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Answer by Joel Postman, former CEO:
No one ever maximized his or her starting salary without a winning strategy. It won't happen without a plan. The only way to get the best possible salary is to ask for it, or better still, require it. Come into the negotiations smart. Know the market and what others in similar roles are paid.
Never ask what the salary is. You can, however, ask the salary range or what the position is scoped at, but if you do so you run the risk of getting fenced in early in your discussions. Delay salary discussions until final interviews, when you know the employer wants you, unless you're forced to do so earlier.
Never directly answer the question, “What do you currently make?” Instead answer something like, “Over the course of my recent career I've had base salary between $165,000 and $185,000, and I'm expecting something similar.” If you must disclose current compensation, mention all aspects: “I make $90,000 base, with options, 401(k) matching, and 20 percent bonus, so my overall compensation is around $120,000.” This is perfectly legitimate and strengthens your bargaining position.
Another tactic is to disclose your current compensation and say something like, “I'm making around X right now, but I've gained a lot of useful experience in the last year. I'm hoping to get a 15 to 20 percent increase to justify a move. It's not only about salary. I'm the right person for the position because ... and I want to join your company because ... ”
No employer harbors any animosty for an employee who was a tough salary negotiator. Salary discussions are forgotten five minutes after they are completed.
Employers hate salary “auctions” (back-and-forth negotiations by a candidate playing his or her existing and prospective employers against each other), but employees must also look out for themselves. The world has changed. Break the rules. But be careful.
Never say that you're underpaid or that your current employer doesn't recognize what your worth. You will come across as unprofessional and as a whiner. And the interviewer will assume that if you're hired, some day you will also speak poorly of his or her company.
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