Everything You Know About Salary Negotiation is Wrong–Part 1

top negotiation strategies for physicians
Doctors–Are You Prepared to Negotiate Your Salary?

How many of these “negotiation commandments” have you heard?

  • You should never disclose your salary or your requirements first
  • When your offer is too low, negotiate up
  • Splitting the difference always works in your favor
  • Without competing offers, you have no leverage
  • Always negotiate hard: if you get the offer of your dreams, you can still get more

 They’re all wrong!

Some of them all the time; others, some of the time.  Let’s take a closer look….

Myth #1: You should never disclose your salary or your requirements first
If the practice has a known salary range and you would be happy with that, this may be OK.  But I personally know of many cases where people went on multiple interviews, spanning multiple weeks, only to receive an offer that’s completely unacceptable–far out of their range.  All their time has been wasted and they are very angry about it too.

Trial lawyers know a cardinal rule: never ask a witness a question that you don’t already know the answer to.  If you are looking for a job, the rule is: never waste time pursuing a job when you don’t already know what you’ll be paid, at least at a minimum.

So how do you handle this practically? If you are invited to an interview, it’s absolutely fair to ask, “Can you give me the general salary and bonus range for this job?”  If they answer your question, you face three possible scenarios:

  • If the range is too low, you tell them you really appreciate their consideration, but that you require a range of (and here’s where you include your range). Some of them will come back to you and indicate flexibility.  Now you are the one with leverage.
  • If it’s within your range, you simply say, “Thank you. And, of course, depending on the candidate, I assume you have some flexibility.”  That’s a statement, not a question.  If you ask it as a question, it doesn’t work.  Rather, you are putting them on notice that your value is higher.  That will help you later.
  • If it’s higher than your expectations, there’s a good chance that they know it. If you come off as a hard-ass, then you’re telling them that you don’t know when to quit. You’re best off saying, “Thanks for that information.  Yes, I’m interested in exploring this opportunity further.”

If they don’t give you an answer, they may ask you what you are looking for.  Never give a single number. Give them a range with a flexible span.  For example, if you want $190K, something like $205K-$215K works well.  Notice that your lowest salary is higher than what you want, but not so far above it that you can’t “save face” if you really want the job – or, better, trade off that salary for a better bonus or benefits.  Make no mistake: they will take your lowest number as your real demand.  But if they want you badly enough, they may not want to “insult” you by offering you that and so they may very well “split the difference,” offering you $210K.  If they say that your range isn’t “fair or reasonable,” but you know it is, thank them for their time and wish them well.

Myth #2: When your offer is too low, negotiate up
You should only negotiate up depending on how low the offer is.  If it’s close – and the benefits and perks and career opportunities are great – sure.  If it’s not, you absolutely have to walk away: “Thank you.   I think very highly of your company, but I’m afraid we’re not close on compensation.  So unfortunately, I have to decline.”

It’s very important not to use “weasel words” like “maybe,” “I hope,” “could you possibly?” and the like. Put the onus on them – if they want you and can afford you – to come back to you, whether in that communication or later.  If and when they do, you will have gained significant leverage.

You also have an “anchor” in such negotiations.   If you’ve actually discussed a range initially, you can say, “As I explained initially, my range for this position is $205K-$215K. I’m disappointed that your offer is not in that range, so it’s not possible for me to accept.”

Myth #3: Splitting the difference always works in your favor
You should split the difference only when it’s to your advantage.  So if you would be happy with $190K, but you’ve told them $210K and they’ve offered $190K, go ahead and ask, “Why don’t we split the difference?”  You would be amazed how often this works.  In order to use “splitting the difference” to your advantage, you should always ask for more than you would be happy with from the get-go.  Now suppose you have told them $190K and they have offered $160K.  Is that a difference you want to split?  Absolutely not.  That’s when you reject the $160K flat out and force them, unilaterally, to raise it (And, of course, if you’re a neurosurgeon, these numbers are more likely to be in the $600K- $900K range, so adjust for your market value.).  Once they have raised it, then you can split the difference.

Myth #4: Without competing offers, you have no leverage
While you shouldn’t lie about having competing offers, your interviewers have no idea whom else you are talking to.  If their imagination wants to run wild, let it. Certainly, you are having “a number of ongoing discussions, including this one.”  That’s true, even if you have only one offer.  Or you may be expecting an offer in two more weeks.  Expecting an offer isn’t the same as having an offer.  Not all expectations are met.  So if they absolutely want you, what are they going to do to lock you down now?

Also remember that if they’ve first offered you the job, they want you for some reason.  Maybe it’s because they think they can get you cheaply.  We’ve already discussed how to counter that – and if they don’t come back, do you really want to work for someone that cheap unless there’s a separate benefit such as being able to work with a world-leading doctor or researcher?  If they don’t think you’re cheap, they think you’re valuable. That is leverage.

Myth #5: Always negotiate hard–if you get the offer of your dreams, you can still get more:
You may actually end up with nothing if you negotiate too hard with the wrong person.  Know about the party you’re negotiating with so you can capitalize on your strengths and the party’s weaknesses.  If possible, talk to business associates who have dealt with this person before.  Many negotiators develop patterns and certain styles that you may be able to use to your advantage .

You should negotiate harder with people who tend to play mind games at the negotiating table.  When Donald Trump decides he wants to make a deal with you, he apparently stuffs a few tricks up his sleeve before negotiation time.  First, he’ll have his staffers warn you that he’s very busy, probably won’t be able to stay long (5 minutes max) and won’t shake your hand (he just doesn’t do that).  Then when Trump enters the room—you know, the one from The Apprentice—you’re instantly charmed over by his warm handshake and extensive 40-minute chat.  You walk out feeling quite good about yourself.  In reality, you were duped into thinking that his standard negotiation courtesies were really flattering.  This gives Trump the clear upper hand and makes you feel good about ultimately accepting less than you wanted.

For others, negotiating too hard will be the kiss of death.  Other people negotiate by giving one—and only one–offer.  This was Steve Jobs’ go-to negotiation style at Apple.  These negotiators offer you the job and compensation of your dreams because they recognize your talent and ability, so they want to reward you.   However, if you turn their offer down, these negotiators walk away and never come back.  There are absolutely no second chances.

What you need to know is that you cannot negotiate the same way with different people. If you are talking to a Trump-style “mind-game” negotiator, then you have to be confident and ask for a lot more than you want.  If you are talking to someone who is going to make one great offer, take-it-or-leave-it, you will lose the job of your dreams. The lesson is: know whom you’re dealing with and adjust your style accordingly.

In Part 2 of this series, you’ll learn what’s wrong with these “negotiation commandments” and what you should do instead:

  • If there’s an HR department, you have to negotiate with them
  • Your value is “objective,” meaning it’s about the same at every practice
  • If you’ve negotiated a lot, you’re a great negotiator
  • Master one negotiation strategy and you’ll be able to use it everywhere
  • Policies are never negotiable
  • Employment agreements are only negotiable if you are a superstar
  • If you are told to “be reasonable” and that “we have a lot of candidates,” you don’t have much leverage

I welcome your questions and comments.  When tens of thousands of dollars are in the balance, I will help you get a better deal.   Just contact me at steven@thebrandmason.com.  I offer telephone consultations and negotiation coaching, including role-play (I can be tougher than 99% of the people you’ll face!).  I’ll work through actual negotiation scenarios for you, tailored to your personal situation and facts. I can also write a response, email or otherwise, to an offer you’ve received.

photo  Steven Mason

Steven Mason is on the Editorial Board of DoctorCPR.com.  He has extensive experience guiding physicians step-by-step through negotiating their work contracts and he is also a recommended consultant for branding medical practices. He is an active contributor, advisor, and consultant for new businesses on Quora and Clarity.fm.  For more information, visit www.thebrandmason.com.

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