“What are your salary expectations?” One of the first questions you’re asked when interviewing for a new job and a tough one to handle. What to do when the interviewer throws this hard-hitting question your way? Job hunters are often at a loss trying to both get the job and obtain the highest possible compensation. So what makes negotiating a financial package such a hurdle? Your ego does. While salary negotiations are like any other type of negotiations, there is a strong personal aspect to the discussion so the words you use can be extremely powerful.
Entering salary negotiations seems a particularly difficult task when you’re interviewed for a legal job position. Attorneys should have an advantage because the very nature of their job requires them to become negotiating pros. In fact, while lawyers are frequently known for their negotiation skills in client matters, not all of them consider using those skills during salary discussions.
Of course, negotiating salary is especially challenging for young grads starting their legal careers. Whether you’re landing your first job or pursuing employment at a new firm with 10 years of experience, you should know salary negotiations Do’s and Dont’s. What a lawyer should do? Long story short: Negotiate Wisely and Watch your Words. Use your lawyering skills and remember that there are some things better left unsaid. Especially in a law firm interview.
Here are 11 phrases legal job seekers should never say in a salary negotiation:
1. “I want…”
Sometimes employers will try to get you to discuss salary during the interview before they make an offer. Never throw out the first number as you want to leave room for discussion.
The number you give could be less than what the employer was planning to pay, thus, a good negotiation strategy is to let the employer offer the first number. That puts you in a position to see the number they are offering and gives you the opportunity to negotiate it up from there.
If the interviewer pushes you to set the number, try to reply as follows: “I’d hesitate to give a specific figure until I have a better understanding of the job description and your expectations for the position …”.
2. “I accept (whatever offer)!”
Typically, at some point during the hiring process, your potential employer will make you an offer and initiate the salary issue by telling you the salary the employer plans to pay. When you receive an offer, stall. Always request time to think it over.
Even if pushed to accept, ask to review the offer in writing if you’d like more time. It’s important to be able to weigh your options and do some research on how the offer stacks up. This is a negotiation, so be careful not to end it before it has even had a chance to start.
3. “That’s all you’re offering me?”
Never say this or anything else that will offend the employer. Don’t use any words that would sound demeaning or disrespectful. The employer may decide they don’t want you to work there after all because of the lack of respect you show them.
4. “But I’m willing to negotiate.”
Of course, you’re willing to negotiate, but you don’t want to negotiate against yourself! Most employers, except law firms with lock-step compensation systems, expect a counteroffer. A salary offer is a window of opportunity. Propose your number as a counteroffer and back it up by communicating your unique strengths and potential, and BE QUIET. Silence can be your weapon.
5. “I have other outstanding offers right now…”
A common salary negotiation trick is to tell the employer that they are not the only option you have. You may think it’s a good tactic to increase your value and to get a better deal, but it’s not. Equally tacky is to play other offers against the one on the table if you’re negotiating with a potential employer as a prospective new hire.
Even if it’s true, you shouldn’t play that card to pressure the employer. Only discuss the offer at hand. And if you don’t have another offer on the table, you’ll definitely want to avoid this tactic. If the hiring manager will ask you to elaborate it’ll be hard to save face.
6. “This is my final offer.”
This phrase sounds like a threat, and they typically close out the negotiation. If you say any of these things, and the demand is not met by the employer, the negotiation will be over and you’ll have to be prepared to walk away.
7. “I need …”
When trying to convince your potential employer to invest more money in you, you need solid reasons. You should never say you need X amount more because of expenses or debt. This reeks of desperation—not to mention the fact that discussing your personal issues is very unprofessional.
If you hang your hat on personal problems that don’t even relate to your job at all, you’re automatically at a disadvantage. Don’t mention personal reasons why you need money; salary negotiation is about your merit and the job fit.
8. “I found you offered John…”
Don’t use gossip in a salary negotiation — and never, ever compare yourself to others. First of all, it’s unprofessional and will make you look like a gossip hound. Second, it makes you look petty, especially because it’s possible John has more education than you, was a better negotiator during the interview process, or has proven himself a lot. But lastly, bringing another person into your salary negotiation shows immaturity. This is about your value and yours alone.
9. “My ‘bare minimum’ is…”
Once you provide a quick “bare minimum” requirement the floor is set for how low the company can go. You should qualify yourself if you feel like you are out of their price range, but only do so when they ask. If you tell them the parameters of the lowest offer your willing to take, that could be what you’ll get.
10. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask for…”
It might not be the easiest thing to ask for more money — but saying you are “sorry” it’s just a really terrible way to preface the negotiation.
Have confidence in yourself. If you know your value and what you’ll be bringing to the company, there will be no need to apologize for asking for more.
In negotiations, you’ll have to be willing to be flexible and provide counteroffers when the offer isn’t in line with what you are seeking. By saying “no” you could be quickly closing the door on the offer at hand.
Preparing in advance for salary negotiations will ensure that you’re fairly compensated for your hard work now and in the future. Be direct, polite, and concise while talking money to show that you are competent and a valued member of the team. Most of all, remember that you can always share more, but can never take something back once you say it.
For help with any question Legal Job Interview may pose stay tuned for The Law Firm Interview — a series exploring all aspects of the legal job interview process: