of all, decide your life has enormous value and don’t be afraid to charge for it.
A salary is fully customizable. Negotiate your way to the right one.