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Let’s Talk About Money: How to Get the Salary You Deserve

Man throwing money

Salaries, Negotiations, and Legality – Oh My!


Ah, money – everyone needs it, and most people hate talking about it.

I’d always been a little curious why the subject of money made people so uncomfortable: the awkward silences, the refusal to talk about salaries, etc. Perhaps I was raised differently in Canada, but money was openly discussed and asking how much people made wasn’t so taboo; salaries weren’t privileged information carefully cloaked in secrecy.

Having now been in the US for eight long years, I understand it. I’ve seen first-hand how companies quell any salary talk, lest employees question why a new hire makes $5 more per hour than them. I’ve been in interviews where neither my interviewer nor I wanted to put down the first number, for fear of anchoring. And I’ve had close friendships where we knew nothing about each other’s financial situations, other than the occasional, “Hey, can you spot me? I’m a little short this week.”

We’ve been acting like squirrels hiding our most precious nuts for far too long – and I’m glad to see the tide shifting to a more transparent one. Indeed, larger companies like Whole Foods, for example, have instituted salary transparency policies in a valiant attempt to foster a culture of trust: everyone is on the same playing field – no advantages for doing the same work. And, while not the main purpose, it had the huge bonus of girding the gender pay gap at the company.

With this out of the way, you’re probably here because you have questions about money in a workplace context – and, as always, we’re here to help.

You mentioned ‘anchoring’ – what is that?

Anchor on sea floorAnchoring is a term used in salary negotiations. It’s the belief that whoever lays down the first number is now ‘anchored’ to that number. For example, if an interviewer asks me how much I want and I say $70,000, they will negotiate from there. They may offer me $65,000 and hope I’ll say yes, but they definitely won’t go out of their way to offer me $95,000 since it’s so far away from what I anchored myself to.

It can go the other way, as well. Let’s say my interviewer throws out the first number at $95,000. Even though I only expected maybe $70,000, now that I know they will offer me that much more, I go from the $95,000 they anchored themselves to – I don’t willingly offer to take $70,000 because that’s what I thought the salary range would be.

What’s a ‘drop dead’ number?

Your drop dead number is the very lowest you’ll take. If you’re currently making $55,000 and you’re considering switching to a different job, what will it take for you to move? Is it $70,000? If so, assume you’ll be offered less when you interview, and add a bit of padding when giving that number to your interviewer. Chances are, they’ll try to negotiate that down a little bit, so you don’t want to give them your drop dead number and then be disappointed when they go lower.

Here’s an example. My hypothetical drop dead rate is $70,000. When my interviewer asks me what I want to make, I say $80,000. That way, if they try to talk me down to $75,000, I can happily accept that, knowing it’s over my drop dead number. Everyone gets a bit of wiggle room to negotiate that way, and you end up with a salary slightly above what you were hoping for.

When do I bring up money in an interview?

Lineup of candidates waiting to interviewThat depends. Are you working with a third-party recruiter? If so, it’s ok to talk money in detail. In fact, when recruiters submit you to a client, it’s usually with a desired rate, so talking money is encouraged. Nobody wastes time that way.

If you’re working with a company directly, it’s ok to ask for a range to make sure you’re both good fits for each other, but don’t negotiate quite yet. Timing is crucial. It’s not a good look to come in guns blazing about how you’ll take $X salary. Firstly, it’s presumptuous: it basically assumes that you think you’re a front-runner. Secondly, it can be perceived as in bad taste and money-obsessed. Even if that’s not the case, that’s how it can be received. So, save in-depth salary talk until you’re a couple interviews in, when you actually are a front-runner, and you’ll be golden.

What do I say if an interviewer asks me how much I’m making?

There’s been a huge debate on if this question is ethical because it can deeply contribute to the anchoring problem – which, if you think about it, makes no sense. How much you made at a prior company should have no bearing on how much you actually deserve to make, especially if you were underpaid before. This question also contributes to the continuation of the gender pay gap.

The good part is, since it’s been such a hot button issue for so long, some states / cities have made it illegal to ask. Here’s a regularly updated list of locations that have banned salary history questions.

If your area is unfortunately not yet part of this list, it’s ok to answer like this: “I’d prefer to discuss my salary history and current salary requirements when I have a better understanding of this job’s scope of work.” Or, “I currently make $X, but I feel this salary is low for my experience, education, and skills. Moving forward, I will only consider jobs in the $X to $Y range.

I got a job offer, but it’s not what I expected. How can I negotiate effectively?

Tiny bags of moneySo you talked salary, but the company offered you less than you had discussed. You may feel disappointed and as if you have no recourse, but take heart: it’s ok to ask for more. Let’s take the moral quandary of being lowballed aside and focus on the good: negotiation is expected by employers.

Send your interviewer an email and outline how grateful you are for the offer, but that the salary isn’t what you expected. Here’s a quick script you can use:

Dear [Hiring Manager],

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for offering me the position of [job title]. I am very excited to join the team.

After carefully reviewing your offer, I was wondering if there is any leeway when it comes to compensation. I have researched market rates and find [your desired salary] to be more in line with my experience, skills, accomplishments, and cost-savings I would bring to the company.

Can we jump on a call today to discuss compensation?

Thank you again,

[your name]

For more negotiation tips and thoughts, read our article How to Negotiate Your Job Offer – it might help you realize if the offer’s total compensation is something you can live with, or if it’s simply not the right fit for you at all.

Got another money question burning a hole in your pocket? Message us at and we’ll help you out!


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