Cool as a cucumber during salary negotiations

cool announcer microphone adtAsk the Career Coach
Question: Within your negotiations, how do you play it “cool” without coming across as inflexible or desperate?

Everyone wants to be “cool” like Elvis or “The Fonz”, right? Cool as a cucumber.

Unfortunately, we are all human and are vulnerable. You need/want a new job, so you are out looking for one. The employer knows that. They need that slot filled too, and might be equally nervous about whether you will say “yes.”

There’s nothing wrong with being excited, positive, hopeful and a little bit nervous during the negotiation stage. There’s also nothing wrong with showing that or sharing it—a little.

The most power you will ever have in a negotiation is when:

a) They really, really want you and have invested a lot of time/money in you

b)  You are perfectly willing to get up and walk away

The reality is that you will rarely be willing to get up and walk away (i.e. you don’t really need that job, so you can be inflexible and demand rather than negotiate). However, try this: pretend you don’t “need” but are willing to “consider” the job. How differently would you act? Would you be more relaxed and easygoing? Try this mental tactic on yourself  during negotiation.

Two things you don not want to display during a salary and job negotiation are inflexibility and desperation. Both of these traits really blow your cool image out of the water!


Inflexible job seekers tend to focus narrowly on salary, do not offer alternatives, use the word “I” a lot, and don’t use words like “concessions” and “win-win”. They tend to view the world as black-and-white, and aren’t interested in finding shades of gray or common ground. Often they take an adversarial position once the job offer comes, and bring emotion into the process.

When discussing the future job, try to focus on being willing to create alternatives, finding areas of agreement, and stating that you want both parties to be satisfied. When you make absolute statements you don’t give the employer any room to create other options and work with you.

Avoid:salary budget money negotiate coins penny

  • “I won’t/can’t take any less than…”
  • “My market research says that $X  is the right amount…”
  • “I really need…”


Desperate job seekers are afraid, and they show it. Usually it is financial desperation, but could also be based on insecurity, loss of identity with job loss, or age/discrimination-based fears.

Desperate job seekers tend to be in a rush, have little patience, and freely share their many stresses with everyone they meet. Rather than getting the empathy they seek, they tend to either be pitied or labeled as a whiner (cringe).

Would you rather have lunch with Winnie the Pooh’s eternally mournful donkey friend Eeyore, or with the bouncy, cheerful, and optimistic Tigger? Your outlook on the future and the job results you will bring to the company need to be the focus of your energy.  You don’t need to blurt out the whole truth; decide what you want to share.


  • “They (last employer) really caught me unaware when they laid me off, I had just… (name expensive thing you did).
  • “I’m really under a lot of pressure at home, my spouse/significant other is really upset…”

Keeping your cool during the negotiation of a job offer isn’t easy. It’s like walking a tightrope. Don’t be afraid to show your humanity and your personality, but do be mindful how the words you use can impact your image.

Why Women Leave the “Fast Lane” in their careers

women workforceHarvard Business Review once featured an interesting article on what keeps talented women on the road to success in the working world. The differences between why men and women leave the “fast lane” in the workforce are fascinating. In a survey of highly qualified professionals, these statistics emerged:

Top 5 reasons women leave the fast lane: 
* Family time – 44% 
* Earn a degree, other training – 23% 
* Work not enjoyable/satisfying – 17% 
* Moved away – 17% 
* Change careers – 7%

Top 5 reasons men leave the fast lane: 
* Change careers – 29% 
* Earn a degree, other training – 25% 
* Work not enjoyable/satisfying – 24% 
* Not interested in field – 18% 
* Family time – 12%  

Though the average amount of time that women take off from their careers is surprisingly short (less than three years), the salary penalty for doing so is severe. Women who return to the workforce after time out earn significantly less than their peers who remained in their jobs.

Salary Implications for Time Out:  money wave tidal salary
* Salary of those who took no time out – 100% earning potential 
* Salary of those who took less than one year out – 89% (or an 11% reduction) 
* Salary of those who took three years or more out – 100% (or a 37% reduction)

It’s also interesting that the number one reason men leave is to change careers (29%) while it is the lowest reason for women at 7%. Does this mean women are better a picking careers they will be happier in so there is no reason to leave? Or are women more risk averse and hesitate to leave for a better financial offer?

How to answer the dreaded salary history question request when applying for a job

nervous frightened aYou are sending a cover letter and resume to apply for a job. The job description requests your salary history. Do you give it?

First rule: never ever give out salary data in a letter!!!

Let’s analyze what happens if you do comply and give your history. One of two things will occur. The response will be either:

  1) “Wow, what a steal! I can get them for an additional nickel an hour (maybe) than they make now, and save all the additional money I was willing to pay!”

  2) “Too expensive. Throw this one out. “

Either way, you lose.  Either you don’t get the job, or you begin your salary at much less than you are worth.

Answering the question in a cover letter with numbers allows you to be “screened out” by a Human Resources temp who might earn the minimum wage, and likely has minimal understanding about the job you seek. Or worse, a computer screening program which deletes your application upon receipt. It never gets to the actual hiring professional–the one with the budget and the responsibility.

In the corporate world, through the interview process employers often change job descriptions and salary to match the hired person’s capabilities. So if the hiring manager really likes your capabilities, the job will often be matched to your skill level, and hence, a higher salary!

Human Resources professionals want you to believe that they salary they award you should be “pegged” to your current or most recent salary. BALONEY! Your future salary is not at all related to what you think you “need” or have gotten in the past, but rather what the company will have to pay the best person they can find to fill that job description (often referred to as “market rate”).

Obviously, the employer wants to get the most qualified person they can for a job…at the least cost. It’s all a big game!! And most of us were never taught the rules.


There’s a salary range in writing already–you just don’t know what it is


All jobs have an initial “range” the employer would like to pay for that job, let’s say $10-15/hour. Obviously they would like to get you for $10 (and their boss would love them if they were successful). But, for the right person they might re-classify the job for $14-18, especially if the candidate has more/different skills than they requested. So, if you’ve been making $9/hour and tell them this, you’ll get $10/hour. Period. And they think you’ll be happy. moneyroll1

So, we want to avoid any mention of salary history—it has no meaning to what the market might pay for the new job you want. I’ve worked with government workers, and they have historically low pay. So should they be penalized for that? Why couldn’t they do a marketing job in the public sector for $20,000 and then command $30,000 for that in the private sector? If you listen to the HR rhetoric, you’ll fall into the thinking that you can never make big salary jumps!

Susan Britton Whitcomb, author of “Resume Magic” conducted a “resume preferences” survey of human resource managers from companies listed in the book, The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.” One of the questions was :

“If salary history is requested in a job announcement and an applicant does NOT include it but is otherwise qualified, would the applicant would still be called for an interview?”

Survey said: 85% agreed that without salary information candidates would still be called. 15% said they would disqualify candidates if they did not provide the requested information. You decide.


But don’t totally ignore the requirement


So, how should you answer this touchy topic in letters and interviews? I think it is smart to at least address the topic in a letter if it is requested, or else have them think you don’t pay attention to detail.

Here are some ideas:

  • My salary expectations based on the exact responsibilities and demands for the position, so it is hard to discern a market rate based on a basic description. I look forward to exploring how I can contribute financially to the company.
  • From what I can tell, you are a progressive, competitive company and I am certain we can easily reach agreement on compensation if we both agree I am the right fit for the position and can prove my worth.
  • My salary history has shown consistent progression throughout the years, and my research indicates it is in-line with the current market range for this kind of position.
  • (and/or) I would be happy to discuss market value salary levels for this kind of position with you once we figure out how I can help your company grow/change/increase sales etc.


NOTE: Salary negation is always a HOT topic, so stay tuned and I’ll have a lot more posts with fresh ideas and perspective on the topic!