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Concerning Salary-Making Rule #1: 
Here's Four Strategies to Help in this Regard

I wrote Negotiating your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute in 1984.  Back then, a simple phrase could postpone salary talk easily.  For instance: "I'm glad to discuss salary with you; could we wait, though, until we're clear that you want me?  Because otherwise it's a moot point, and I'm sure we won't have a problem when that time comes."
It's now 2008, and my clients find it HARDER.  Employers press more.  It's to their advantage, often, so you can't blame them.  On the other hand, it's not in your self-interest, so employing a strategy to postpone can put money in your bank.
The important thing to remember is that whatever you say, you need to rehearse it.  We don't do salary negotiations often enough that it is second nature.  Like anything that's important and not done frequently, it takes practice to assure success. 
[BTW for those who've  bought the book, consult the "What If..." library of articles for "insistent employer" and other articles relevant to this topic.]

Let's first review the reasoning behind postponing negotiations, and then let's look at several lines that arise out of four strategies so you can find one that feels right for you. 

Why do employers like to bring it up early?  Two reasons.  The biggest reason is that they are worried they can't afford you and they don't want to waste time interviewing you if that's the case.  Nothing is more disappointing to an employer than to go through the selection interviewing process, find someone he or she is really eager to hire, and then find out that the candidate's salary requirements are way too high.

The second reason is that employers often set your "new" salary based on your old one.  They realize they have to offer some incentive for you to be interested in making a job change, so they try to ascertain your current earnings.  Once they know them--especially if they know them for several candidates--they can pick and choose whom to make an offer to by the salary level.  So, if they like Fred the most who is making $50,000, and they like Sally next who is making $42,000, they might be tempted to offer Sally the job even though she's technically the runner-up.  They figure they can get Sally for $45,000, while they think Fred will cost them $55,000, and reason that the skill difference isn't worth $10,000.

Notice that whether you're Sally or Fred, this does not work to your advantage.  Fred loses an offer that he might have really wanted just because they thought he was too expensive.  Sally is limited to an offer of $45,000, even though she might be worth $48,000- $52,000.

Your ideal strategic position is one in which
--a) employers are secure that you aren't going to ask for money outside a reasonable range, and
--b) you’re free to get an offer based on their interest and belief in you, not on how much money you made before. 
The best way to achieve this position is to let them know you know an objective market value for the job you're going to do, and you won't require a salary out of line with that.

With that in mind, here are some strategies and some actual lines.

Strategy one:  it's too early.

When asked your salary expectations early in the process, you can say, "The job looks like the right level so far, but I think it's too early to talk salary.  I don't want to say something that will scare you away, and I'm sure you don't want to screen me out either.  I don't think it will be a problem--let's discuss it later, if that's okay."

"Talking about money is always a bit awkward, but it's especially so for me right now, because I'd need to learn a lot more about the job before I'd be ready to say what kind of salary ought to go with it."

"I'm sure you pay a fair market value, don't you?" [Reply]  "Well, then, I'm sure salary will take care of itself when it's time.  Let's concentrate on whether you think I'm right for the job first, shall we?”

One of my favorites examples is the response given by a tool-and-die-making client who knew he'd have to come down quite a bit from his previous salary because of difficult market conditions.  When asked what he was making at his previous job he said, "Hell, don't make no differ'nce what I was a-makin' there; it's what you're gonna pay me that counts, ain't it?"

Other phrases.  "Salary? Well, this point I wouldn't want to say anything that would scare you away, and I don't think you'd want to say anything that would discourage me… so why don't we keep an open mind on that for the moment?"  "Hmmm.  Salary is about number three on my priority list; number one to see if we have a match, otherwise the salary is a moot point anyway, right?  Could we concentrate on that?"

Strategy two:  a big range.

If you know roughly the market value of the position, you can allay  interviewers’ fears by giving them a range that is workable for them, but will neither screen you out nor bring you in too low.

"The most I think this type of job would pay would be in the $60,000 range, and the least would be in the $30's, depending on hours, travel, benefits, room for advancement, bonuses, and other factors.  If I'm the one you want, I'm sure we can find a proper compensation package."

"Depending on 6 factors -- my satisfaction with the work, the environment, the opportunity for advancement, the benefits and perks, the bonus structure, the opportunity to sharpen my skills, any participation in company profits, stock options, the travel and commute time, plus how well I like the people I work with, it could be as low as $30,000 and probably not over $80,000 -- let's see if I'm right for the job and I'm sure we can handle salary."

Strategy three:  ask them.

Another tactic to avoid disclosing your expectations is to turn the question around.  "Salary expectations?  I'm glad you brought that up.  I would have to do a little more research to find out the fair market value.  By the way, roughly what range do you think this position should pay?"  Be careful here not to agree with their numbers; simply acknowledge them, say that they sound like they're in "the ball park," and move on.

Strategy four:  Pre-emptive strike.

Another "ask them" strategy suggests that you bring the question up before they do.  Wait until you have some trust/rapport built and then you can say, "I know it's really too soon to be discussing this in detail, but I was wondering about what you were thinking in terms of salary -- I mean just ball-park, rough idea?"  They respond, and you say, "Hmmm I think we could work something out around that; let's keep talking."

The key to this part of salary negotiations is having the confidence that you'll be able to handle the actual money talk when the proper time comes.  You don't want to lead an interviewer on if you're way out of line salary-wise, but then, again, I have had people end up $20,000 to $60,000 higher than the employer originally budgeted just because they postponed salary and let the employer see their value first.

Written by Jack Chapman.
All rights reserved.
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