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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

A Much Smarter Approach Than Negotiating "What You're Worth"

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Ever heard the advice, “Negotiate what you’re worth?”

Get it out of your head. It’s not good advice, and I’ll tell you why.

The job market doesn't care much about what you think you’re worth; it may hear you out on this point, but at the end of the day, hiring managers are going to offer you what they think you’re worth (or in certain companies, less if they think you’ll take the offer).

But that’s not all; consider the fact that your self-worth is not a static, ever-increasing number directly correlated to a point on the salary chart. I don’t know about anyone else, but how I value myself varies by the day, sometimes influenced by the weather, what I had for breakfast, and how many times I’ve made it to the gym last week. As such, some days, I’d be better off if I got paid a lot more than what I think I’m worth!

So how do you negotiate your total compensation?

1. Get in the Right Mindset

Too often people start the job search process with a “scarcity mindset,” meaning they see their ability to find a new position as very limited. They envision hundreds if not thousands of people applying for a handful of openings, and anyone who actually makes it through the interview process should be grateful with the mere possibility of just getting an offer.

I sincerely hope that this isn’t your attitude because you’ll never be a strong negotiator if it is.

Listen, if you’re going to spend upwards of eight or 10 hours a day for the next few years doing something, you shouldn’t just be OK with it—you should be ecstatic about it. You’re assessing the company, too.

So lose the “I’d do anything to work here!” stance and instead sit down and spend some time before the interview figuring out what would really make you happy. That includes job responsibilities, opportunities, salary, working environment, and non-salary compensation factors such as flex hours or unlimited vacation. This will help you negotiate with confidence and not desperation.

2. Turn the Tables

Early in the process when the interviewer asks you what salary you’re looking for—and they will!—your job is to resist answering directly. Sometimes managers use this question as a way to weed out applicants, but other times, they need the information to move forward with a candidate because, as I mentioned above, they’re working with a budget, too.

Instead of saying, “Oh, I made $80,000 at my last position, so I’m looking for something a bit higher,” here’s what I want you to say:

“Based on market research and what I know about your company, the range I’m thinking of is [name your range]. But instead of focusing on numbers right now, I’d like to keep moving discussing the role so we can both see how I might be of value to your team. Then once that’s clear, we can discuss compensation in more depth if that works for you.”

It’s hard to refute that statement. And once you’ve shown them the value you can bring to them, they’ll be more willing to look outside the “general range” (if they indeed have room to barter).

3. Think Whole Picture

Salary’s so tied up with ego that it can be difficult to get people to look beyond the number on your paycheck. But compensation is more than salary, and it means little in an absolute sense. Instead, I want to encourage you to look at other elements of your compensation package that can affect your standard of living and quality of life, including paid time off/vacations, bonuses, stock options, health, vision, educational reimbursements, remote options, and more.

One of the reasons everyone wants to work at Google is that they pay well, yes, but they also offer non-salary benefits like gourmet cafeteria food, nap pods, cooking classes, massages, and more. Will all those perks make working 25% more hours than the national average digestible? For some people, yes. But maybe not for you.

Think about all the different parameters that’ll impact you, not just what income bracket you’ll fall into. You may be very willing to trade unlimited time off for unlimited earning potential, or you may want a lower base salary in exchange for stock options.

Everyone’s different, so decide what you value and let that inform your negotiation.
You may find it hard to believe, but you should consider everything as potentially changeable. From your job title to your office size, it’s all on the bargaining table. You just need to know how to ask and to be confident in your ask.

You’ll be amazed at what you can get just by asking. My clients and I have negotiated everything from time off to work on a side business, to costs for commuting, to job titles, to salary, to…you name it! Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines and ask for something that no one’s ever asked for before if you believe it would help you embrace the whole package.

A fatter paycheck and extra PTO days aside (if things go your way), learning to negotiate—and getting comfortable with it—sets the tone for your employment. Grasping onto the first offer or accepting the low end of the salary range off the bat does nothing to suggest that you’ll come to the table in the future with creative ideas and thoughts on implementing new systems or collaborating on projects. When you negotiate, you demonstrate discipline and strategy, each undoubtedly important in the workplace.