I don’t negotiate. I am not good at it or at least that is what I tell people. Especially, recruiters when they
ask me how much I am looking for in the area of compensation. I simply give them a range of what I have
made. A ranged as wide as humanly possible and then tell them, ‘but it seriously depends of the details of
the job and the environment.” This will lead to them giving me some idea no matter how generic of what
they want to pay. I have learned that although you want as much as possible, you don’t want it if you get it
begrudgingly from the employer because it will lead to unrealistic expectations, unreasonable demands,
and unhappiness for everyone. Eventually it will lead to the end of the position with bitter feelings.
I got a call from a recruiter who was in a rush to fill a “Big contract”, a handful of positions with a large
company. I was on a contract and doing fine so I didn’t need a job but being the proactive entrepreneur
that I have become. I took his call and walked through the customaries with him until we hit the punch line.
He said, “So how much do you need?”
The way he stated this question struck me as funny and I of course said, “I don’t know, it depends.”
He was obviously in a rush and got right to the point in a round about way and asked, “Well how much are
you making now?”
I replied in a similar way saying, “More then my previous position.” I then turned it on him and asked,
“What’s the range?”
He said, “We don’t have one.” He was now being disingenuous. He had to have some idea even if it was
just his idea and the company had not given him anything specific.
We went back and forth like this for a minute of two trying to coax the other into revealing his card then he
asked, “So how much do you need?”
I said, “OK, how about a hundred an hour?”
To which he scoffed or maybe it was a scowl and I followed up with, so then you do have some idea what
the range might be?”
He said, “Well it’s not that much.”
To which I replaced, “I’m making X an hour.”
The amount was five dollars an hour more then I was actually making. When speaking about money to a
recruiter I almost also pad my rate by five dollars. It is enough to be a substantial raise and most hourly
positions are plus or miss five or ten dollars as a range. You need to know what the average going rate is
for what you do and where you are doing it in order to talk money effectively. We agreed upon what I had
said I was making plus five which was ten more then I was actually making. I ended up getting the contract
and was the highest paid amongst the team of seven report developers. I was at the top of their range. I
did not negotiate and I was rewarded for my lack of negation with a better rate. I learned sometime ago
that if you attempt to negotiate you can often make things worse.
Negotiation is a subtle art form that requires skills, knowledge, and a receptive counter part. In most cases
people are not prepared and are not capable of negotiating. Most of the time, the environment does not
allow for it. If you need a job you can’t negotiate; unless you can bluff well and are willing to take the risk
of a losing the opportunity. If they don’t need you; they have a thousand other candidates, then you can’t
negotiate. If the position is too meek or low level then you can’t negotiate. Many people, especially
employer’s, see negotiation as sneaky or slick or even insulting as they have the positions and you should
be grateful for even being offered a job.
This all being said here are my rules for negation:
Never go into negotiation in need. It is like going grocery shopping when you are hungry.
1. Knowledge is key…
a. Know what you are worth
b. Know what the average / going rate range for your market is
c. Get to know as much about the person you are negotiating with.
2. Be objective…
a. Be objective about your negotiation skills
b. Be objective about your situation
3. Have a job don’t need a job before you attempt to negotiate…
a. The primary rule of negation is that you never go into it in need. Desperation equals failure. Have a
job before you go looking for a new job.
4. Do a few things…
a. Be prepared, be ready and willing to let it go and loose whatever it is.
b. Determine what you want.
c. Have multiple fall back positions
d. Prioritize the things you want
e. Walk through every possible comment, question, and response by you and by your counter part,
before you begin the conversation.
f. If you get what you want don’t let your excitement show. Be pleasant and positive but not happy.
Bitter feelings may develop.
g. Remember the negotiation does not end with the agreement; it is on going through fulfillment which
means as long as you have the job.
h. In negotiation look for the best you can get; a winning position that is not insulting to the other
i. Speak the truth as much and as often as possible.
j. Remember you are not required to expose your hand you owe them nothing.
I successfully negotiated with an employer that led to my first project manager position and then I had to
live with my victory. I was an entry level programmer answering an ad for an intermediate programmer
position. I thought it was a bit above my experience but I could wing it. I was also quit desperate for a job
as I had spent the previous six months doing odd jobs. I had worked retail, construction, and whatever
else I could. All the while my wife was nearing the end of a pregnancy. We were getting by but there was a
great pressure on me to find something substantial and find it soon. It was a terrible situation for me to go
into a negation with but my saving grace was that I had enjoyed the unscheduled lifestyle and the physical
jobs. I did not want to let my self get stuck in a boring dead end office job. So my desperation was not
visible. The image I presented was confident and discerning. It was before the dot com bubble burst and
programmers were in demand. I seemed like the guy who knew everything and didn’t need the job. They
felt that they needed me more then I needed them and if they didn’t scoop me up soon then they would
miss out. I couldn’t understand why they kept taking me out to eat every time we met. Why a simple three
page programming test was all it took to convince them that I know what I was doing (which at the time I
truly didn’t). I meet with the CFO mostly and as he was in charge of IT but he had no computer
knowledge. He was also in a desperate place for he was responsible for sinking a few hundred thousand
dollars in to a software project with no results. I played it cool and kept pushing them off. In the end it
came down to a short conversation in the CFOs car on the way back from another lunch meeting. The
CFO asked if I had any questions, I paused for a moment, I thought that this was my moment to kill this
I said, “So you don’t have the code to your project.”
He said, “No.”
I said, “The outside company has told you that they are not going to give the code to you.”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “You know I am a programmer.”
He said, “Yes.”
I asked, “Why do you need me?”
He was quit for a minute and then said, “So your question is, why do we need you?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Let me answer you this way. We have a position do you want it?”
I was a bit surprised and then with a short delay of my own I said, “OK.” He said, “Good.” And I was hired.
We hadn’t spoken about money or title or hours or anything. At this point I realized they, or more
specifically he, must really have been in need and I could pretty much dictate terms. It was almost two
weeks after my start date before I had an offer letter spelling out the details. I was making more then I ever
had and ten grand more then my previous position. It was a pattern I have pretty much followed ever since.
Don’t try to be slick. Everything is a trade off but in order to make an effective trade you have to be
objective about the situation and have as much information as possible. Attempting to coat a simple
honest trade with greedy slimy negotiation is an unnecessary waste of time and effort.
The Lesson to Learn:
Real negations are difficult and can only be attempted when you have something of real value to offer that
others want and can not get elsewhere. In order to be successful in them you have to have as much
information as possible, remain objective, and be willing to walk away.
The Brutal Truth:
Few people really enjoy negotiations in themselves. People generally engage in them out of a sense
necessity and or greed. Negotiations rarely end with truly positive sentiments. It is better to avoid
negotiation all together and just focus on making a simple honest trade. Your skills for their money.