Salary Negotiations – Win the Game

To win at salary negotiations, take a lesson from a childhood game – Duck, Duck, Goose.

New York City (as of 10/31/2017), California (1/1/2018), and Massachusetts (7/1/2018), and a number of cities have made it illegal for most employers to ask your salary in your current or most recent job. A number of states are considering similar legislation – Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, among others. This is all in an attempt to reduce the pay gap between men and women doing similar work.

In areas where employers can still ask, or in situations where employers or recruiters ask anyway and you don’t want to cite the laws, you can deal with the question by taking a page from the game Duck, Duck, Goose. First a couple of fundamentals – In negotiations, the first person to name a number loses. Employers know this. If they learn your salary, expect an offer at or very near your current number. If you find out their range, you can push for an offer near the top. Second, the further into the hiring process you can get before discussing salary, the more leverage you have as other candidates are dropped from the process and your value becomes clearer.

So how do you play? When the screener or interviewer asks about salary history, duck the question. “That’s an important question but it’s too early in the process to discuss it. I would like to wait until I have a better understanding of the position and we determine if there’s a fit for both of us. If there is, I’m sure we can find an appropriate number.”

If they persist, “No, we really need to know what you were making so we can avoid wasting your time and our time,” or something to that effect, duck the question again. Say something like, “Well, I’ve made excellent salary progress, so I’m looking at positions ranging from $50,000 to $100,000,” or “$150,000 to $300,000.” Give them such a broad range (which includes your best guess as to their range) that it’s meaningless. Point out that there are so many other factors (content, opportunity, equity, bonus, fit, etc.) that you can’t be more specific.

Then goose them, “Since you raised the question, do you have a range for the position?” They do, but most likely they will say not yet, or if you’re lucky, they’ll tell you the range. At that point, look a little disappointed and say that despite that, you are very excited about the opportunity and would love to move forward.

Practice this conversation with friends. It could have a significant impact on your future earnings.