What Are You Asking?

When a burned-out senior creative director changed jobs to get his creative juices flowing again, he negotiated his new position for himself. What he didn’t realize was that going from a public agency to a private shop meant there were many perks to which he might have been entitled had he known they existed, so he missed the chance to ask for them.

When a head of client services decided to leave the cold Midwest and relocate to a warmer city to run a branch office, he thought he would get a higher salary. But the agency told him that it “just didn’t have that kind of money.” Dead end?

No. The person who negotiated the contract uncovered another kind of compensation option that the candidate wasn’t aware of-—a percentage of the new business he’d brought in from the day he started. The candidate got his warm weather; the agency got their man.

So, how do you negotiate salary?


Have someone do it for you. Arguing over nickels and dimes with your boss might get you more money in the short term, but it could make for a very awkward situation down the line. It’s best to have a third party negotiate for you. Use your search firm, your lawyer, your financial adviser, an ombudsman or anyone who can represent your best interests and be a realist.

Make a list of things that are important to you (e.g., salary, sign-on bonus, life insurance, vacation days). Then decide what you can and cannot live without, and use that as your benchmark as you make your way through negotiations. You may take a lower salary with a higher sign-on or annual bonus, for instance. Today’s times don’t call for high salaries.

If you really, really want the job, make sure your representative knows that. There are always areas to concede without really losing much substance, and your rep should know your personal preferences. Do you really need a company car? Make an effort to give up those things that are insignificant. It will get you much more in the end.

If you are on the fence about the job, and are willing to walk away if it’s not exactly what you want, then negotiate hard. Because if you don’t get the things you want up front, it’s unlikely you’ll get them later on.

If you are not interested in taking the job, don’t let it get to the point where an offer is made. It is unfair to ask anyone to invest that kind of time negotiating when you have no intention of accepting an offer of any kind. You never know where you’ll meet the employer in the future.

Ultimately, you either want the job or you don’t. What you end up with is an offer that either sweetens the deal or makes it incrementally less exciting.

If you are handling your own negotiations, adjust the rules accordingly. When a potential employer says, “What are you asking?” don’t say, “Between $75K and $100K” if you want $100K. Ask for what you want. Think about it-—why would someone want to give you $100,000 when you’ve asked for $75,000?

When an offer is made, don’t immediately ask about vacation days. Ask for time to think—over the weekend, a night or two, or whatever amount of time it takes to mull the package over. Then if you have any questions, write them down and make the call.

It is best not to begin negotiations with inquiries about severance. You don’t want to sound as though you are already planning your exit or you expect to fail. As for what you should ask for, begin with the essentials—insurance and saving plans. Move on to stocks, vacation days and, finally, cars or any other perks.

If you are stepping down in salary to accept a position, find out whether a six-month performance review, with the possibility of a raise, is an option.

If you are filled with glee, thrilled with the offer and excited about the job, take it then and there. Why risk losing it? Your ready acceptance will make for better relations. Just remember to take at least a week’s vacation before you begin, so you’ll be rested and ready to throw yourself into your new job.

Susan Friedman is the president of SUSAN FRIEDMAN LTD. She can be reached at (212) 753-3000.