A business writer for Forbes recently published a widely-circulated guide with tips on negotiating salary after consulting with a “hard ball” colleague who works at a marketing firm. Her “informant,” who she simply identifies as Don, offers tips such as “If they’ve decided on you, you got ‘em by the balls,” and “Lie about your previous salary.” Among other things, he suggests, go to your present boss, tell him you have an offer, and then “lie about how much the new job is offering and see if you can get more. Negotiate back and forth, depending on which company you want to end up with and how many bridges you want to burn.”
Don was so good at playing his employers that one year he managed to wrangle two different six-month severance packages. “I made 12 months in severance pay and worked only five months,” he wrote.
But then came the kicker: at the bottom of laundry list of tips and advice, he included a postscript: “Of course, this was all then … Now, I beg. I grovel. I take whatever anyone wants to give me. I suck up in ways that would shock others. I thank them profusely, lie to make myself younger and tell them about my nine sick kids so they don’t fire me.”
This raises the question on so many worker’s minds these days: what can a job candidate do in today’s highly competitive climate? Wages have been fairly stagnant in many industries over the past decade; and in areas where they have improved since the great recession, employers still focus on recruiting new hires at the lowest cost. Forbes interviewed three experts in the job seeking process and discovered that Don’s old tricks are, actually, not entirely obsolete. Although no one recommended lying to an employer, all agreed that certain elements of his advice had real merit, such as letting a manager know you are being courted by another employer and using severance pay as leverage.
First, the issue of lying: “It’s highly counterproductive,” claims Orville Pierson, author of The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search. “The person you’re talking to is going to be your next boss. Your career depends on your reputation.”
Rusty Rueff, author of Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business and former chief officer of human resources at PepsiCo and Electronic Arts, concurs. Rueff explains that job candidates need to follow a code of transparency about why they should be earning given salary. “It’s just like applying for a mortgage or a student loan,” he says. “The hiring manager wants to know there’s a rational explanation behind what you’re asking for.” For instance, if an organization wants you to relocate from San Jose to New York City, and you have children attending private schools, you should let them know that you’re going to be needing $80,000 to cover their tuition.
Yet as Roy Cohen (a seasoned career coach) adds, the salary conversation is most primarily a negotiation, and it behooves you to situate yourself as a valuable asset desired by others. “It’s all about demonstrating that you are the best person to help the employer address any challenges that may exist,” Cohen says, “that you are going to change the course of history at the organization.” He recommends that job seekers continue to demonstrate their value throughout the negotiation process by providing solutions and strategies (whether during face to face meetings and in email correspondence).
Cohen, who wrote The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, also concurs that its helpful to have competing offers, or at least competing “conversations” with potential employers, and make sure the hiring managers are aware of these. “The only way you remain exciting to an employer is by giving the impression that you are dynamic and busy, that you’re consulting and you have other conversations going on,” Cohen says.
However, Rueff and Pierson recommend that applicants also remain humble. Employers want cnaidates who are confident, but not arrogant: “If you look like an egomaniac,” Pierson says, “you’re going to turn people off”. He suggests preparing for interviews by thinking of concrete stories you can share to demonstrate your accomplishments and goals.
When you enter into negotiations, make sure you are well-prepared. First, think critically about what’s of greatest value to you – not just pay, but everything else from non-compete contracts to your office space to vacation time. Where are you willing to compromise, and what parts are a deal-breaker? For some job seekers, the size of their paycheck may be less important than flexibility and time off. Severance is a good negotiating item, because it costs the employer nothing up front. And if you end up in a high-paying but contentious workplace, how much time do you want to spend with your Workers Compensation Lawyer or Employment Attorney for help settling workplace disputes?
One of the trickiest items is how to respond when the employer asks about your current salary. Cohen explains that it can often help to stall, like saying, “I want to figure out if there’s an opportunity for me here.” Or if you’re currently in a low-paying job (for many in Seattle, this means the nonprofit sector!) and hope for a big bump in pay, you might respond by saying, “I’m sure you know I’m coming from a lower-paying industry where salaries are not in line with the private sector.”
Finally, negotiate face to face whenever possible. After getting toe the salary discussion phase, the employer has already decided she wants you on the team. But if you’re sitting across the table from her, Cohen explains, you’re signaling that “there’s more of a commitment.” It’s significantly easier to dismiss someone from a phone chat than to send off a prospective employee who’s right there in your office. So stand your ground!