I was negotiating an offer recently, and having read the relevant advice, refused to name my current salary and my expected salary. The hiring manager was happy enough with the explanation that my current salary does not reflect my value to his company. However, he insisted that he needed to know my desired salary so he could tell the primary decision-maker (the head of the department) what amount would make me happy.

I attempted to counter by asking for the budget, and he said that there is no set budget, that the position was posted with a broad range of experience/skill requirements (I do not have the n years of experience that were listed, but that didn't stop them from giving me the offer!) and the offered salary would be based on the chosen candidate's skills. He didn't seem to give any weight to my argument that he's in a better position than me to know what I'm worth to his company, and returned to his original stance - he needed a number to take back to the department head.

I ended up giving a number first (as advised - so high it made me a little embarrassed) and received a good offer that I ended up accepting. The hiring manager even told me that they do not normally give candidates with my experience so much salary (which is probably a lie).

But for the future - what is the best strategy to hold my own against this line of reasoning, and force the company to name a salary first?

This is not a duplicate of "how do I respond to questions about salary and expectations" because I already know that, and I described my responses above. I want to know how to negotiate after responding.

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    you don't want to "force the company to name a salary first", you want to get an offer that you would be happy to work for. As a secondary consideration you might want to be confident that you didn't leave money on the table. Whoever told you that refusing to give a number first will get you what you want was wrong. Remember to focus on what you want. I have no-hired people for trying to game me and refusing to give a number. Some pop psychology thing you read somewhere is not more important than a real conversation with a real human who is not lying to you. Insist I must be posing? Game over. – Kate Gregory Feb 26 '17 at 15:03
  • Take out a serviette and slowly write a number on it. Then hand it over. Make sure you look totally bad ass while doing it. Also before writing check what the average for your skill set in the area is. – Snowlockk Feb 27 '17 at 9:49
  • You're making the assumption that some sales mantra like "whoever names a number first loses" is actually correct. Just work out a reasonable salary you'd be happy to accept and maybe add 5%. – TheMathemagician Feb 27 '17 at 17:43

I'm going to assume for the purpose of the approach I describe that:

  • you have few other opportunities and/or you want this job in particular
  • you know they want you.

The problem is: how do you optimize the number that everyone will agree upon?

Consider that the only disadvantage to naming an unrealistically high number is that you either appear insane/not worth dealing with or that the other side can't find common ground to negotiate on (no point in negotiating with someone who says, "give me one billion dollars just BECAUSE.")

So there is nothing wrong with giving a number first, as long as you give them a way to negotiate with you and they feel you are dealing fairly with them.

People frequently involved in negotiations hear bizarre reasoning all the time. They deal with otherwise intelligent people who have stupid reasons for the prices they demand (just a little watching of "Shark Tank" should convince you of this). This means there is no point in appearing to be a smart negotiator. In fact, there is advantage in looking like a chump, as long as you don't appear so dumb you won't take their best offer.

Collect all relevant salary info, as much as you can, from as varied sources as you can. Anything related to the responsibilities of the job and anything related to someone of your background. Remember you are going to need to explain this in some semi-coherent (but not necessarily intelligent) manner during negotation, so you should take some notes on the details.

Then throw out all the lower salaries and leave the very highest. Take the average of this. This should be higher than any number you could possibly have hoped for. Add some wiggle room based on the variance of the entire sample. Or hell, depending on what you find reasonable, just increase this amount by some arbitrary amount that has some meaning to you, like the cost of your ideal vacation. Find a way to fix the data sample to justify this increase. (Later, you can reduce your ask by a similar amount, if they make it up with some generous vacation policy or something -- see where this is going?)

Now that you have rigged your sample data to have more than enough justification for the well-meaning chump you are going to represent yourself as, you are ready.

When you are asked to give that number, give it to them by first stating, "I believe the market value of an above average (insert position title) is $$$. Due to my experience in (attributes/skills semi-fitting your background), I believe my number of $$$ - (smallish arbitrary number) is more than reasonable; however I understand you might not agree or this may not be within your budget. Please let me know either way and I'm happy to discuss."

The point is to appear like you put some thought into it and that the number is based on some reasoning that you are willing to adjust.

Now the discussion is on your terms. They are going to have to argue you down, and the result is going to largely be a result of your negotiation skills. But that's a good start.

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  • This is sort of what I ended up doing - the salaries on Glassdoor for a related position were $XX, so I said "compared to these salaries, I think I am worth $XX+Y." I guess I did the right thing! – SPavel Feb 26 '17 at 5:09
  • @SPavel you did the right thing, no need to be embarassed. Unfortunately, qualified people often underestimate their worth. – Chan-Ho Suh Feb 26 '17 at 18:40

But for the future - what is the best strategy to hold my own against this line of reasoning, and force the company to name a salary first?

Why do you want to? It's a myth that naming the first price puts you at a disadvantage in negotiations. For the opposite myth, see, for example:


The truth is that the party who has more options always has the advantage in negotiations. So it's not about not naming a price first, it's about cultivating your options - if you didn't get the job, do you have another dozen or so applications in to other companies? If not, you'll probably just have to accept what they offer; if yes, you can hold out for more.

To answer your exact question anyways, if you really don't want to name a price first, just don't - eventually the company will agree to come back with an offer or just end the interview and stop considering you.

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  • I've been a recruiter and I know it's always tricky when discussing salary. I saw a lot of resumes with salary history. I think every job seeker should know the average salary of the job they want. There are sites such as salarieswiki.com, payscale.com or salary.com. I tend to offer a number within the limits. I don't offer the lowest nor the highest salary. Although, there may be a chance to get a salary almost 10% higher than the requested one. You must keep in mind that the salary is based mainly on the qualifications of the candidate. – Cassidy Hennigan Mar 21 '17 at 13:37

You should know how much you want to make in your new position. It's nice to get more, it would be annoying to get less, but you should have a number in your mind that you are happy to accept.

Yes, there are companies who want to hire someone for some position and will be willing to pay different amounts for people of different qualifications, so they have no amount set for that position.

If you have a number that you are happy with, and you actually say that number, there is no reason why you wouldn't get it - if you are worth it. You say "I would like $X for this position". If they offer $X - 5000, you say "sorry, but I would like $X. I could have asked for $X + 5000 and negotiated down, but I don't like playing this kind of game. $X is what I would like, and you decide if I'm worth it or not".

So you saw that making the company give a number first is not an iron rule. You gave your number first, and you won.

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he said that there is no set budget

Not only is that a lie, it's not even a good lie. Absolutely nobody starts the hiring process without having some idea how much money they can spend on that new hire. Even if they start with a broad range, by the time they're ready to make an offer there are only two real options: they have some idea what you're worth, or they don't know what they're doing. Running a business means your employees need to make you more money than they cost or you will go out of business (probably sooner than later). If you want to stay in business, you can't hire people without having any idea what they're worth.

That said I'm going to refer you to patio11, he knows more about salary negotiation than I expect I ever will: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

I believe the most relevant part of that 7,000 word post to this particular question is:

Objection: “I’m sorry, great try at a dodge there, but I just can’t go forward without a number.”

What you should think: “You’re lying to me to attempt to get me to compromise my negotiating position.”

What you should say (if you’re an engineer): “Well, you know, I would hate to have to walk away from the negotiation over this. Working with your company looked it would have been such a wonderful opportunity. I hear the hiring market is super-tight right now, would you like me to introduce you to other candidates? Maybe we can shave a couple of months off of you filling this position.”

Of course, that only works if you really are willing to walk away. If I needed that job I really don't think I'd be able to bring myself to actually say that, so here's the pep talk part: what you need to remember is the whole hiring process is extremely expensive to the employer and you can actually get away with a lot.

Interviewing people eats up a lot of time all of those senior people/heads of departments/etc could have been doing their regular jobs. Not only is the employer paying them to do something that isn't their regular day to day job, they're also getting less regular day to day work out of them because they're busy reviewing resumes, scheduling interviews, interviewing, typing up interview notes, having meetings with the other interviews to decide which candidates to move forward with, etc, etc. That adds up quickly. There's also the hassle to everyone else in the department who is waiting on an answer because the team lead is in an interview or has to schedule an important meeting for next week because that's the only time everyone is available now that the department head's schedule is choked with interviews.

Now, if you had already poured thousands of dollars in the form of senior employee time and inconvenience into a candidate, are you really going to toss them out just because they wouldn't name a number? Not likely. Possible, but not hugely likely.

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    You should always quote the relevant parts from external pages. The url might be gone in 2 years. – Juha Untinen Feb 26 '17 at 8:03
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    It is quite likely that this is not a lie at all. I have seen open positions where there was a huge range of acceptable qualifications and acoordingly a range of possible pay. – gnasher729 Feb 26 '17 at 14:21

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