Right now, employers hold most of the cards in salary negotiations.  Websites like WorkforceManagement.com and HR.com point out that now is the time to get top-notch talent for relative bargain prices.

“Relative” is the key word here.  Because most employers know that people who accept pay well below their desired salary will end up resentful and will leave the moment the economy recovers.  The cost of replacing that person probably far exceeds that of giving them the extra $10-40K more initially.  Not all employers are smart, of course, so it behooves you to know  YOUR “live with” salary level.

A salary you can live with is one that:

  • Meets your minimum financial needs
  • Allows you to feel self-respect
  • Frees you to engage in the work itself
  • Enables you to work someplace without a huge chip on your shoulder and an escape plan in your back pocket

I suggest to people that they tell potential employers that they have a salary range, from their “live with” or “must have” minimum to a “want to have” or “desired” salary.  If the employer can’t do the minimum, then it’s not the right opportunity for you.  Period.  Move on.  Don’t waste any more of your time or the employer’s.

If the employer can meet the minimum but not the top amount, I suggest saying “what’s the best you can do?”  There always is asking when there could be a salary review, as well as exploring other forms of compensation (e.g. equity stake, more vacation, deferred comp, bonuses, retirement matches, education allowance, commuter subsidy, full health insurance coverage for you and your family, a contract for at least a year with a promise of severance…).

People who do have jobs have some leverage even in this economy, because you will be taking a risk by switching jobs.  The employer needs to meet you in negotiations.  If they don’t, you might hold it against them.

If it doesn’t matter to you whether they grant any of your requests, then no worries.  Understand, however, that this is indicative of their attitude toward employees and will carry through into the workplace.  Everything in the interview process is a source of information about what your work experience will be like at that company.