How to Negotiate Your Salary Like an FBI Agent

During a job search, candidates must adopt the skills of many professions. You analyze the job market like a research scientist, craft a resume like a best-selling author and network like a seasoned politician. There’s also an occupation to emulate at the crucial moment when salary is discussed: FBI Hostage Negotiator.

Imagine the HR director sitting across from you is a lunatic in a bank vault with 10 hostages. Instead of demanding millions and a private jet, he’s guarding the spreadsheet containing the payroll budget.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation publication “Crisis Intervention: Using Active Listening Skills in Negotiations,” outlines a few techniques to effectively bring a positive outcome in such negotiations: Using minimal encouragement, paraphrasing, mirroring and pausing the conversation, among others.

So let’s say the HR person says, “We think you’re a great fit for the job, and we’d like to offer you a starting salary of $75,000.” Say something like: “I see. So you’re saying that the salary for this position would be $75,000.” Then be silent.

In doing so, you’ve listened attentively, paraphrased what the interviewer has said, mirrored back the last few words, and left an effective pause in the conversation to allow the interviewer to fill the gap. Most people hate awkward silence in conversation, and will rush to fill it, and what can happen in this scenario is they fill it with a higher offer.

Here are three other ways to negotiate your salary using F.B.I. tactics:

Gather information: Upon arriving at the scene, a good agent will immediately assess the situation. In your case, your preparation must take place long before the standoff. You’ll need a firm understanding of exactly what your skills are worth for this position. You can do so by asking colleagues and contacts in your network and researching salary data on sites.

Build trust: In order to have a favorable negotiation, you need to be seen as a credible source. You do this by building rapport with the other person, actively listening to their proposal, understanding their position and being prepared with supporting data for your side of the argument. When both parties can review third party industry data, it creates less of a “you vs. me” confrontation.

Stay calm: No matter how crazy the situation gets, a hostage negotiator always remains calm, upbeat and positive. The same goes for salary discussions. Even if you find out that your co-worker is getting paid $20,000 more for doing the same job (believe me, it happens), storming into your boss’ office and demanding a raise or threatening to quit will rarely give you the desired outcome. Talking about money can be tense, stressful and emotional but remember, this is a business transaction.

If you succeed in your role as the wily FBI negotiator, by end of the standoff, everyone is happy, no one gets shot, and you get your fair share of that budget.

by JIM HOPKINSON /WSJ

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