Salary negotiations at the start of a job always feel somewhat like a war to me.
Each party is trying to get on higher ground to get the tactical advantage over the other.
Typically one of those parties comes to that fight ill-prepared. Generally that’s the prospective employee.
It’s weird that your first interaction with your future employer is them basically trying to get the best of you. Companies should just pay fair market by default but they don’t. They try to get you as cheap as they can.
Here are the three most important things I learned.
1. Never give a number
If they want to know what you want to make, they want to gain leverage over you in order to lower your ask, don’t tell them.
Rather tell them:
First and foremost I am interested if we are a mutual fit. I am happy to talk about the financials later on in the process.
If they keep asking say this.
Money is not that important to me right now, I would like to find out if we are a mutual fit first. I do expect to be paid a salary that is fair market.
If they want to know what you currently make, they want to gain leverage over you to see if they can low-ball you, don’t tell them.
Rather tell them:
I don’t feel comfortable talking about the internals of my current working arrangement out of respect to my current employer.
Or just be blunt and say:
I don’t see how my current salary factors into these discussions. Let’s find out if we are a mutual fit first.”
The goal is to get them to make an offer first. That offer will be in the middle range of what they can offer you and you can negotiate up from there.
2. Always be negotiating
Always negotiate. Not necessarily because you need the money but because it represents your value at the company. It is a matter of respect and it influences how you are perceived at the company.
3. Start negotiating when you receive an offer
Since you are not giving them a number, they will make an offer. Here is where you start negotiating. At this point it is highly unlikely that they would reject you for negotiating. They simply invested too much into you already. Take your time, maybe say you have to talk it over with your spouse, or that you need to read through it in peace.
Then you could say that the offer is “interesting” but not quite there to get this done. Ask if there is flexibility on that number. They might make you another offer that is higher and that they can’t go any higher. This is where you can tell them that this offer will work if they can throw in a few more vacation days or something like stock options etc. As @patio11 puts it in his article:
You Have A Multi-Dimensional Preference Set. Use It.
This kind of tactic should get you to the high end of what is possible to get for your position. This will make you feel good and strengthen your position in the company from the get go.
To be honest, I think it is a flaw in the system and really uncomfortable that one of your first interactions with your new employer is of this nature.
There are rare cases in which it’s done differently. Basecamp for instance pays everybody the same competitive salary based on job title and current market situation. You should read their article about it, it’s such a refreshing take on this matter.