18

I'm a rather successful senior software engineer with a decent LinkedIn page, and thus I often receive messages from recruiters from other companies.

I like my current company and job, so I'm not actively looking for a new job. However, when contacted by a decent company about a decent position I will go to interviews and will try to get an offer from them. This is mainly to keep up with my real market value: to know what type of positions and salaries I can get i, for whatever reason, I have to quit my current company. Also, if a new company were to offer me an interesting position and a salary that is substantially higher than my current salary, I would probably try to negotiate a counter-offer from my current employer (I know some guys who really did this here), or actually accept the job.

In this situation, what is the best strategy to negotiate salary on such interviews?

First, if asked about my salary expectations, what should I answer?

Assume my current salary is X. I can quote a digit around 0.75X to make sure I do not miss offers which are not good for me now, but which can be interesting if I have to quit. Or I can quote a substantially higher sum (1.3X-1.5X) that would make an offer interesting right now, but in such a case I can miss more "backup" offers.

Second, assume I am offered a position and a salary that is more-or-less similar to what I get now. For me, this is good to know in terms of keeping up with the market and I get an additional confirmation that I'm not paid over too much; but I definitely would not accept the offer. At the same time I can try to negotiate a salary; after all, I have nothing to lose as I am not going to accept an offer otherwise. However, even if I succeed in negotiation, I will most probably not accept a new offer either. I will use the negotiated offer, first, once again to keep up with market (now I know that I can get even more; moreover now I know how far I can get with negotiation) and second, to try to get a counteroffer. I would only consider actually accepting the negotiated offer if it was significantly above my current salary (say, 1.5X).

Although such a negotiation seems profitable to me (I get more knowledge and a slim chance to get more money), I feel a little uncomfortable with it, because I am basically deceiving the company. Moreover, I'm afraid that negotiating and then rejecting a negotiated offer could result in worse attitude to me should I some time later actually apply to the same company.

So should I try negotiation in this case, and what should be my strategy?

Some more notes:

  1. I think that currently I have a relatively high salary, so if I have to quit, I will not be able to find a similar position quickly.

  2. I'm writing "if I have to quit", but this does not mean that I have any reason to expect this. Right now, everything is ok, so this is just for a low-probability case.

  3. Obviously, I do not follow all the route of interviews for each and every company that contacts me. For most of them we, do not go further than a couple of emails when it becomes obvious that the position is completely off-topic for me, they are not ready to pay even 0.5x of my current salary (see point #1 above), I'm not ready to relocate, etc. But from time to time I get more interesting possibilities, and a couple of times in the past several years I got an offer.

  4. I'm talking about salary, but obviously I mean overall compensation including non-monetary bonuses.

133

I'm going to join the other answers that are frame-challenging your question. Instead of trying to find a way to win at negotiating an offer you don't intend to accept, you should just not negotiate for positions you don't intend to accept. If you don't intend to honestly consider taking a position, you should not pursue it.

As an employer and a hiring manager, there is little more frustrating than negotiating an offer with a candidate, and then having them reject the offer despite the fact that it legitimately meets all of their requirements. It's one thing to have someone reject your offer because you can't come close to what they want - but when they say "I want X" and you offer them X, but still get rejected - it causes a loss of confidence. And it results in the candidate being mentally marked as unreliable. Do this often enough, or do it to an influential recruiter, and you could be ruining your chances of future employment.

In a fast-paced labor market, where it's already hard to keep the attention of qualified candidates, it can be frustrating when a negotiation with one candidate (waiting for their responses, going back and forth internally on approvals for a given offer, etc) causes you to miss opportunities with other candidates. Sometimes you are left with a rejection from one candidate, and upon reaching out to pick up the ball with others, you are told that they've already been hired elsewhere.

You bring up the fact that you have a desire to know your market value. Luckily, there are ways to determine that without wasting people's time. Besides the numerous resources on the web, you can always contact a respected third party recruiter and ask them to talk about your market value. Independent third party recruiters knowledgeable in your field will be happy to take that call, and you'll get a much more well-rounded result than trying to assemble your own research based on offers made by employers. A recruiter may see hundreds of offers in a year, compared to you getting a handful - they're in a great position to help you judge what you could get, without wasting anyone's time. Even if you don't care about wasting other people's time, pursuing a potential job to the point that you get an offer is basically a waste of your own time, if the only intention is to determine market value - there are easier ways to accomplish that goal.

And, ultimately, if you are truly interested in trying to find out what you could get at your next job, even the best "market value" number is going to be a rough guide, at best. Offers are highly contextual - one employer's $80k (with great benefits, a good culture, and a good location) may be much more valuable than another employer's $100k. Collecting bits and pieces of offers and trying to assemble your own market research will often cause you to gloss over those important details.

Finally, instead of focusing on what-ifs, if you are truly concerned about your hypothetical next job offer at some point down the road, you may be better off by taking a practical approach. Consider what's important to you in a job, besides salary. Make a wish list. Look at your current position holistically and determine how it measures up against your wish list. Identify gaps, and determine what it takes to fill them.

Rather than spending time on interviews and recruiting processes with employers you'll never actually work for, maybe you could be spending time learning skills that will help you get your dream job.

  • 6
    Excellent answer! And you bring up a good point about the hiring manager losing out on a candidate because they were tied up negotiating with OP (only to have the candidate accept another offer elsewhere in the meantime.) – Kevin Nov 12 at 16:35
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    I think it's not unreasonable for OP to legitimately don't care about the time that the recruiter wasted (ultimately, recruiters are also not known for being overly considerate of an applicant's time, so I don't see a clear ethical obligation to extent the favor in the other direction). However, what surprises me in OP's scheme is what a collossal waste of their own time this is. Interviewing and negotiating is time-consuming and stressful to most people - I would definitely need a better reason to do it than a vague notion of "keeping up with your market value". – xLeitix Nov 13 at 13:59
  • @xLeitix good point, I edited in a sentence to make that clear. – dwizum Nov 13 at 14:02
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    This answer cannot be upvoted enough. I would also add that if I were OP's manager I would get seriously annoyed if OP comes to me more than once with how much more they can make elsewhere. – onnoweb Nov 13 at 14:57
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    Great answer. It's worth noting that in some (many?) markets, tech managers, directors, and CTOs from different companies often talk. It's not impossible that you will develop a reputation of being a time-waster and will find your market vaue decline as a result. – Dancrumb Nov 13 at 17:12
28

I think the simple answer is: Always ask for a salary where you would at least seriously consider taking the job if they are willing to give it to you. You can tell them directly that you are happy with your current job and would only consider switching if this comes with a serious salary increase.

The information that someone would be willing to hire you right now for 80% of your current salary is not useful and it never will be. If you lose your current job at some point in the future, this offer might be attractive but whether it will be available then has nothing to do with whether it is available now.

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    100% agree with both your points. Nearly everyone will change jobs in a heartbeat if offered a certain amount, regardless of how good their current job is and how bad the new job is. Whether that number is 100x,10x or 1.5x is up to each individual. So just ask for a number where you would happily swap. If they counter, you can learn your 'market value' and you have a good reason to decline the offer. – Aequitas Nov 13 at 1:03
  • Heavily agree. OP's goal in this situation is contrary to popular opinion not "Getting to Yes", but "Getting to No". If they accept your salary demands, it probably means you asked for too little. – emory Nov 13 at 2:04
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    @Aequitas That is not quite necesarily true. There comes a point where the salary increase is a red flag on it's own. I would be enthustiastic about a 2x offer, but would be very sceptical of a 20x offer. – Taemyr Nov 13 at 12:13
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    @Taemyr No need to be skeptical because you'll never receive such offer ;) – Jonast92 Nov 13 at 14:19
  • @Taemyr If you are working on something completely specific, I can see a 20x or more offer being made by a reasonable company. If you know everything about a product that took many people-years to build and many millions of dollars and could help another company fast-track to the same point in 6-12 months at a fraction the cost, it would not be unreasonable to demand a significant portion of the savings, which could be millions. If you make 100k now and get this raise to 5m, that is a 50x offer and would be reasonable. Of course you must use your brain; user3067860's offer wasn't acceptable. – Aaron Nov 13 at 17:43
16

Your post is asking a few different questions, so I'll tackle each one separately:

How to negotiate an offer if I'm not actually going to accept it?

Don't negotiate any offer you're not wanting to accept. Be respectful of people's time and efforts. If an employer really wants you and is willing to go to higher management to negotiate a higher salary or other benefits you've asked of them, that should reflect well of them that they're willing to work with your expectations. I'd rather work on a job that I won't enjoy as much with management that respects my wishes than the other way around.

If asked about my salary expectations, what should I answer?

You should answer honestly. If you're wanting to make $80k a year but you tell the recruiter $60k, they find you a job offering a $64k, and you turn it down because the salary is too low, then you're going to anger a recruiter who was willing to respect the information you provided them and found you what they thought was an even better position. Don't waste other people's time and effort for something you aren't interested in.

  • 1
    +1 anyway, but your 2nd paragraph looks unfinished. Also, as a manager on the receiving end of this, I'd be quite annoyed if I'd used up some credibility with my seniors only to have it thrown back at me (by OP). – Justin Nov 12 at 16:18
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    Recruiters often have a limited number of interview slots and having you (OP) waste one to satisfy your (OP's) ego/curiosity will burn bridges there too. – Justin Nov 12 at 16:19
  • Downvoted because answer is incomplete. – Time4Tea Nov 12 at 17:01
  • Perhaps read it again? Justin also mentioned about it in his comment above. Other than that, I think your answer is good, so if you correct the unfinished sentence, I will reverse and upvote. – Time4Tea Nov 13 at 13:31
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    Thanks @April--Un-SlanderMonica--. I swore I fixed that with an edit yesterday. – JRodge01 Nov 13 at 14:09
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As someone who has done this successfully in the past, what worked for me was being honest from the get-go, both with the recruiter and with the company, and tell them about my current situation. Something like this is what I would pitch:

Thanks for getting in touch with me. The project sounds very interesting, and I would definitely like to learn more about it and about the opportunity.

However, my situation as a job seeker is a bit peculiar: I am currently quite happy in my company, I like the project I'm working on and, for what I've been able to gather, my conditions are above what the market normally offers (my current salary is $Xk, with a 37-hour week, flex time, ability to work from home two days a week, private health insurance and dental plan...).

That being said, I'm curious about what is being developed in other places, and what opportunities are available, so I am interested in interviewing for the position, for two reasons:

  1. While I understand that it might not be possible to match my current conditions, I would be open to accept an offer which is close enough, provided the project is interesting enough or that it provides promising career development opportunities;
  2. Although my conditions are above market at the moment, that might change in the future. This means that while I might not be in a position to accept a potential offer now, I might be in a few months time, and I'd be happy to get in touch again if it turns out we are a good fit for each other.

I don't want to waste anyone's time, so I feel it's important to state that beforehand. If you are happy to continue with the process, I would love to learn more about the opportunity and see if it's something that could work for me.

Only do this if it looks like the position is something you would really consider had you not have your current above-market job, and don't waste people's time.

As long as you are upfront about your situation, there should be no hard feelings: I got a few good offers from companies which looked very promising and they told me to please get in touch if I ever thought I wanted to fill a similar position. Of course, a few companies didn't feel it was worth their time going through with this: this should not be a problem, since you didn't waste their time, so thank them for their time and let them know you will get back in touch in the future if your situation changes.

The key to not burning bridges is:

  • Be upfront about your current situation and why you are open to hear about opportunities and interview.
  • Don't lie or say you'd be happy with certain conditions if you are not going to accept them in the end.
  • Do not waste their time: if they give you an offer you are not willing to take, don't take a week to answer, don't try to squeeze an extra $10k just to turn it down again. This will burn bridges.

Also, in my experience interviewing while holding a better-paid job, they will often ask you about how you are feeling about the whole thing. Since they can't compete in salary, they might try to compete with shorter hours, or other benefits, or by trying to offer you a cutting-edge project. If those are things you value, say so and let them know this is something that interests you, but if you know you won't take the offer at this time, don't try to have them bend their rules or get creative just to say no in the end. Honesty is key.

Finally: in order to keep up with your current market value you don't need to do 50 interviews, just three or four will suffice if you are selective and don't waste your time interviewing for positions well below your salary. Don't burn recruiters by having them get you a bunch of interviews simply to turn all of them down at the end of the process. Be selective, and once you know your worth call it quits for a year or so (or keep the hunt going but only accept offers which are above what you currently make, that is, offers you think you'd be happy to take now).

  • 3
    +1 because this is only answer to the question posed. – fridaymeetssunday Nov 13 at 13:22
  • @fridaymeetssunday: At least the only one that's not a complete frame-challenge/"don't do that" (which is also a good answer IMO) – R.. Nov 13 at 15:45
  • +1, not just because you actually answer the question, but because this has worked for me in the past as well. And besides, so long as recruiters use a shot-gun approach and try to real in everyone who's remotely ever touched a keyboard as a senior programmer, why should I not be able to have a few directed conversations myself? – rkeet Nov 14 at 7:11
8

I would strongly recommend against doing this.

I understand why. You're wanting some leverage against your current employer to negotiate a raise. But I'll raise some concerns with your approach.

  • If your skills, experience and work performance are high then those things should be sufficient to negotiate a pay increase.
  • Would your current employer appreciate you trying to pressure them with hanging "I have a job offer" over their head? No one enjoys feeling backed into a corner and it might adversely impact the working relationship with your employer.
  • What if your employer calls your bluff and/or genuinely believes that you will accept the external job offer? Or even encourages you to do that in order to grow your career? This isn't unusual in circumstances where a team becomes top heavy with lots of experienced staff because some degree of staff churn is actually healthy as it allows new staff to grow and develop their skills and experience.
  • Many recruiters talk to each other and if you gain a reputation as a timewaster then you may find your future employment opportunities start to become scarce because you've been blacklisted and recruiters and potential employers don't want to deal with you.

In summary my opinion is that it's manipulative and deceitful behaviour and I'd strongly recommend against it.

3

I fully agre with Sourav question. Your explanation misses one big thing.
"Offer valid until void".
You will learn nothing more that what you already can with tools that are avaiable (I think even LinkedId had a feature where it told how much, on average, a person in such and such position could earn in such and such area).
You will not only waste your time but you would waste other people time. I will point few flaws in your reasoning.

  1. I can quote a digit around 0.75X to make sure I do not miss offers which are not good for me now, but which can be interesting if I have to quit.

Then you will get offers that are not suited for you. And if you quit your job that offer might not be on the market anymore. Pointless. YOU know you have a high salary. So what's your point? You want to mentally train to say "yes" to lower offer?

  1. I can quote a substantially higher sum (1.3X-1.5X) that would make an offer interesting right now

This is what recruiters expect when approaching people already having a job. You can assume that they know how much you earn and that they approach you either that salary or some extras. If they are not shooting in the dark. Also, again, "Right now". If you won't take the offer it won't wait for you.

  1. but I definitely would not accept the offer. At the same time I can try to negotiate a salary; after all, I have nothing to lose

Apart from your job. Yes you might do that (negotiatie only because there is other offer). Once, maybe twice. After that your company/manager/HR might decide you are maxed out and just say "no". At which time your "other proposition" might not be on the table anymore. At which you will roast one bridge and don't have other.
Salary negotations are slippery slope. You might wait for YOUR company to get back to you, the other offer will vanish and your company will get back "we checked how much we are paying you, we could have two people in your place, you're fired".

Personal note: you can be a fish on LinkedId and recieve a lot of offers (scientifically proven), a lot of them are rubbish (as you noticed yourself). You should feel bad for really wasting YOUR time. You could be really improving yourself to get a raise (or realy good offer) based on merit. Instead you focus on tryin to ge better offer (a couple in past several years) to use it a a leverage.

If you like to negotiate for sport and waste other people time you should become a recruiter on LinkedId.

  • I disagree with 2. I took a very low paying job out of university and was then told by recruiters that typically a company will only pay 5-10% more than my current salary. Surprise surprise, all of their offers were only a little bit better. I found work on my own (directly) and received substantially better. (*I'm in a country where it's expected that you will disclose your current salary) – Mars Nov 13 at 5:51
  • @Mars "out of university". Also the fact that recruites will lowball you is normal. But that not mean they don't know what is the REAL average what is the upper limit they can offer to get you. – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 13 at 9:42
  • The recruiter's positions were when I was already full-time employed, a few years "out of university." But I think we're imagining two different groups for recruiters--I was thinking third party recruiters – Mars Nov 14 at 0:29
3

Simply negotiate the offer as if you are going to accept it.

But all of this is pointless

If you do this enough you'll soon find yourself blacklisted by the local recruiters and jobs around your surrounding area so when you do need to begin a job hunt, you'll be looking at positions further a field where the salaries could be drastically different to match their location demands.

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