Show me the money: how (not) to negotiate your salary

A survey by discovered that:
37% of employees always negotiate their salaries
– 18% never do
– 44% have never brought up salary during their performance reviews.

Linda Babcock’s study for her book “Women Don’t Ask” reveals that:
7% of women attempted to negotiate their first salaries while 57% of men did
– of those who did negotiate: they got a 7% increase

7% is not much? Stanford negotiation professor Margaret A. Neale puts it into context for us:

“If you and your counterpart who negotiated are treated identically by the company—you are given the same raises and promotions—35 years later, you will have to work eight more years to be as wealthy as your counterpart at retirement.”.

E I G H T more years. That’s 2920 more days.

General truths:
1. What do we get paid for and why? For our time. For our expertise. Or a combination of both. At the end of the day the total compensation package is the resultant of your potential added value and the potential risk of hiring you on top of the actual cost. And all that in the context of the market’s supply & demand of available candidates.

2. Your current (or most recent) compensation level is NOT an indicator of your future salary.

3. Employer expect job seekers to negotiate.

4. The cheapest candidate doesn’t win.

5. There are two different strategies when dealing with potential employers vs. headhunters.

6. Corporations = more money than SMEs, but: more policies, procedures, bureaucracy and therefore not too much latitude to offer something that does not fit their system.

7. For international movers: fully understand the tax system of the target country and be ready to express local gross / net amounts.

8. Distinguish between salary and compensation package:

Salary vs. Compensation package

car allowance

company car and/or paid parking

contract type and length

cost of living

extra holidays

flexible work schedule

gym memberships

health care

hiring bonuses


insurance (various)

job title


membership in professional associations

non-compete agreements

opportunities for growth/promotion

pension / 401k contribution

per diem when traveling

position in hierarchy

profit sharing

public transport reimbursement

reimbursement of other expenses

relocation package

remote working options

sabbatical options

salary review 6 or 12 months from the start date

schooling for kids

severance policy

short-term incentives

stock options

subscriptions to professional journals

tax system

training budget

working hours

Additionally, you can negotiate for power the intangible:
join a team or committee with “real” power
– access to strategic projects
– work with key clients

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
1. When asked for your current salary, especially if it’s not a good benchmark, give the value of the total compensation package. Make a list of everything you have access to and ask yourself, “If I have to start paying for it, how much would it cost?” And the total cost added to your salary become the total compensation package. Additionally, rank the above from most to least important aspects, so you know what’s really important during the whole process.

2. Define your walk-away point

3. BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement): Have one and be prepared to take it. Bluffing can backfire.

4. Research the market (network, portals like,,,

Be able to answer these questions:
How many candidates are there like you? Is what you have to offer scarce/unique?
– How much money will you generate or help save?
– Can you tie your remuneration to tangible KPIs?
– Have you done the necessary research?
Are you culturally aware? The where, when, how, and with whom will differ based on the region in which you’re negotiating. More on Harvard’s fantastic negotiation blog.

More tips:
1. Get the whole offer with all details (not just the salary) in writing, because a verbal offer is only worth the paper it’s written on.

2. Thank the other side after every interaction and communicate by when you’ll come back.

3. For complex contracts and/or compensation packages ask a lawyer to look over it.

4. During interviews: delay the money talk as much as you can.
Ideally: get the company to make you an offer.
If they insist: ask for a detailed job description with KPIs and goals and ask for 2-3 days to communicate your expectations. With that kind of information it’ll be easier to research the company/ competitors and/or reach out to a headhunter / network.

5. Ask for a precise number: Research from Colombia Business School shows using a specific number in negotiations is more effective than a round number. Why? Asking for $62,945 rather than $63,000, for example, tends to indicate you’ve done extensive research into the market in order to come up with a number.

Plug & play vs. non-ideal candidate
If you are not a “plug & play” hire – in other words, if there’s a certain risk involved of hiring you, focus on getting the job first and ask upfront for a salary review within 6 months based on previously set targets or KPIs. Or suggest to do a paid project first in order to get hired later at the full salary. Avoid saying, “Once you hire me, I’ll e.g. refresh my Spanish skills.” Instead download Duolingo and start practicing right away!

The role of the recruiters
From the employer’s perspective:
to decrease risk of a mismatch
– to handle the whole process

From the candidate’s point of view:
the company’s ambassador
– somebody who can (but doesn’t have to) negotiate on your behalf
a source of information (build and foster a network of 2-3 trusted headhunters!)
Tip: Be honest & transparent with your Executive Search Consultant. They should understand your reasoning and salary range / package flexibility, BUT: but private stays private! You don’t want somebody to have pity with you, because e.g. you mentioned that you are in debt. Or because you have 5 kids.

Final wise words
– Remember the big picture. You have already received an offer. They obviously want you. Be tactful. You want to be able to actually start working with your (potential) superiors and not get off on the wrong foot.
Respect the time and energy of everyone involved. Focus on what’s really important and let the small stuff go.
Stay calm: emotions don’t help. Don’t get offended if the initial offer is too low – it might be part of the game. Sometimes a junior HR specialist or a lawyer who was not fully briefed simply worked off a template. They might not have the full picture. The various levels might not have shared all the information or promises across all interviews. Be honest with how far they are from the mark and be creative in how you can make up the difference immediately or over the long-term.
Be patient: bureaucracy takes time. Exerting pressure is usually counterproductive.
If you are actively looking for a job: don’t stop until the actual contract is signed.
– Throughout the process show and express your interest & enthusiasm.

Last, but not least:
To quote Thomas J. Friel – Retired Chairman & CEO of Heidrick & Struggles Intl. Inc […], decide what is critical, and what is merely desirable. When negotiations hang up on one issue and everything else is acceptable it is normally because of ego and emotion. […] Last minute surprises, or additional requests after a negotiation is concluded are never a good idea. Let the other side win something that is more important to them than it is to you.

Done? Not yet.
A counteroffer from your current employer might follow.

CEB’s study – quoted in the HBR article “Why people quit their jobs” – reveals that 50% of employees who accept a counteroffer leave within 12 months. Other statistics suggest that the number is even as high as 80% after 6 months and 93% after 18 months.

Our tip: when you start looking for a job, make a list of the reasons of why you want to leave – ideally: write a letter to yourself. Once you receive a counteroffer, re-read the lists. That should help!

Getting ready for salary negotiations yourself? Would you like to discuss your strategy? Need help in identifying potential weaknesses? Feel free to get in touch with Career Angels by email to Bichl.Sandra (at) or click here to ask for a confidential career consultation.