Ask the Headhunter: The huge mistake almost everyone makes when they ask for a higher job offer

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Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees—just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: How should I request a better offer than the one that was made? By phone? By e-mail? By regular mail? Do you ask the HR person, since that is who handles the offer letter in the first place? How does the give-and-take take place?

Nick Corcodilos: Almost everyone makes one huge mistake when asking for a higher job offer. They fail to justify the extra pay.

Why would anyone give you more money just because you asked for it? Yet job seekers try that lame approach all the time. If you want more money, you must prove why you’re worth more.

(By the way: Don’t waste your time quoting salary surveys. No survey includes the exact job you’re applying for, or your exact constellation of skills and attributes. You will always lose the survey game because any smart employer will respond with yet another survey that “proves” its offer is handsome! See “Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher job offer.”)

When negotiating for a better offer, the goal should be to engage in a discussion rather than to put a stake in the ground, unless you are absolutely sure your asking figure is firm. This allows the company to explore the money issue with you, rather than be forced to respond with a yes or no.

It’s critical to have the discussion with the hiring manager, not with HR. HR might control the hiring process, but it’s the manager’s budget that your compensation will come from. So have this discussion with the manager, in person or by phone. (I would not use e-mail. It’s too impersonal.) Try this:

“First, I want to thank you for the offer. I want to come work with you.”

That’s a powerful opening statement because it resolves one big question for the manager: Does this candidate want the job? Once you’ve made this commitment, managers know it’s worth their time to work out the terms. Too often, job candidates try to negotiate money without consenting to the job itself. Bear in mind that saying you want the job doesn’t obligate you in any way. If the money can’t be negotiated to your satisfaction, you can ultimately turn the job down.

Now comes the most important part:

“I realize you have carefully considered how much you think this job is worth. As we discussed in our interview, I believe I can do this job [more profitably, more efficiently, more quickly, more effectively] by doing [such and such]. For these reasons, I believe my contribution on this job would be worth between $X-$Y in compensation. Of course, if I can’t show you why I’m worth more, you shouldn’t offer me the job. Are you open to discussing this?”

The key element here is value: You must show how the added value you will deliver is worth more money. Employers love it when you reveal you have thought carefully about the work and how you would do it profitably. It shows you are motivated to make the deal a “win” for the employer.

But I will warn you: If you cannot explain exactly what you will do to perform the job more profitably, efficiently, quickly — better, in some way, than the employer expected — then you have no business asking for more money. This is not a negotiating game. It’s about exchanging fair value for fair value, and you must be prepared to explain it.

HR cannot have this kind of discussion with you, because HR will never understand the ins and outs of how you will add more value to a certain job. Talk to the hiring manager, and let the manager go explain it to HR.

(Don’t know how much to ask for? See “How to decide how much you want.” Once you figure this out, lay the groundwork for your salary negotiations early in your interview. See “The most important question in an interview.”)

Once you’ve said your piece, it’s up to the manager to respond and engage in a discussion. The manager may also decline to discuss a higher salary. So, you must know in advance whether you will back off and take the offered package, or politely walk away from the offer.

The only way to approach salary negotiations is to grant the manager a concession. Clearly state that you want to work for him or her. Separate your interest in the job from the compensation, and the manager is more likely to negotiate terms with you.

“I’m ready to come to work, if we can work out the terms — the compensation.”

There’s no guarantee about how this will work out. But, the better prepared you are to discuss how you will do the job better than anyone else, the better your chances of working out a mutually beneficial deal with the manager.

Dear Readers: How do you ask for more money? Can you prove you’re worth what you ask for?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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