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Why “Playing it Coy” in Salary Negotiations is a Big Mistake

During the offer stage, I see the mistakes made. Whether shopping the offer to other companies, trying to secure a counteroffer from a current employer or “ghosting” at the final stages, you can permanently ruin a relationship by handling a situation carelessly. The biggest mistake I see candidates make? “Playing it coy” in the salary negotiation. This can happen at various touch-points in the process, but regardless of when, it’s not a tactic that works and it often leaves the job seeker with deep regret.

Showing interest is not a bad thing.

Candidates often fear that showing genuine interest in the role will weaken their power for salary negotiation, but this is a myth. If the role and the company are right for you, share your excitement. There is a difference between showing enthusiasm and making a commitment – no one is expecting you to accept the job without the salary offer (and doing so before you talk numbers can hurt your salary negotiation position). Why would a hiring manager come back with a great offer if they get the impression you are luke-warm about the opportunity? If you can picture yourself working there and are inspired by the opportunity, let the hiring manager know. Your buying signs will encourage them to go as high as they can – they are interested in you, you are interested in them, so they will work to make it work.

Yes, you can throw out the first number.

You may feel clever by making the other party talk first, but if they are asking for a number and you stonewall them, you are creating tension which leads to an adversarial experience. When you focus your efforts on winning instead of engaging in the conversation, you create an opponent instead of moving toward common ground. If this is a job and company you want, do your homework (and if it’s not, please move on). If asked, offer what will make you happy and what you are willing to accept. Don’t forget to consider the entire compensation package when putting your number together.

Withhold the first number for the right reasons.

There are times when throwing out the first number does not make sense. For example, being asked about salary expectations early in the process. During the early stages, you are gathering information and learning about the job and the company. Focusing on the money out of the gate is premature and you likely won’t have the detail you need to suggest a meaningful number. Also, some offers have multiple components with a bonus and/or equity playing a large role in total compensation. It can be tricky to come up with the appropriate base salary number when you don’t know all the other pieces. Or maybe, you just aren’t comfortable negotiating your salary and prefer to leave it to the recruiter involved. There are ways to push that conversation to a later time or buy yourself more time. It’s crucial to read the situation and avoid creating any tension. The money will come up at some point, and you want to be ready to handle the conversation.

You can recover from playing coy.

If you played coy and the tactic backfired (and you want the job), be direct and take ownership. Let them know you thought more about it and would like to offer a “shut down” counteroffer. Tell them you are excited about the company and the position, and if they get to your number, you are prepared to shut down your search to accept the job. This commitment can be powerful. They may need to work some magic to get approval on that new number and will only want to do so if they know you are 100% committed. If you play it coy, they will not be willing to put their time, resources and reputation on the line to get you onboard; it’s too risky.

Money talk is often difficult for many people, especially during the offer stage of a job search. Take the time to think about what you want, be honest about it throughout the process and be willing to collaborate with everyone involved. It will pay off!

Photo Credit: Canva.com

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