At this point, I don’t feel equipped to throw out a number because I’d like to find out more about the opportunity first – right now, I simply don’t have the data to be able to say something concrete. If you end up making me an offer, I would be more than happy to iterate on it if needed and figure out something that works. I also promise not to accept other offers until I have a chance to discuss them with you.
And they answer, "Sorry, I cannot move forward without a number."
I've been there and maybe I just don't enjoy awkward silences enough but my strategy is to have two numbers ready:
1. My Public Number: the inflated number I give out when pressed. It's grounded in reality but vigorously optimistic. I'll often offer this up front just to anchor the discussion. I make sure it's a number I will be more than happy with, even it turns out that maybe it wasn't as much as they were prepared to offer. If the other side finds it out of the question, I've saved myself time and stress.
2. My Walkaway Number: in the event the offer is lower, which it often is, the number below which the offer gets rejected. I don't share this publicly.
These vary based on other factors of the offer. But I have them ready. And I stick to the second number.
This question was almost devastating to my otherwise composed and in-the-moment mindset because it was so shockingly frank and signaled a sense of authenticity coming directly from the owner I had never seen before interviewing for tech jobs. I gave them both. He in turn gave me something in the middle, but much closer to the 'want' than I expected. What was more unexpected was how quickly I gave him numbers-they weren't just random numbers, it was a range that I had decided for myself would be the moonshot salary and "thanks but I'll pass" salary floor.
It was definitely a first being asked such a critical question in such a tactical way-I appreciated it for what it was.
That job lasted for four years until acquisition. We all walked away happy with the accomplishments made, that owner and I are still great friends to this day.
How would he have responded to one of these replies?
"I need x dollars annually. That's also how much I want."
"How much I need is a personal question that I don't feel comfortable answering. How much I want is ..."
"How much effort do you want me to put into my work? How much effort do you need me to put into my work?"
I would hope that a candidate with that sort of response when handed an olive branch would have been screened out of the hiring process at an earlier stage than salary negotiation.
Depending on my flexibility in the hiring process I may give them a realistic estimate of my budget as well.
I want to set the stage for the best information symmetry I can (given the circumstances). This makes salary negotiations closer to a collaborative game than a competitive one. I've even told candidates that their ask is unrealistically low for their experience level.
Salary negotiation is the first moment in a trust-based relationship. To me it's very odd that we start that trust-based relationship with a very high-stakes competitive problem that relies heavily on information asymmetry.
That has everything to do with trust.
I know, and you know, we aren't friends.
Don't ask me what I need. That's none of your business. I don't need anything. Tell me what I'm worth to you, then pick a respectful cut. I already have a good idea about the right number, and I'll fight for it, because I've already made people a lot of money. They weren't friends either, but we've sure as hell shaken hands with genuine shit-eating grins on our faces because we're capable professionals, and we didn't pretend. That's the recipe for success.
That is a stupid question to ask. For anyone competent that I would ever want to hire, the amount that they need (unless they have a bad gambling habit or have made some terrible financial decisions) will be much less than the amount that they would ever accept.
I worked with an engineer with this mindset of, "the company is out to get me" at an early stage startup. They left after a few years and started their own company. They couldn't recruit and grow. I turned down their offer because I didn't trust them. I didn't trust them because I was well aware of their distrustful mindset when working in a small group setting.
I had a different mindset during the early stages of the startup, one closer to a model of trust with the company on compensation, quality, and level of effort. I also left to start my own company and I've had no trouble attracting people, both employees and sub-contractors.
There is some merit to an adversarial mindset but it's a liability in the early stages of a company and it leaves a lasting impression on your reputation.
The employer is the one bringing the job and money to the table. I'm bringing skills and the potential for success to the table. No employer would imagine they could not describe the job, why is it they can imagine they can not describe the money? Its all in their court.
I'm with the folks who are suggesting, say nothing about the money, let them do the talking.
It's a savvy negotiating tactic to start with behaviors based on an assumption of good faith, but only if you aren't cutting your own throat in the process.
I'm not all that great at job hunting, so I have hesitated to jump in to this discussion. But perhaps that says something important. I mean, the fact that I'm pretty good at negotiating generally, yet not so great at the job hunting process. Perhaps that is important commentary in its own right on some of the problems in the job market with asymmetrical info and how that can impact job applicants.
Interestingly, most talented engineers i know in fact operate the same way. They try to understand the perspective of the other person first (in a meeting, in a negotiation, etc) instead of assuming what it is.
Your framing of this viewpoint as an attitude problem does not look great.
It's not an attitude problem, it's a way of operating problem.
You want to hire people who don't just say "well this other team that isn't doing what i want, so they are clearly stupid, etc". You want to hire the person who says "hey, i wonder why team x feels differently when we both probably want success", and tries to understand their perspective and how they can work together towards some goal.
That is what the most talented engineers do.
When you do this to a naive kid, you might win out. When you do this to a seasoned professional, you burn any chance of him assuming good faith (which is almost never the case to begin with, given that negotiations are inherently adversarial), and he's going to enjoy playing hardball with you.
Listen, I know how this works. And I tell your employees and potential employees because I like when knowledge, dedication, and skill enrich people, and I hate when lesser-minded snake-charming enriches people.
It is absolutely reasonable to enter a negiotiation with the intent to base the resulting partnership on mutual trust. But "I will renege on this offer if you attempt to negotiate" doesn't scream trustworthy to me.
Hell, I don't think they're even necessarily assuming that the worst is common. They are assuming that it's common for employers to not pay them fairly if they don't take these tactics. They aren't assuming you will do that, but they are just worried you might might be.
We live in a capitalist society where the literal goal of an enterprise is to exploit the labour of workers and pay them less than what they create in terms of value.
There are young graduates who haven't worked that out yet and there are veterans who know the game well. At no point is trust involved in this equation. Employment is a mutually beneficial arrangement where the worker's self interest to maximize their wealth is always orthogonal to the employer's self interest of maximizing their wealth.
Just be a grownup and negotiate a fair cut. I fucking hate employers acting like we have some kind of trust, or worse, friendship. We're in a business arrangement. The only mutual trust is that I will do what I can to make as much money off you as possible, and you will do what you can to make as much money off me as possible. So long as that arrangement benefits us both, we have a working relationship. There's a reason why you will find a paragraph along the lines of 'don't be friends with your employees' in every book for founders.
People who say stuff like you're saying fall into one of two categories: the naive who haven't yet figured out how the world actually works, and the disingenuous preying on the naive who haven't figured out how the world works. I won't work with either.
Maybe just me, but I don’t think asking the same question in a different way should be expected to elicit a different answer. My bottom number would be whatever it would normally be and the top number would be a bit higher.
Still goes down as my favorite recruitment call. No better way to practice "never give a number."
"I haven't had a chance to check over how your health benefits work, so can't speak to any hard numbers."
"What's the range you're looking at?"
"I haven't even had a chance to meet the team and guage my interest in the company, so I can't speak confidently to what I'd need for this position"
"I'm not sure what the job entails exactly so I wouldn't be comfortable speaking numbers yet"
Edit: check later and I'll have added later-stage-strategies
"I'd be more comfortable talking numbers after having an idea of your range"
"What's your comfort level?"
"What are you offering for this position?"
"What do you typically offer for (job) at this skill requirement?"
"I don't like to get caught up in details without first knowing your comfort level"
"I don't come to the table with a hard salary requirement - tell me what you're looking at and I'm confident we can work it out"
"The end salary isn't nearly as important to me as good team fit. If you have a number you're comfortable with, let me know and I promise I'll be able to fit within reasonable expectations"
"I'm sorry, I don't give a number at any stage"
She wouldn't even relent with that though... I had to hang up on her. Never seen anything like this before or since.
It turns out I was way undervalued :)
Was asked a couple of weeks ago what my number was, gave them what I was making in the market I had just moved from because I'm a single guy with a cat and can get by very easily on that and still live very comfortably.
They added an extra 25%. Ten short of the public inflated number.
I start tomorrow :)
Enjoy your new gig!
Most engineers only reach their steady-state productivity 9-12 months into a new job. Getting a year of somebody cheap is rarely better than getting multiple years of them unless you never should have hired them at all.
I MUST keep 15% or so in my pocket if I can. There are some people that simply will NOT feel good if the don't negotiate with you. Shrug. I let them "negotiate" their 15%.
To the ones who don't negotiate, I put the 15% into their final offer to sign.
It may seem smart in the short run to hire someone for under their market rate, but when they eventually realise that they're massively underpaid, they're going to jump ship.
This. Finding a walkaway number is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned over the years. It must be a number you’re comfortable with, such that if that’s what you’re getting you won’t feel cheated or otherwise unhappy about it. Anything below it means you walk away – end of discussion. I guess the difficult thing is making it a non negotiable and hard limit, but that’s key to making it work.
This has taken away all anxiety of negotiating for me.
The thing is... I always say this back to them. Works pretty well. if they don't answer back is probably because the money is too bad.
In sales training they teach you to shut up and wait at this point.
if they can't work around you not providing a number first, don't work there unless you're willing to sacrifice expected salary for an opportunity at this particular company.
What type and level of developer are you referring to?
It's not a stalemate. The application goes straight to the no pile unless you're a fantastically great snowflake:
> This candidate hasn't done their research on what other candidates are potentially asking, nor can they articulate why they're worth more than that. And even more crucially, I've no idea whether they can possibly fit in my budget.
(And I do mean on both sides of the table; I've quit jobs upon discovering that the employer would not allow me to hire people at fair wages, too.)
A dirty little secret in hiring is that negotiating involves giving and taking by both parties. As a candidate, it's not like you're going to only give 80% of your work effort once hired or something if the salary doesn't meet your expectations. Your only BATNA is not working for a company that won't pay you that much. So what's really going on is that you're demanding, rather than negotiating, what you think you're worth.
With this out of the way, hiring managers (in properly managed companies, anyway) will have some kind of budget or salary band (sane or not) that they need to conform to. If you withhold what you'd like to get paid:
An inexperienced hiring manager might very well tell you know much they'd like to offer. You might have a happy surprise in some cases; you'll have a bad surprise in many more. In the latter case, you're wasting your time, and they might discover at the very end of their hiring process that they've been wasting their time all along.
The more experienced hiring manager will consider whether the risk of spending any more time on you is worth it. Having been burnt a few times in their inexperienced days, they'll know better and simply bin your application unless a) you're absolutely awesome and b) they've enough wiggle room or political capital to get you hired at a much higher price point than they had in mind.