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Salary Negotiation: Make More Money, Be More Valued | Kalzumeus Software

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Imagine something a wee bit outside your comfort zone.  Nothing scandalous: just something you don’t do often, don’t particularly enjoy, and slightly more challenging than “totally trivial.”  Maybe reciting poetry while simultaneously standing on one foot.

If I told you I would pay you a hundred thousand dollars if you did five minutes of poetry recital while standing on one foot, would you do it?  It’s an absurd image, but play it straight.  There is no hidden gotcha here.  You won’t be videotaped.  Your friends will never see you make a fool of yourself.  The revolution will not be YouTubed.  The offer is exactly as simple as you think it is: poetry, foot, $100,000.

Would you read poetry for me?

Of course you would.  You’d be screamingly stupid not to.  In fact, not only would you read poetry, you’d probably take a poetry class to make sure you did it right, or go to the gym to verify “Yep, sure enough, I can stand on one foot.  Phew.  Pass me the Shakespeare.”  If you couldn’t stand on one foot, you’d fix that, because you know that is much easier than other things you routinely accomplish and you suddenly have a hundred thousand wonderful reasons to learn it, too.

What if you were talking about this at dinner with your friends, and one of them said “Oh, no, I’d never do that.  I just don’t do poetry.  I’m an engineer.  And besides, my father told me that people who stand on one foot look silly.  And what do I need $100,000 for anyhow?”  You would not clap them on the back and say “Damn straight!  Man, poets, always trying to tempt virtuous engineers into their weird poetry-spouting flamingo-standing ways.”  You’d say “Dude, it’s five minutes.  Heck, I’ll help you practice.”

This is pretty much how I feel every time I talk to my engineering friends about salary negotiation.  We overwhelmingly suck at it.  We have turned sucking at it into a perverse badge of virtue.  We make no affirmative efforts to un-suck ourselves and, to the extent we read about it at all, we read bad advice and repeat it, pretending that this makes us wise.

Dude, it’s five minutes.  Let’s un-suck your negotiation.

(New to the blog?  Hiya.  I generally write as an engineer for engineers.  Non-engineers can benefit from many of the same techniques, though the hiring market isn’t nearly as in your favor at the moment as it is for engineers in most major US metro areas.)

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