My Salary Negotiation Strategy

  • Money is not “quantified goodness”, nor is it related to the positive impact you make in the world (think bankers or drug lords).
  • “Money is not happiness”. That is only true above a certain level. That level depends on many factors: family obligations, lifestyle, location, welfare system, available safety nets, etc. and varies from individual to individual.
  • You are unlikely going to get rich by working for someone else. If you want big rewards, take big risks and start your own business.
  • To maximize profit, a company has every intention to pay you less than the value you create. That’s just how capitalism works.
  • What the companies are willing to put on the table depends on the market potential not just your skills or niceness of the employees hiring you.
  • Your value as a person is not coupled to the value you create at a certain job.
  • Professionals generally don’t undersell their skills.
  • If you optimize your career for money, you may end up with a well paid job that is not aligned with your value system.
  • The best way to grow is to expose yourself to challenges. The more you grow, the more options you have.
  • External: be available in an environment where your skillset is highly desirable but scarce

Growth and comfort do not coexist.

— IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.

If you’re interested to read some background about how these beliefs came to be, read this other post:

My strategy

My strategy is not a trick or secret but rather based on mutual trust and leverage. It may not work in all situations, but given the fact that I’m going to spend the best hours of my best years working at a company, trust-from-the-start is the best approach.

Be transparent about what you make

There are many guides on the internet about how to do salary negotiation and the common advice is to avoid mentioning a specific number until you’ve gone through. But my approach is a bit different and more honest: I just ask for the range they have in mind for the position they are recruiting for.

Ask for a fair pay

It is common for recruiters to ask: “what kind of salary are you looking for?” I always reply: “pay me reasonably as you would pay someone else who is doing the same job”. This answer dodges various bias factors like racism, agism, or sexism. Notice here, I’m not pushing for my worth, but rather suggest them to pick a number that they find reasonable. It’s still up to me to judge what that number represents.

Options options

So far the previous points were counter intuitive. Here’s the kick: you have to have multiple options to negotiate like that.

Always build options. Options puts YOU in power.

Be transparent and upfront that you are in different processes but don’t mention the name of the companies that they are competing against. Let them work out the numbers. In the end it is not about making more money but it’s about working somewhere with better growth opportunities.

Don’t threaten your current employer

Some people intentionally turn themselves into a dependency and then threaten their employer to give more money or they’ll quit. This is mean and unfair because those people do everything within their power to hold that leverage. They’ll resist sharing knowledge or properly onboarding others.

Closing thoughts

I never beg for more money I don’t deserve. My approach is based on “what more can I do to earn more” instead of “how can I squeeze more from an employer”. In the end the pay is affected by the business capacity more than your potential.

Never bet more than you can comfortably loose.

Disclaimer: I can’t rule out the fact that there are some jobs that pay less but present great challenges and growth opportunities.

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Alex Ewerlöf

Alex Ewerlöf

Sr. Staff Engineer, Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer