You get what you ask for. This applies especially to job pay.

One of the things I develop with my clients is a Must Have List for what you must have to be happy at your job. There are six items on it, one of which is compensation. All of the things are important, yet over time, a few things surface as most important. The three that usually are top of the list for people are culture, skills you’ll use, and compensation.

I recommend that people come up with a range of compensation, specifically for base pay. The range consists of a “live with” number and a “want to get” number. While compensation also includes bonuses, benefits, hours etc., it is usually the base pay that causes the most psychological problems for job candidates and that counts on head count and budgets for employers. So base pay is the number that matters.*

  • The “live with” number is exactly that: I can live with this pay, because it covers my basic necessities plus enough more for me to feel satisfied and not resentful/wanting to keep looking for another job.
  • The “want to get” number is the figure that will help you feel really valued and valuable.

Do this exercise:

  • What number came in your head when you read “live with” number? Write it down.
  • What number came into your head when you read “want to get” number? Write it down.

That’s your range.

When you get an offer, you will use this range to negotiate. Here are three scenarios that could arise.

1. The minimum (“live with”) is more than the employer wants to pay. This is simple:  you DON’T take the job.

Sample script:  “I would love to work for you, but I can’t afford to take less than [insert your “live with” number]. Is there any way you can increase the pay? Perhaps I can work fewer hours for the higher rate? With my experience and skills, I know I’ll deliver what you want within that amount of time.”

If the employer still says no, then it’s clearly not the “right fit” for either of you, and particularly for you.

2.  Your minimum is the same as what the employer is paying. You can accept the job in good conscience, especially if you really like the job, company, culture, purpose, etc.  And you can try to get more later.

Sample script:  “I’m delighted to accept and join your team! I’m really excited about the job. I know you understand that the pay is at my minimum and  I was hoping to make closer to my previous compensation of $xxx. Would you (be able to increase)(consider increasing) my pay after I’ve proved myself in the first 3 months?”

If you accept the job at that pay level, be aware that you are doing so. It is not the employer’s fault that you accepted pay below what you really wanted. So be very, very sure that you won’t get resentful very soon. If you will get resentful, then the figure you used as the bottom of your range is NOT your “live with” number. Revise it upwards. 

3. The pay is above your minimum and within your range. Again, it’s simple. You take the job! Get clarity about whether there are annual increases, what the criteria are for bonuses and what the bonus could be, and benefits.

* one exception to this rule is for sales people, who usually are paid a combination of base pay plus commission. I recommend coming up with two ranges: one for base pay, and one for base pay plus commission.  Usually there is some outside limit to how much commission you can make, so find out what the history is and the potential.