Ask the Headhunter: How can I negotiate the salary I want?


Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I received an offer through a recruiter for a job that’s a good fit for me, with a lot of potential. However, the compensation is below what I expected, and I don’t actually need the new job. I’m secure and pretty happy where I am, but I would consider this job if the money were better. I’d like to signal that the current offer is one I won’t accept. How should I negotiate this?

Nick Corcodilos: You’re in a wonderful position. You have an offer for a job that interests you, but you don’t need it. That puts you in the driver’s seat. Your challenge is to get what you want while avoiding a career trap.

Don’t “signal.” Politely tell the recruiter the truth. Here’s how to say it:

“I’m very interested in this job for these reasons… [lay them out]. If I take the job, I could help this company by… [briefly tell your story]. But, much as I’m interested, the terms [use that exact word: terms] they’ve suggested would not make it a smart move for me.”

By terms you of course mean compensation, but let’s allow the recruiter to assume it means the money, the job title, and anything else that might encompass. The recruiter may come up with other factors that will enhance the deal.

Let the recruiter ask what it would take for you to accept an offer. The recruiter, whose job is to fill the position, is likely to help raise the offer a bit if your request is reasonable. Be ready to quote the salary range you want.

Decide how much you want by asking yourself three questions:

What is the least amount of money I would accept?
How much would put a smile on my face and make me happy to take the job?
How much would make me jump up and down with glee and make me want to start work tomorrow? (Caution: this last figure must be reasonable.)
Now, set a range that’s between the second and third figures. That’s what you should say you want.

Again, don’t signal. Put a stake in the ground so the recruiter and the employer know what it will take to hire you. The fact that you don’t need to change jobs puts you in a strong negotiating position. Don’t give in and fall into a career trap just because a recruiter is wooing you!

If the recruiter can’t work it out for you, then it’s not the right deal. If an offer isn’t going to at least make you happy, it’s not worth accepting. If it doesn’t come close to making you jump with glee, the job probably won’t, either.


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