Tip #17: Be the First to Say a Number (or Don't) | 28 Days of Salary Negotiation

When it comes to salary negotiation, who offers a number first is a relatively controversial topic. This is one area where you find some varying advice - whether to be the first to give a number or not.

From my perspective, people make a lot bigger deal out of this topic than needs to be made, and there are much more important things to consider than who says a number first. For example, nearly everyone agrees that the first number given winds up being the anchor. This demonstrates the importance of knowing the market value for a given position, knowing your value given your expertise and experience, and having a clear sense of your target salary and walk-away point. If you know these things, you’re at least operating with valuable information.

Many people are nervous about saying a number first, because they fear their number will be too high, and the employer will rescind their offer. That's simply not how it works. At minimum, they will tell you the number is way off base, and your conversation will continue from there. 

I would certainly recommend trying to push for more information, including specific salary information from the employer, especially if they ask you for salary preferences early on. Just keep in mind that if you do have to give a number first, it’s not the end of the world.

Consider the scenario playing out like this: 

Employer: What are your salary requirements?
You: What’s your expected range for this position?
Employer: We need to understand your salary requirements before we move further into the interview process.
[at this point, you could jump straight to your requirements, or try some additional tactics to get more information]

You: What are other staff members in this or a comparative role being paid for their work? How does that relate to what’s budgeted for the position.
Employer: It doesn’t matter what others are being paid. What are your salary requirements?
[again, you could push back, or give a more direct answer]
You: Given what I could bring to this position, I would expect my annual salary to be $115,000, assuming a standard benefits package. 

[at this point, they are likely to either note your requirements and move on to other questions, or tell you if there’s a big gap between their target and yours].

Employer: WOW, that's more than $20,000 more than what we would expect to pay for this position. Maybe this isn't the right move for you.
You: That's really helpful information to know. Let's talk about total compensation. There could be some flexibility in this number with a better understanding of the total compensation package, and a clear understanding of the role and my ability to effectively contribute to it.

Depending on the industry sector and how sought after of a candidate you are, you may choose to take a more aggressive approach, especially if the salary requirement question is asked early on. Consider something like “I really need more information about the role and how I fit into the organization to effectively have a conversation about my salary requirements. For now, let’s put down $1 (yes, that’s one dollar) and we can revisit this conversation when we’ve both decided I’m the best candidate for the job.”

It’s aggressive, for sure. And, it won’t be an appropriate response in every scenario, but you may find it some cases it’s an approach you’d like to try.

In most cases, (and especially if you’ve done your research) I advise clients not to worry too much that their requested salary will be too high. Most people tend to err on the side of underestimating, not overestimating. One exception is if you know your request is far higher than the posted salary range for the position - that's a scenario unlikely to work out in your favor.

If you give a range, ensure your target salary is the BOTTOM of the range, not the top. For example, if your target salary is $120k, but you are nervous so give a range of $100k-$120k…Guess what? The employer only heard--and will anchor to--$100k. Instead, offer a target of $120k-$125k.

One real risk in providing your salary requirements first is that your number may be significantly lower that a range your employer would be willing to offer, and therefore miss out on more money. To ward of the potential for this happening, remember to do your research. Check whether there is a salary range posted for this position and research how similar positions pay at competitor organizations.