In 2011, a British civil servant called climate change talks “the most complex negotiations the world has ever tackled” [1]. Since the word “negotiation” can send a chill up the spine of an otherwise confident person, it’s no wonder that people were particularly horrified by the intricacy of international negotiations involving tons of fractious stakeholders. Thankfully, you can approach your comparatively simple starting salary negotiations, with far less anxiety.

Your timing is good: if you try to negotiate a raise after you’ve been hired, you’ll have far less leverage (most of the time… read about an exception to that rule in an upcoming article). This article is about one thing: how to boost your leverage into the stratosphere. When you’ve got lots of leverage, and you know it, you’ll be a far more confident negotiator.

Confidence Comes from True Self-Awareness

HandshakeStart by learning as much as you can about your strengths. I wrote about this process in another article. Keep doing self-awareness work until you’ve got a one-page document – which I call a self-awareness cheat sheet – that can remind you and anyone else of your greatest qualities. You need to convince yourself that you’re worth a higher salary before you can convince anyone else.

How Can You Help?

Once you’ve got your self-awareness cheat sheet in hand, keep your focus on how you can help your prospective employer. Nothing else matters until your salary negotiations end. You need to take this principle extremely seriously. If you do, they will know it.

Arrange coffee meetings and informational interviews with current and previous employees prior to formal interviews. Lots of people do this but show up unprepared, thinking that showing up is enough to give them a leg up. You should come to these conversations prepared to dig deeply into the company’s problems. When you find out what their needs are, don’t go to a formal interview until you’ve thought deeply about how you can apply your strengths to those problems.

Lots has been written about what to do next. Ramit Sethi advocates preparing a written proposal, showing what you can do for them, and bringing it to interviews [2]. When the conversation turns to salary, this can be a powerful way to immediately demonstrate your value. This is good advice. But you can do even more than that.

Put a Price on the Problem

A company’s biggest problems cost them money. You may be able to learn how much, especially if it’s a public company. If you can’t learn precisely how much, estimate. Come up with some assumptions and write them down, acknowledging that they’re assumptions. They don’t have to be perfect.

Solve the Problem

You can prepare a Ramit-style proposal and combine it with implementing some or all of the proposal. Like a great writer, show, don’t tell. If you’re vying for a business development or sales role, an employer will love you if you bring home some bacon before you’re hired. As a copywriter, you can write a new sales page. And for bonus points, you could even spend a few dollars and send some traffic to it!

You may scoff at this idea because it takes major league chutzpah. There are limits to how much work you should do for a company without their consent, yes, so you should use your judgment. But in this day and age, the competition for good jobs is fierce. So, get creative about how you can show them you’re valuable. The more your experiment pushes the envelope, the more value you’ll demonstrate to the employer. And if you hate doing work that is a good approximation of the work you’d do post-hire, you can avoid accepting an offer that isn’t a fit for you.  

Come up with Your Numbers

Now, think of a maximum and minimum number. The numbers should seem reasonable given what is typical for the role. The maximum number should be a bit higher. Never go below the minimum number. It should be your absolute floor – the number below which your self-esteem will suffer.

You can find out what is typical using salary research websites like Glassdoor and Payscale. Craft an argument for the higher number, linking it to the price of the problem you’re showing you can solve. Isn’t it worth it for them to pay you more if you’re saving them money by solving their key problems? Even if your price of the problem number isn’t perfect, it will give the employer a strong sense of your value and your commitment to helping them.

Have Fun

Bonus points if you run with this approach and use other offers to get even more leverage. Very few job-seekers will do anything approaching this amount of work. So you will stand out and you will have leverage they can only dream of. I hope this makes you less fearful about negotiating your salary. If it seems like a lot of work, know that when you’ve done this properly, you’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

Have a great day!
Dan King.