Salaries: Take What They Offer or Ask For What You Want?

Salary negotiations can be awkward but your starting salary has a significant impact on your future earnings. In addition,  jobs are scarce in the current recession so your leverage is limited, but you should still do your homework and prepare yourself.
Recruiters have many practices including asking the applicant early in the process what their salary expectations are; the applicant doesn’t want to go too high for fear of being eliminated so she goes low. But if this is you, if you pick a low number then you are locked in at that level.  Instead, you might respond with “I’d really like to learn more about the responsibilities before we discuss salary” or variation of that; it’s not a flat no but it’s also not committing yourself.
Some time ago I received a letter from a former student about her salary negotiations. I’m sharing our dialogue here; I hope it’s helpful.

Hi Professor Shove,

I took your Business Communications course at XXXX College last year during the Fall. I hope you are doing well! I remember your advice being very helpful, and you seemed to have a lot of Silicon Valley savvy. That being said, I was wondering if you could give me some guidance regarding an email my boss sent me about a potential full-time position. He wrote, ‘If you are interested in joining CompanyZ (name removed) full time after graduation, please let me know your salary requirements.’ My instinct is to not name a salary, but say ‘Regarding salary, I am sure whatever you offer would be commensurate with what other hi-tech companies are offering in Silicon Valley.’ I would really appreciate your input.

Thank you, Terry (name changed)

Hi Terry,

I remember you well. As far as salary goes, it’s always tricky. However, I don’t recommend leaving it up to your potential employer; they’ve given you an opportunity so take it. Keep in mind that women are statistically underpaid and that your starting salary will have long term impact because raises are often a percent of your current salary (and I know you understand how compound interest works; it also applies to raises).

So, my advice is:

  • don’t leave it in their hands.
  • do your research. Find out what similar companies are paying. GlassDoor has reviews at CompanyZ and also some salaries. Look at other similar companies as well, and use additional sites (not just GlassDoor)
  • get your head around how much you are worth and don’t under-sell yourself. I know you to be smart, dedicated, thoughtful and hard working. Your employer would be lucky to have you. So while you don’t want to be arrogant, neither do you want to be overly appreciative. Your relationship should be a win-win. Of note, remember that women (stereotypically) don’t always go for what they want. Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”  is a book that might give you a new perspective
  • Ask for the high-end of the range you think the job pays other people.

If you really want the job, don’t position your salary requirement as a make or break. Choose your language carefully e.g. “I’m looking to earn in the $75,000 range.” If they come back with much less, your response might be “I might be able to make that work, but what do you think I need to do to earn $75,000?” This puts the onus on them to help you earn a wage commensurate with your talent and potential (and it’s done in a very positive way).

Good luck and let me know how it does It was really nice to hear from you.


Good luck in your own searches.  Feel free to share your own stories with me at

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