Many on a job hunt dread the salary negotiation process and feel it is a game. There is the thought ‘he who speaks first loses’ when it comes to naming a dollar amount. In truth, the loser is always the candidate who doesn’t understand and clearly communicate his value. Compensation isn’t about conversation order or blinking eyes. It’s a discussion that involves both parties reaching an agreement of a fair exchange of resources. If hired, what contribution will the individual make to the company and how should that translate into dollars? This is more the candidate’s responsibility than the employer’s to sort out, yet candidates often fail to take ownership in this area.

To establish value, a candidate must make it clear how acquiring him will benefit the employer. In order to make it clear to an employer, the candidate himself must take time to consider his contribution from a variety of angles. If hired, to what extent can he add/recapture/retain customers, solve a problem, improve efficiency, broaden diversity (thought/skill/social), cut expenses and better position the company for future success and growth? Considered in total, the above is the currency for what the individual will be paying the company as an employee. That’s what dictates what is reasonable for the company to reciprocate in its currency…dollars. A candidate must be aware of what he brings to the table in order to have a leg to stand on in a salary negotiation. A prospective employer often doesn’t know a candidate well enough to guess at the above. The end result is a company picking a safe salary amount based on the dollar value the individual seems likely to reciprocate in time, talent and connections considering what is known at that point.

Let’s go back to the ‘he who speaks first’ myth. Most of the professionals I work with want the employer to be the one to throw out a number first in a salary negotiation. They are afraid to say a number below what the company might be willing to offer. Interestingly, these days the numbers companies throw out first tend to be disappointing. Think about it. Why should an employer start with its high end? Just like job candidates don’t want to state a number that’s lower than what might have been offered, employers don’t want to state a number that’s higher than what might have been accepted. In short, employers and candidates are in the same boat. That said, why not take the lead as a candidate to ensure your potential is fully realized and considered? Once you know the scope of the job and how your skills, talents and connections can positively affect the bottom line of the company, don’t be coy about putting a price tag on your forehead. Show your buyer you know what you are selling is worth.


Lisa joined the Michigan State University Alumni Association as Director of Alumni Career & Business Services on May 1, 2012. Her primary focus is to develop effective networking and resource channels for experienced alumni interested in professional development and job search strategy assistance. Additionally, Lisa works directly with corporate, education, foundation and government partners seeking to attract qualified talent, retain and develop good employees, and establish collaborative relationships in line with their established goals and objectives.



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