How to negotiate for a new job

Last week we talked about negotiating at your existing job. This week I’m going to cover how to bring up the salary convo when you’re interviewing for a new job. This one may feel a lot easier, but many people avoid it for fear losing the opportunity altogether.

It’s like interviewees believe the company will take back all their time and energy in a candidate just because you asked for a certain amount above their pay band.

For the record, if that’s the case, the culture there is likely toxic and you may want to reconsider your application. I have 100% rescinded applications when I knew in my gut it wasn’t going to be a healthy workplace just from the interview process.

Here’s the dealio, though. Companies expect you to negotiate. I’m going to type it again because I want you to read it twice. Companies expect you to negotiate.

If you get to the negotiation part and just accept whatever they offer you, they’re like, “Oh wow. Good for us. We got them to sign on at the compensation we wanted.”

It’s probably the same feeling when you ask for a salary number and the company says, “Ok, we can do that” without skipping a beat. You’re probably thinking, “Well, shit. Could I have gotten more out of them?”

So let’s talk about getting the salary you want in a new job.

Firstly, if you can have the salary conversation BEFORE you invest too much time into the process, you’ll be better off. This way, you won’t have gone through three Zoom interviews, a test project, and a conversation with the CEO only to find out they are offering you $40,000 less than you’re looking for.

Whether you’re working with a recruiter, HR or the hiring manager, they know the pay range (and sometimes outside recruiters are paid a percentage of how much you’ll make). So ask them what the pay band is up front.

[Company] has a reputation for offering a competitive salary/offering exceptional benefits/[whatever the have a reputation of doing]. As a top performer, I expect to fit within the upper range of that band. Can you tell me what it is for this position?

If they won’t tell you (which to me is a red flag 🚩), you can try doing your research beforehand and having a range prepared. Make sure the BOTTOM number in that range is still something you’d be comfortable making.

According to my research, the current market rate for a [job title you’re interviewing for] with my experience makes [insert range]. Because I’m a top performer, I’d be looking for the higher end.

The idea is that even if they low-ball you and offer only the bottom of the range, you’d still be happy with that salary.

Sometimes companies will ask you what your existing salary is in order to base their number on your existing number. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS BAIT! Firstly, in some U.S. states and municipalities asking for salary history is ILLEGAL.

According to Paycor, there are 29 places in the U.S. where a company cannot ask you your current salary. Make sure to check out the details to see if your state/municipality falls under these salary history bans.

Second, your existing salary should have NO BEARING on what you make in your next job. Not only will your job responsibilities be different, more advanced, and for a completely different company — but you deserve to be paid the market rate for that job at the time you’re going into it.

[Caveat: This is also why negotiation is so important. If we just left our pay rates up to each job giving us an X% increase over our last, it’d leave us millions of dollars behind in pay over our lifetimes!]

So what do you say when you’ve gotten through the whole process and the number they throw out is embarrassingly low?

I am a little surprised at the base salary. It came in lower than what I’ve seen in the market…

Then remain silent and let them respond. Remember our mantra, silence is our friend. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward. Just like when you negotiate at an existing job, make sure your responses show that you’re listening to understand (not just to respond).

  • “I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this.”
  • “What do you think we should do?”
  • “Did I understand correctly that you are saying that…?”
  • “So what I’m hearing you say is…”

If they cannot go above that rate, this is where full compensation comes into play. See where you can negotiate non-salary benefits that will add up to the total compensation you’re looking to get.

Chris Voss's book "Never Split the Difference"

One tip I learned from Chris Voss’s book, “Never Split the Difference,” was to talk about what you can and can’t do. When I’ve negotiated salaries before, I’ve talked about how excited I am for the job but also what things I love that I’d be sacrificing to take that job. So if I’m giving up an individual contributor position to become a manager, I might say something like…

I’m excited about the ability to grow into this new role while learning new things, and I’ll still miss being able to deep-dive into the details and really problem-solve. I’m asking $XYZ to make up for the fact that I’ll be missing out on building those career-critical skills.

It’s not a tactic that works in every situation, but one worth considering if it can be crafted to fit yours. It’s worked well for me on a few occasions. Also, please note that Chris Voss was a hostage negotiator and no salary negotiation is life and death, so take his advice with a grain of salt.

New job negotiation doesn’t have to feel like a weird tight rope or stand off. Remember, every negotiation is just a conversation. Practice the ask with a low-stakes friend and work through your self-doubt beforehand. You’ve got this!