Negotiate Harder, Dumbass

Poker face

Are you satisfied with your current salary? Let me guess... You're not.

It's almost as inevitable as death and taxes that workers—young workers especially—will settle for a salary that is far lower than what they hoped for before they accepted the job. But why?

It's not that employers are stingy. Even though they will of course never volunteer to pay more than they have to.

It's because you haven't learnt to negotiate like a bastard yet. So let's get serious about salary negotiation.

First of all, from the mentoring sessions I conduct with young professionals [self-promotional link deleted], I notice that almost all of them believe that in a salary discussion they are negotiating with a human being.

Let's be clear here: Even though you may be communicating with a human being (a white collar zombie for example), you are negotiating with a corporation. If you're afraid of offending the manager or recruiter by throwing their low-ball salary proposal back in their face, then you'll always end up with a shittier package than you could achieve.

Always be polite with the individual, but recognise that you're doing business with a soulless corporate entity. It's not that person's money!

Whenever the subject of remuneration comes up at a job interview—whether in the first phone call or (all too frequently) right at the final stage—you're doing yourself no favour by selling yourself short. You don't sell a Mercedes by emphasising what a cheap-ass bargain it is to buy right now. You sell a Mercedes by focusing on how much sweeter the driver's life will be (including future maintenance costs) if he buys it.

Likewise, you don't sell yourself as a potential employee by being a few pennies cheaper than the next guy. Push for a decent salary and convince them why you're worth it—especially in terms of the long-term financial benefit to the company.

Once you've got them hooked and everyone is smiling, be aware that most companies will still do their best to low-ball you. Even when you've agreed on a salary range earlier in the interview process, many companies will pitch you something at the very low end of that range, or even below it, accompanied by a bullshit excuse that isn't your problem ("oh yeah, we're restructuring a department this quarter, so...").

Don't take it personally. Remember once again, it's not the zombie you're negotiating with; it's the machine.

Bear in mind also: What does it say about you as a future defender of the company's fortunes if you're willing to simply roll over and accept whatever deal is dangled in front of you? You need to man up, girl.

As a negotiator, you're always at your strongest when you're ready to walk away from the table. Either you need to have other alternative options up your sleeve, or you need the courage to bluff.

This is where your confidence comes into play: It's often assumed that employers hold all the cards and employees have to just accept whatever terms are being offered. But if you've done your sales job well, you are a scarce commodity. The company has also invested quite a bit of time in speaking with you and other (already rejected) candidates, so they would much rather you accept the job than walk away at this point.

So stay positive. Keep telling the zombies how excited you are about working there, but make it very clear that you will not accept a low-ball offer from their organisation.

And crucially, keep your options OPEN. Don't stop interviewing with other companies until you've received the offer you want. Even if you don't yet have other firm offers, having other "irons in the fire" will boost your confidence enormously.

Armed with that confidence, you shouldn't be afraid to reject their offers multiple times. Just because they are revising their offer for the third or fourth time, you shouldn't accept it out of embarrassment. Once again, this is an emotion that only humans like you and I—not organisations or zombies—can feel. And they exploit that!

I once sent a prospective employer back to the drawing board regarding salary six times in one week! They kept increasing the proposed salary in tiny increments, even though we all knew they had no other suitable candidates. After receiving their sixth and "final" offer, I still rejected it. It made no difference how many offers they made; none of them was aggressive enough. It certainly helped that I was at an advanced stage of interviewing with another company at the time.

That second company was in a similar position, with no other suitable candidates. But I also expected them to be more pragmatic in terms of paying up to secure the people they needed. And that's exactly what I made them do.

Boys and girls, here's a valuable lesson for you. In life you will come across plenty of occasions when you will feel that you've been screwed over financially. Whether it's coming from employers, from customers, from suppliers, from the government, from business partners, from friends and family, or from total strangers—you will, inevitably, through no fault of your own and on multiple occasions throughout your life, get bent over a financial barrel and screwed.

Call it karma or whatever you want, but very occasionally the opportunity to be on the active end of such a screwing presents itself. For example when a company needs you more than you need them. Maybe you think that it's mean to take advantage. But if you want to get paid properly, you have to prepared to take action when you see a corporation bent over a barrel with its pants round its ankles.

As a friend of mine once put it more politely, "you have to take them to the cleaners". Don't forget how difficult it is to negotiate your salary upwards once you're working for a company. This might be your only chance of a decent increase for the next five years.

That said, be nice about it. This is a long-term relationship after all. You smile at them, you lube them up (remind them what a great hire they're making) and, taking full control of the situation, you make them pay up.

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