Go Ahead — Make the First Salary Offer

How many times have you been in a job interview and come across the question about salary expectations?

Common wisdom tells us to not make the first offer, which is great on paper, but tends to lead to an impasse.  The hiring manager (or board, or President) doesn’t want to move first, in case you would have come in lower, and you don’t want to move first in case they would have come in higher.  Or worse, in case you’re out of the ballpark altogether!  So there you sit, in a polite standoff.  Well-dressed gunslingers sweating in the sun, each waiting for the other to flinch.

Sound familiar?

Let me help you out:  make the first offer, and make it aggressive.

Here’s why:


Every number after the first is going to relate back to that first offer.  The first number literally anchors the negotiation to that number.

The trick is to come in with a number that’s going to anchor you high enough to get what you want, while not having you thrown out of the building by security.

This is where ZOPA comes in (Zone of Possible Agreement — because acronyms make simple things seem technical).  ZOPA is simply that number that’s higher than the lowest you would accept while lower than the highest they would accept.  Here’s a diagram to make it simple:

You’re essentially on the Price is Right — get as close to the highest number as you can without going over.  Except, unlike the Price is Right, you have access to the information you need, if you’re willing to do the homework.  How do you find out what they’re willing to pay?  By following the advice of every job site to ever hit the internet:  Do your research!

  • Speak with the professional association serving your field in your area
  • Go to sites like Monster.com and check out their salary tools
  • Speak with a recruiting firm specializing in your field
  • Check out LinkedIn (but be careful — much of what you do there is available to your present and future employers!)
  • Heck, if you know someone at the company, you could even ask them if they could give you a range (again, careful with this one!)

The more information you have, the more willing you should be to make the first offer.  If you’ve done your homework, you already have a pretty good idea what their range looks like.  So anchor high.

Pro tip:  Anchoring above the ZOPA (but still within reason) is a powerful tactic, as it underlines the highest amount your counterpart is willing to offer.  In effect, it forces your counterpart to focus on that highest number as a measure of success in the negotiations, which suits you just fine.  Of course, anchor too high, and your counterpart may very well decide there’s no point in moving forward, so be careful when you employ this tactic.

Of course, the WHEN of your offer is important as well.  You don’t want to talk numbers before they’re fairly comfortable you’re a good fit.  Try this:

“Don’t worry, I’ll be happy to be the first to propose a number as soon as we’re both comfortable that we’re a fit.  I’d like to know a bit more about the position and the company goals, and I’m sure you’ll want to know a bit more about me, before we get down to details.  If everything else looks good, I’m sure we’ll have no trouble getting to a number.”


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