What's Going to Make You Walk Away from This Negotiation

Sometimes, you getting into a negotiation and they’re going to ask a question that translates into, “What’s the least you are going to take?”

Generally, there are two times in a 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 ask 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 are not negotiating yet. What they are trying to do is to find out the salary that would cause you to reject an offer. They really want to get as much as possible for you because the more you make, the more they make. There is mutual interest in you getting an offer for as much as possible.

So, hypothetically, 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 to join the staff of a firm ”

“It would have to be a really good job. $115, $116.”

At that point, you are not negotiating. What they’re trying to figure out our positions in their inventory of positions that might fit you in addition to the one that they contacted you about. They don’t want to waste time by coming back to you and proclaiming, “Good news! I got one at $105! What do you think?” It is a waste of time. In that situation, 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 if that’s relevant here. I want to do the best I can because, frankly, when I join, I don’t want to have reservations here.”

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

“I want to encourage you to do the best that you can because there are other alternatives I’m looking at right now that are good. Yours is good, too. I prefer joining yours and bringing this to a successful conclusion. But, at the end of the day, that number is 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, and locales where it is still legal, sometimes, they are going to say, “What are you currently earning?” and most of them are going to insist that you answer. 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. In many 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 positions are an exception because you can talk in terms of the current percentage that you receive and how much above quota you have been hitting. 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 deal for me. So, I just want to encourage you to make your strongest offer.” That’s the approach for salespeople.

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 of 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 properly as well as gives me great work to do.”

So, you don’t want to commit to a number at the meeting unless they come back at you a second time . . .  more likely a third time asking for it.

In locations where they cannot legally ask about your current salary but can ask about what you’re currently looking for, it’s important to do your homework in advance to understand what the market is for someone like you.

Even then, you try to avoid being specific with your answer.

“Based upon research I’ve done, I’m saying the market for someone like me is between $X and $Y in base salary plus bonus. I’m still early in the interview process and trying to assess what my actual value is. Initially, let’s work with that range but as I get further into the process, I will update you with what my thinking is. Is that okay?

“Where did you do your research?”

“I went to a few of the popular websites that provide salary data and from there to several people, I know in other organizations to corroborate it. We all agreed that the range offered in the sites was accurate but, specific to me in my knowledge, will let the market sorted out for us and confer later as I got further along in my interviews.”

“We need to know a number now.”

“Okay,” and then given the salary range from your earlier answer and leave it at that. Don’t justify it. Don’t explain it any further. The person is pressuring you is not the ultimate decision-maker. They are checking boxes. Focus on impressing the real decision-maker and the numbers will tend to fall in line.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020 



Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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