Most salary negotiation advice focuses on small wins, sneaky secrets and unimportant details. Why? Because it’s aimed at amateurs.
I suggest the opposite approach -- if you want to eventually be a boss, start negotiating like one... now.
As a leadership recruiting firm, we’ve been mediating salary negotiations for years, at all levels. A valuable takeaway is this:
The more senior the position, the smoother the and faster the negotiation.
Executive-level people get more of what they want, more easily, and the company is happy to give it to them.
Executives negotiate better, but not because they’re better negotiators. They just know things, and now you can know them too.
Here are 5 ways that you can negotiate like an executive:
EXECUTIVES SAVE IT FOR LAST.
Asking about salary during the first interaction is JV activity. It's a surefire way to A) demonstrate that you don't understand the complexities of compensation and B) ensure that you are quoted the lowest number in their range.
If you want to be quoted the highest number in the range, you first need to demonstrate that you're of the highest caliber. Paint a razor sharp picture of your value add.
Sure, we all need to financially "grow" and you should absolutely use that word. But your primary concern is whether the company / team / role will challenge you, improve you, and continue your career's forward momentum.
You need to have a candid conversation about compensation, but there's a way to do it: Make them love you first. Then talk money.
And to debunk a popular myth:
If you have spent an hour interviewing for a job, only to find out the company can't afford you, they have not "wasted your time."
Quite the opposite: you've met a powerful decision maker, at a company you respect. You've put your charms and attributes on display, and then walked away. You've made them want you, and you've made them remember you.
Org charts shift. Roles get elevated. Minds get changed. When one of these things happens, you have your dignity, and the company has your number.
EXECUTIVES THINK BIG PICTURE.
Nobody who's happily employed at $300k per year is going to jump ship for another offer of $310k. It's simply not worth it, unless other factors (besides compensation) are at play.
The same thing applies at every level. If you're at $60k and want to be at $75k, say that. If they offer you $68k, smile and say graciously that you'd love to be a part of their company but $96 per week after taxes is simply not a substantial enough reason for you to leave your current situation.
You want to be jumping out of bed in the morning to work for them. See if they can offer something else to inspire that feeling. Maybe it's extra PTOs, a larger performance bonus, flex hours, or whatever is important to you.
EXECUTIVES UNDERSTAND FULL PACKAGE.
Base salary is only one part of the conversation. If you know that the role itself (money aside) is a step up for you, and you're willing to bet on yourself, you have options.
Let's say you're currently making $90k with a minimal annual bonus. It costs you $70k to live, and you want to earn $100k. You state that you need to be in the $100k range in order to consider a move.
They tell you they'd love to have you onboard, but the highest base they can offer is $85k. This represents a pay cut for you... or does it?
Maybe they'll give you a director-level bonus (25%) based on personal performance. If you're a high performer, you now make $106k. You beat your goal and everyone's happy.
EXECUTIVES SPEAK IN FACTS.
It doesn't mean they're rude or play hardball; it just means they are calm, friendly, matter-of-fact, and they don't bluff because their leverage is real.
Speak softly but use hard terms like "requirement" and "need" instead of wishy washy phrases like "I don't want to go below X" or "I was really hoping for Y".
Salary negotiation is not about tricking someone into paying you more than you deserve.
Facts only. What you make is what you make, and everyone wants to make 20% more than they make (give or take), and this is no secret. Your current salary doesn't need to be a secret either, assuming you're a top performer. The only reason to withhold that information is to avoid revealing how little you currently earn.
The hiring manager knows this, so be straightforward. If you are currently significantly underpaid, just say that.
"I took a pay cut to join a small company for personal reasons, so I'm happy to tell you where I'm currently at, but more importantly, I can tell you the number where I need to be in order to consider a move."
EXECUTIVES KNOW WHERE THEY STAND.
You should know, going into a job interview, what the rough compensation range is going to be. You're aware of the market, the company size, the seniority level of the role, how much you currently earn, and to a certain discretionary degree, what your peers earn.
Amateurs tend to think of salary budgets as ambiguous, wide-open ranges of secret mystery numbers. Not the case. There are plenty of clues. If both sides are behaving professionally, very rarely is an executive taken aback by the company's first offer.
Your current compensation, your desired compensation, and the budgeted compensation range for the role are three very real numbers that can be discussed openly.
Treat the hiring manager like a partner who's helping you get to where you need to be so you can join the company wholeheartedly.