Your current or most recent salary is a strong anchor in the minds of prospective employers. If you’re going for a similar job and your current salary is a healthy one, this “anchor effect” is a good thing — it gives you a floor from which you can negotiate. But as an experienced professional, you are likely to have more complex work/life needs that put you in situations where your next salary won’t resemble your current one. If you’re making a career change; moving from a big company to an entrepreneurial venture; or moving from middle management up to the executive level or back down to an individual contributor, your most reasonable salary might be much higher or lower than what you’ve earned before. The only problem: Your past salary is confusing to a prospective employer.
Here are three steps to take when you want to negotiate a salary dramatically different from your earning history:
Change the Anchor
Just as in buying or selling a house, the best anchor is the competitive set for the job you’re interviewing for, not your old job. Get data on what similar companies are paying for the role. (Guidestar has information on nonprofits, and Salary, Payscale, Getraised and Glassdoor have data on for-profit companies.) Keep in mind that salaries are hyper-local, so data is only relevant if it matches the company and role closely. It is unlikely that any aggregated data source will have reliable data, but it gives you a starting range that you can then use to verify with informational interviews. If the employer tries to focus on your former salary, remind him that if you’re taking on a different role, talking about your salary history is like comparing apples to oranges. This tactic worked well for one of my mid-career clients, who negotiated a 50 percent raise when she moved from a senior management role in one non-profit to an executive role at another. She knew what other non-profits paid executives, and though she had disclosed her former salary, she was able to change her anchor from her current, much lower salary to the competitive pay for the new position.
Negotiate the Role, Not the Offer
Stay focused on the responsibilities a new job entails and quantify the value your success would bring to the company. During the interview, get as much information as you can on what you’ll be expected to accomplish in the first 30, 60, 90, 120 and 365 days. Knowing the full value of your impact will help you get the most competitive offer.