by Debra Feldman

Salaries: Seven Tips for Getting What You Want

Jun 04, 20075 mins

The trick is not to talk dollars and cents.

It can come near the beginning of an official job interview or sneak up before the meeting is about to close. Regardless of when it happens, poised executives are always ready to answer the most important question that surfaces in a job interview: What will it take for you to join our team? (That’s a subtle way of asking, how much do we have to pay you to get you to work for us?)

If salary negotiations make your hands clammy, your heart race and your stomach churn, it’s no wonder. Hashing out pay and perks with a prospective employer is fraught with risk: Ask for too much, and the employer will move on to the next candidate. Ask for too little, and you won’t get what you’re worth.

Knowing how to answer the salary question—and communicating your response effectively—will help you get the compensation you want and deserve. The trick is not to talk dollars and cents. Focus on the opportunity and the value you bring rather than the money. Having a strong sense of your personal earnings thresholds and the financial value of perks such as vacation time and educational opportunities before you even begin to entertain salary negotiations will also make this conversation proceed more smoothly. Here are a few tips to help you negotiate this most tricky interview question with confidence and sophistication.

1. Know your worth. Research what positions with similar responsibilities command for salaries in your industry and in your locale. Robert Half Technology’s annual salary survey may be useful here. Foote Partners also provides IT salary data. Be prepared with figures and facts demonstrating your value to the prospective employer. You can discuss your value in terms of the dollars saved or headcount that was reduced through IT implementations you led.

2. Have a bottom line in mind. Evaluate how much this opportunity means to you. If the job is one you covet—whether for the career growth, the opportunity to work inside a respected company, or a chance to move to a location you find personally desirable—determine what you might be willing to give up in terms of salary or benefits to take the job. Also figure out what perks you’d be willing to exchange to make the numbers work: Think about stock options versus salary, and educational opportunities versus time off, for example.

3. Negotiate with your future boss directly rather than the company’s HR staff. Only your future boss knows what the organization needs and will go to bat to get this deal together. After all, your salary is coming out of the department’s budget, not HR’s. If the hiring manager won’t discuss compensation directly with you and instead chooses to hide behind HR, that’s a red flag. You should wonder whether the manager will back you up in the future if it means getting his hands dirty.

4. Never reveal an exact number for your desired salary or what you are currently making. Give a range that will allow you more room to negotiate for bonuses, benefits, time off and other perks. No two jobs are the same, and no two candidates are alike. This approach forces the employer to make an offer before you name a compensation figure.

5. Show that hiring you is not an expense, but a smart investment. Prove that you will be able to add to the bottom line through revenue gains, cost reductions and/or enhanced productivity. Cite work you’ve done in the past that has had a direct impact on the bottom line. Use tables or charts to illustrate the impact your expertise will have on the organization.

6. Make it clear that your goal is fairness. You want to be compensated commensurately with what your colleagues are paid for comparable responsibilities, and you want to be rewarded for superior performance. Knowing the market rate for your position, in the location and industry in which you’re applying, and not asking for too much beyond that figure demonstrates your financial savvy and genuine desire to make this deal a win-win.

7. Pour on the charm. Make sure that your future employer understands that you want this job. Make that fact clear by demonstrating your commitment to the opportunity, for example, by presenting viable solutions to some of the challenges the organization faces. Tell the company you are confident that if it agrees you are the right choice, then together you can make this happen. Take the focus off the dollars and put it on the chance to have an impact, find solutions and move forward. You want to be viewed as a team player from the get-go, and this is a great way to get off to a good start.

Debra Feldman designs and personally implements swift, strategic and customized senior-level executive job search campaigns. Contact her through