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  • Writer's pictureScott Munden

The Art of Salary Negotiations: It’s a Tango, Not a Tangle

Salary negotiation in Private Service is always a bit of a dance. And in that dance, you don’t want to step on the toes of your dance partner. The intent of this article is to identify some best practices and strategies to assist individuals avoid stomping on toes. Some people need guidance, while others have negotiation skills worthy of a United Nations diplomat. This article is addressed to the former group.

As is the case in so many areas, Private Service is different from the corporate world (and, for that matter, The United Nations too). While some practices are acceptable in business, they don’t necessarily translate to working in a private home. Salary negotiation is one such area.

Before any person starts the process of negotiating a salary, it is essential that they know their worth.

Individuals should go through a process of realistic self-assessment that takes into account experience, education, skill set, and what they have to offer a prospective employer. Part of the self-assessment includes asking how badly they want the job. It is an important question, and an applicant needs to decide whether they are willing to walk away from a less-than-satisfactory deal. Not all of us hold such an advantageous position. For those who don’t, they will want to tailor their salary “ask” accordingly.

This process of self evaluation is always done in the context of lots of research. Any person entering into salary negotiation, MUST know the labour market in which they work. That includes knowing salary ranges that take into account years of experience in the field as well as regional variations that include variables like cost of living.

When researching salaries, make sure that you are comparing apples with apples. For example, a friend who earns a high 6-figure salary might have been in the position for many years and started out at a modest pay rate. They are not the best benchmark for an individual beginning a job. So be careful about playing the comparison game and pay attention to those variables.

There is an expression in business that goes “the person who is first to name the price, loses.”

For the most part, I think it is a valid saying. So, try to get as much background as you can. If you are working with a Recruiter, be direct, and ask them the salary range and family’s comfort zone. If you aren’t working with a Recruiter, there is nothing disrespectful about asking an employer what the position pays and what they have paid in the past. Being direct is a strength. You might not get a straight answer to your question, but if you are smart and paying attention, I’m fairly confident that you’ll recognize some sort of “tell,” to borrow a poker term.

Whatever you do during negotiations, DO NOT talk about YOUR financial needs. The employer simply will not care and this is not a judgement of them. It’s important to keep in mind that a salary negotiation is part of a business transaction. While your needs matter to you and your family, they will not matter to a business-minded employer and you will come across as unprofessional if you start to itemize your financial requirements. Needless to say, this is not a good thing. So, stick to the facts that matter, which is to say, focus on what you have to offer. Keep your student loan burden to yourself.

Furthermore, be very familiar with the job description and the scope of the employer’s expectations. Know their objectives. What are their hopes and desires that they expect will be satisfied by the person who occupies the position? Know their wants. Know their aches. And then be prepared to back up your “ask” with solid examples that deliver the message that employing you is the tonic to their aches. If you are successful in delivering that message, suddenly former budget restraints become elastic and expansive. I’ve seen it happen over and over during my 25-years in this business.

Here are a few other tips:

  • A base salary can be improved upon via benefits. Be prepared to ask for these. There is opportunity here for give and take on both sides. Also, be aware of tax implications. For example, a relocation lump sum - while alluring on the surface - will be taxed heavily in most jurisdictions. It might make more sense to include relocation costs in your salary request. By doing this, relocation becomes a tax deduction in many parts of the world.

  • Often employers will try to lowball you. It’s expected. Stay strong, but remain vigilant. You need to know when you’ve reached that deal-breaker point. It does exist. Then you have a decision to make. Do you want the job as presented, or do you cut bait, and move on?

  • It doesn’t hurt to drop subtle hints that you are an “in demand commodity,” although I wouldn't use those words. Popularity breeds popularity. It makes employers want you that much more. Keep in mind, however, that the hint needs to be dropped discreetly. No employer likes a braggart.

  • If you’ve met with the Family, pay attention to how they react to you. If they like you, they will want you.

  • Don’t be greedy. Be realistic.

  • Wait for the right time to discuss salary. Naming numbers in the early stage is always a mistake. Meet the family. Establish your credentials. Get them to like you. Learn the scope of the position. Salary negotiation in Private Service usually comes towards the end of the hiring process. Candidates might not like this, but it’s the way the game works.

  • Don’t be afraid to counter. Do not accept an offer immediately. Take your time with it and remain in communication with the employer or their representative.

  • Don’t take insulting offers personally. It’s just an offer and not a judgement on you as a professional. Politely decline. Remember that the world of UHNWIs is a small one. Your reputation matters. If you handle the process of declining properly, who knows what will follow? Good things I imagine.

  • Once you feel a deal has been struck, make sure to say that you look forward to receiving a formal offer of employment… Translation? Get it in writing!

The outcome of a successful salary negotiation is one in which both parties are happy. If one side feels gouged or the other feels short-changed, the relationship is not off to a healthy start. Balance is good if the employee / employer relationship is to flourish.

In short, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared to walk away from a proposal. Some offers of employment simply aren’t worth it. Some jobs aren’t worth it. The decision might hurt in the short-term, but you will pat yourself on the back in the long-term.

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