Money makes the world go around, or so they say. If this is the case, can there be any more delicate subject to bring up with a potential employer than your potential salary?
There was a comment I heard on “Streets of San Francisco” many years ago that is applicable here: “First liar never stands a chance.” As applicable to salary negotiations, it is always better to let the potential employer put something on the table before you try to improve upon it. It is just good negotiating to find out the relevant range before saying anything.
The danger of presenting your salary demands too early in the process is considerable. The acceptable price of anything someone might want to buy, including your services, is based on perceived value. To put a number out there before you have had a chance to establish your credentials is simply not smart. If you are asked for how much money you are seeking, while it is always better to be honest, you also need to keep in mind that the money you want may be far greater than they can afford. It isn’t that you aren’t worth that much, it’s is just that the job may not pay it.
I hate to suggest answering a question with a question, but in this case it isn’t a bad idea. When asked how much money you want, before you answer, ask what the salary range is for the job. If they are reluctant to tell you, another strategy is to not actually answer their question. Again, with speaking the truth being the best approach, give them some indication of your recent compensation history. Notice you aren’t exactly telling them that’s how much you want, but you should be able to elicit a gasp or at least a raised eyebrow that will open the door for you to again ask the salary range. Trust me, it is a fair question for you to ask, just as it is a fair question for them to ask you.
It is my view that when companies get ready to make an offer to a particular candidate, the existence of other candidates is generally not a factor. It typically isn’t a bidding war. The distance between number one and number two is generally significant. While in truth it may have been a tough choice based on skills and fit, at the time of the decision the perceived differences are great. It is only if you turn down their very kind offer that a number two will be considered. So, don’t let that affect your thinking.
If there is a recruiter involved, you should probably let them handle the negotiations as long as you are fairly certain that they will be honest brokers. On the one hand, they work for your potential employer as he/she will be paying their fee. That said, their goal is to get the deal done. Whether they are contingency or retained their motivations are similar. A contingency recruiter won’t get paid. A retained recruiter will have to keep working on the assignment. If a candidate has been selected, it is better to act as an honest broker. Having worked with the company for some period of time, they may know their client’s flexibility and share it with you “off line.”
As a general rule, suggest numbers, don’t make demands. Even in salary negotiations, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Keep in mind that your income for some months ahead is at stake and don’t let any “fish” get away.