Salary Negotiations: Don’t Be Tough, Be Honest

Salary Negotiations: Don’t Be Tough, Be Honest

Unless you were born with a peculiar penchant for arguing over your livelihood, salary negotiations are stressful and difficult. We’re often told that these negotiations require an iron constitution and a willingness to play the “game”, but if that approach has never worked for you, guest writer Jeff Northrop offers an alternative that works for him: be honest.

Photo by james weston/Shutterstock.

I read a blog post the other day about how to properly negotiate a salary. It received a lot attention and generated a heated discussion. Obviously this is important to many of us — me included.

However, I see things differently than Patrick. I’ve liked almost all of my bosses (five to date), and enjoyed my past places of employment. I’ve generally felt fairly compensated, and when I haven’t, I’ve done my research to make sure my feelings match reality then talked to my boss about it. In short, I’ve treated salary negation like a considerate human relationship, not a game to win. Maybe I’ve “left money on the table”, but I hate playing games and frankly compensation negotiations aren’t a game.

The gist of Patrick’s post is this: “Be more assertive and shamelessly demand more.” I’ve been thinking about that advice quite a bit since reading it and it makes me feel sorry for those who have to follow this advice at face value.

I do agree that many people need to be more frank about their needs and wants, but why the need to take such an adversarial approach? It’s important to keep in mind that you’re negotiating with a human being and all the emotional baggage that comes with it.

I guess the original author believes that being difficult in negotiations is the best method to get the most value. Honestly, I haven’t tried it, but I imagine it leaves the risk of getting a relationship off on the wrong foot. And, at the end of the day, a large part of your job satisfaction relies on the relationship between you and your manager.

The whole discussion around “don’t give the first number” is ridiculous. My “rule number one”, and only rule, in going into any negotiation is to know what you want as the result before you start. Given that, if you have done your research and know what salary you want, there is no reason not to come out and state it when asked.

If the hiring manager wants to ask for a number in the first interview, fine with me. “I want around $xxx,xxx. Of course I’ll take into consideration the complete package, but I think that’s a fair starting point.”

At that point you can end that line of questioning and decline to get more specific without coming across like you are playing games. If they do persist and ask you for more details (expected holidays, etc) at this point you can comfortably tell them you don’t want to get into those details yet. Unless you do. In that case tell them you like to take every August off to be with your European relatives. Or that you need to work from home every Friday. Why not?

Everyone is different and everyone has their own style and organisations are much the same. So go into negotiations prepared, do your homework on salaries and compensation packages, and know what you want, but in the end be yourself. Then when the final job offer makes you happy, take the job and be happy.

Salary Negotiations, Don’t be Tough, be Honest [Jeff Northrop]

Jeff Northrop, CIPP/US, CISSP is a software developer, privacy professional and occasional entrepreneur. Currently a Director at the International Association of Privacy Professionals.


  • I disagree with Jeff on a few things but each person is different

    “The whole discussion around “don’t give the first number” is ridiculous” isn’t really. If you think about it, if you give a number then you could price yourself out of the job completely or if you give to low then you lose money. I find it better to see what they offer and move arpound that number or better yet, avoid salary altogether until the contract is ready to be signed. (something I do)

    • And then I must disagree with you, Barry; if you “price yourself out of the job” then either the employer is not making clear what the job actually is (i.e. they want a level B whatever, but has advertised and actively communicated that they are seeking a level D) or, is actively trying to ‘rip off’ their potential employee and hoping they’ll find someone desperate enough to take the job.

      Converesly, you can’t REALLY compare “potential” figures of what MIGHT be offered in regards to ‘low-balling’ yourself, because you’re obviously happy enough with the suggested work you’d be doing to suggest that amount in the first place.

  • I’m with Barry in the sense that I didn’t give the first number. I actually ignored most jobs that didn’t suggest a price in their advertisements and only applied at those which genuinely interested me.

    When it came time to talking price, I requested their figure first (politely of course) so I knew what they were looking for.
    After a few weeks, I casually threw a higher figure on the table in the form of “I’m looking at jobs around the x mark” and they came back with a counter-offer 10k less, but promised some training in areas I said I wanted to improve on in my resume.

    I’m now working happily at this job, earning double what I used to get paid 🙂

  • But I’d also like to agree with Jeff; the people you chat to are human beings. Have jokes, get to know them better… it *really* pays off.

    There’s no point sitting there all high and mighty to the people who may become the people who will pay you (or the people who actually currently pay you).
    It pays to be assertive and confident, but it doesn’t pay to be arrogant. And I fear that the OP that Jeff is responding to is suggesting such a stance.

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