We get a lot of raised eyebrows when we tell our students and clients to anchor first and anchor high in salary negotiations. Our advice runs contrary to the gallons of ink spilled by those who caution that first anchors can augur your chances into the ground.
We say putting a number on the table focuses attention on your number, bends the light in your direction, and moves you closer to closing your personal wage gap.
Our students often push back saying, “But what if the salary range isn’t published and I ask for way too much? Won’t I look greedy? Won’t they laugh me out of the room?”
To wiggle your way through gasps of astonishment without capitulating, you have to back your number up with credible research and a thorough understanding of the position. So lots of preparation, including planning your moves and concessions. As we’ve written before, we all feel better about negotiation outcomes when we and our bargaining partners have made concessions. That means the person you’re sitting across the table from—whom you believe holds all the cards—will be much more satisfied with the conversation when you’ve both traded things of value.
Below is script to help you through a salary negotiation when you’ve anchored too high. Sara, the job seeker, is currently making $75K and she knows she’s being underpaid by at least 20 percent. Further, the position Sara is applying for is, on the surface, a lateral move. In truth, she has nothing to lose by anchoring high.
Because the potential gender blow back for being confident and “aggressive” is high, Sara errs on the side of matching her bargaining partner’s conversation style, and being “relentlessly pleasant.”
I’m starting in the middle of the conversation, assuming you’ve done all your research, and made your way through small talk and generalities.
HR: What are you looking for in terms of salary?
SARA: I’ve done quite a bit of research on your company as well as comparables for this position, and I believe I’m worth $100K.
HR: Your qualifications and experience are a great fit for us, but that’s unfortunately way out of our ballpark. I’m authorized to offer you $75K.
(This is where women usually say something like, “Okay, that was my bottom line anyway.”)
SARA: That’s quite a distance. What’s the thinking behind that number?
(Diagnostic, open-ended questions are your best friend. More about them here.)