How to Beat the Used Car Salesmen of Salary Negotiation

by Staff - Original publish date: February 27, 2013

There are many hard and fast rules that a job-seeker can learn when preparing for a salary negotiation. For example, having the right mindset, the importance of doing research, and keeping compensation numbers open-ended, speaking in terms of salary ranges vs. naming a specific number.

However, one of the more difficult aspects of negotiating a job offer is adapting your approach based on the personality of the person you are dealing with.

There are three phases that you must master:

  1. Develop a negotiation mindset and learn the tips and techniques
  2. Practice and role play with someone to simulate the conversation
  3. Adapt your approach on the fly after assessing the personality of your opponent

While there are 100s of personalities that you will come across in any job, today we’ll focus on the two extremes.

The Hotel Manager
In this analogy, picture the new company you are getting ready to work for as if you were about to check into one of your favorite hotels. You’ve already decided on the industry you’ll be working in (where the hotel is located), have done your research on the level of responsibility you’ll have (the star level of the hotel), and that the people and the job are a good fit (the hotel has great service and amenities). All that needs to be done is to finalize the rate (salary) and other details (benefits).

Most hiring managers or people in HR are a lot like a hotel manager. They want the hotel to succeed and make a profit, but their most important goal is to make sure your stay there goes as smoothly as possible and that everyone is happy.

If someone walks in off the street and wants a hotel room, they might be told, “Hello and welcome! We have an excellent room with a Queen bed on the 5th floor for $299 a night. We have a free gym, continental breakfast, and checkout is at 10am.”

For the vast majority of people -- the non-negotiators -- they simply accept the room, have a pleasant stay, and are none the wiser. This will also pertain to most of the people at your work. They were happy to get the job, heard the details, and accepted.

But experienced negotiators know to ask for more. A seasoned traveler might have spent considerable time researching on a site such as TripAdvisor, and talking to other people in their network that have stayed in the same area.

According to their research, the floors in the middle part of the hotel have a courtyard view and can be quite noisy, and the hotel often gives their loyal customers a complimentary spa session. You also know the hotel’s competitor is offering a $249/night special, and your flight home isn’t until 2pm the day you check out.

The hotel manager knows they have some leeway, and wants you to be happy. They are able to quickly agree on the things that are easy for them to do, like offering you a King size bed on the 14th floor with a river view, and allowing you to check out at noon. They politely explain that their spa is now independently run, so are unable to meet your request of a free session. And they meet you halfway on the price, giving you an 8% discount on the room at $275/night.

I’m sure you can make the connection here. Bringing back the analogy to your job, you might hear, “We think you’re a great fit and would like to offer you a position. You’ll be a senior manager at $79,000 per year, have access to our health plan, 401(k), gym reimbursement, 2 weeks vacation, and an annual performance review.”

Having done your research, spoken with other people in your network, and knowing that the hiring manager has some leeway, you make your counter-offer (perhaps your “competing hotel” is another pending job offer). You request a title of Assistant Director, a salary in the $80-$90,000 range, 3 weeks vacation, and a 6 month review.

Much like a hotel manager knows the value of keeping their key customers happy over the long term, HR knows that you are the company’s top candidate in a competitive market, so are willing to make some concessions.

They offer an 8% raise to $85,000, agree to 3 weeks vacation, and say that while the job title will remain at senior manager, they agree to have a performance review at 6 months to discuss your progress toward director level.

Your approach:

  • Match their level of hospitality and show a willingness to work together
  • However, make it clear that you’ve done your research and are looking to negotiate due to being a top candidate
  • Know that they have the ability to make adjustments on their side within reason – much like the hotel would not be able to drop the rate to $99, it’s unlikely they will bump their salary offer from $79k up to $125k

The Car Salesman
A more difficult hiring manager personality to deal with is the “Car Salesman.” Whereas the main goal of the Hotel Manager is to make you happy, the main goal of the car salesman is to keep as much money as possible.

I’m not going to go as far as calling them "evil." After all, if you were the CEO of a company, wouldn’t you want someone like this in your corner? Payroll costs are a huge percentage of a corporate budget, so if management has the opportunity to have a pit bull within HR that knows every negotiation trick in the book, and fights hard to keep salaries low, that can be a competitive advantage for the company.

A car salesman might try to dismiss your research, use negotiation techniques to their advantage ("I need to check with my manager"), and if he doesn’t have the base model in white that you really wanted, you’re probably going to hear about the RS model in gray that is sitting on his showroom floor.

Your approach:

  • While you might feel intimidated and perhaps even bullied, keep calm and maintain an even keel throughout your discussions
  • Know what’s important to you; If the salary (or a 2-seater convertible) isn’t enough to support your family, don’t be distracted by other perks being offered
  • Be aware of negotiation tactics. Car salesman were famous for leaving potential buyers alone for large chunks of time, making them tired, nervous, and bored enough to give in to a deal. Solution? Bring a book you love reading and some snacks to keep your energy up. Although you might not be able to match the pros in their mind games, knowing they are happening is a good first step.
  • Stick by your data. If you’re confident in your research and have supporting evidence, refer back to it.
  • Lastly, it’s key to remember that although you might grow annoyed, frustrated, or angry with the hiring manager sitting across from you, they are doing their job and after the process is over you might not need to deal with them again. What’s more important is getting along with your future boss and co-workers that you will see on a day-to-day basis.

To summarize, it’s important to take the skills and practice you’ve learned and adapt it to the personality of the hiring manager. If you do so successfully, you might just negotiate enough of a bonus to afford a new car or upgrade to the penthouse suite.