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EP 1217 How to answer questions about your “rock bottom” number.

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Sometimes, you getting into a negotiation with someone and they're going to ask a question that translates into, “what's the least you are going to take?” Now, the two times in job search where you might be asked this question-- The first one is you’re talking to a recruiter, not a corporate recruiter but an agency recruiter. They may asking about your “drop-dead price” or “rock-bottom base salary, exclusive of bonus that you might find acceptable to join the staff of a firm?” There, I would answer the question. Here's why.

In that stage, you not really negotiating, but what they are trying to do is to find out the salary . . . They really want to get you as much as possible. The more you make, the more they make. There is a mutual interest there. So, (I’ll use a hypothetical example), if you say “I make 100K and I am looking for no less than 115K, you tell them that you are looking for 120K.

“What would you say the rock-bottom base salary is, exclusive of bonus, you would find acceptable?”

“It would have to be a really good job. $115, $116.” At that point, you are not negotiating but they're going to find out, in effect, positions in their inventory of positions that they learn about. They don’t want to come back to you and say, “good news! I got one at $105! What do you think?” it's a waste use of their time. There, be courteous.

When you get into the real negotiation when the offer is about to be made, sometimes, you are going to hear that question from the client, from the company, from the employer and they’re going to ask, “okay, so, I don’t know if we can hit your number. What’s going to make you walk away?”

“I don’t know that that's really relevant here. I want to do the best I can because, frankly, when I join, I don’t want to have second doubts here.”

“Oh, we are going to do our best to meet that but I’m not sure we can.”

“I want to encourage you do the best that you can because there are other alternatives I'm looking at right now. They’re real good; yours is really good. I prefer joining yours and bringing this to a successful conclusion. But, at the end of the day, that number is really irrelevant to the equation.”

So, you avoid answering the question because immediately they start zeroing in on that bottom number and it's hard to get above it. So duck the answer.

When you meet with an employer, sometimes, they are going to say, “what are you currently earning?” and most of them are going to insist that you answer. Now, I know that's there is a philosophy that says that's kind of irrelevant here. In sales, you might be able to get away with that, but in most professions, you really can't. Most jobs, you really can't because employers work based upon a formula on top of the current salary and frankly, they are going to throw you out. Sales is the exception because you can talk in terms of the current percentage that you receive and how much above quota and you can talk about what your total comp has been the last couple of years. Sometimes, you can say, “at the end of the day, I have always gotten more than my share by a lot. So, I want to bring that revenue producing goal to you. And if you come in too cheap, respectfully, I'm going to go to someone who's got a great product and a better. So, I just want to encourage you to make the strongest offer.” That's the approach for sales people.

For the typical employer, you might just simply say, “this is what I'm currently earning and I wanted a great job with a great organization that can compensate me fairly. I'm still doing my research about what the right number is for what I do but I just encourage you, at the end the day, if you decide I’m the right person for you and I decide this is the right opportunity for me, I just want to encourage you to make your strongest offer because I know other people are going to do that. I want to join an organization that values me well as well as getting me great work.”

So, you want to not necessarily commit to a number at the meeting unless they come back at you a second time, more likely a third time.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1200 episodes, “Job Search Radio,” “and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
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