Industry Tips: How to not ask for money

Almost every day I get a letter from a candidate with their salary expectations listed. This is almost always something like: “I am looking for something between $2500-$3000 (negotiable)”. This has two clear problems:

1) When I read $2500-$3000, I see $2500. I know already that this is in your range, so why on earth would I pay more, when you have already told me you are willing to accept less? You may think you are asking for something between $2500 and $3000, but you’re not. You’re asking for $2500 and not a penny more.

2) By adding the “(negotiable)” part, you are actually *telling* me to negotiate this price with you, telegraphing your intention to drop the price if pushed. Furthermore, by telling me your “wiggle room” above what you are listing as your bottom level, I can safely assume that your floor is likely your median, and apply the same wiggle room below that – I now know pretty conclusively that I am not going to settle for any less than $2000, since you have already mentally approved that as your real bottom line, and then unwittingly telegraphed that information to me. And if I have any other information that you are willing to go lower (and as a decent negotiator, I *will* try to dig up that information), I know I can probably drop you at least another 10-20% below that by offering some kind of non-monetary compensation that costs me a lot less.

So – how *should* you ask for money? It’s not a simple answer, and depends a great deal on the conditions and working relationship you are trying to derive. The basic suggestion I have is to do your research, figure out what a fair offer is, ask for precisely that, and essentially refuse to go any lower unless you are compensated in some other way. Let me give you two clear examples:

Most of my negotiations are with publishers, who I intend to have a long term relationship with – so playing serious hardball mindgames with them is not really the way I want to start our relationship. Instead, I’ll give a very concrete number, give them the math that produced that number, and then show them my markup and explain why that markup is based on an industry average. Then I’ll make sure that I have checked that against what other people are bidding, and claim that I am equal or slightly below industry average (which I already know to be fact) and state that I’m not willing to negotiate that price any lower unless they are willing to give some concessions on something else – like royalty rate, IP ownership, etc. That’s done pretty well for me in the past – not just in that I have signed a lot of profitable contracts for us like that, but that I have started a lot of great relationships with publishers that way. It has the side benefit of complete transparency and honesty from the beginning of the negotiation, which is precisely the kind of relationship you are hoping to build.

For potential job seekers, I suggest using the same logic. Find out what the rest of the industry earns in your region for the same job, add a little to it (because you are better than average – that’s why they are hiring you!) and call that a reasonable bid. Give them one number, and don’t say anything about your willingness to negotiate. When they offer you less, simply state that your original figure was a fair offer, and if they want to give you less, that will need to be compensated somehow with something in return – more vacation days, paid training, etc. The argument there is, “What are you doing to keep your offer to regional norms? If you are paying less than average, what are you offering to make that worthwhile?” That’s a very tenable argument that does not create too much friction between the negotiating parties, since all of the references are external to the negotiation. You aren’t asking for them to be anything other than fair – and that’s a hard argument to fight.

A final note on this: as an employer, I have gotten around the new-employee salary problem by simply creating a standardized pegged salary scale for employees based on position and experience. I have made sure that this scale is regionally competitive based on recent salary surveys, and I make that information freely available to anyone who is applying as one of the first parts of the job interview. In fact, it is one of the first three issues I discuss with qualified candidates. They know from the first moment they talk to us what they will be offered at the end of a successful interview, and they know that I won’t negotiate that. If they aren’t into it, then they don’t waste my time or theirs. Again – it’s complete transparency and honesty from the beginning of the negotiation, setting the tone for how we treat our employees and how we expect to be treated by them.


Christopher Natsuume – Creative Director