Job Negotiations, FBI Style

Job Negotiations, FBI Style

Up for a raise? When it comes time to negotiate, ask not what your company can do for you but what you can do for your company.

That’s the advice, in sum, of former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, who applies his hostage-saving techniques to high-stakes negotiations in the business world. Fortune 500 companies hire Voss through his consulting firm, The Black Swan Group, for help with complex negotiations. Expanding beyond big business to address everyone from car buyers to job applicants, Voss has written a book about his tactics titled "Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It" (Harper Business, 2016).

A raise does not mean the difference between life and death, to be sure, but it certainly can seem as though your life depends on a pay increase. Maybe there’s a baby on the way or a growing stack of medical bills. Nevertheless, it’s a bad idea to calculate the raise you need and sit down at the negotiating table raring to haggle. Discussing salary right off the bat is akin to "taking yourself hostage," Voss says, because a raise does not equal advancement.

"You can get paid well in a dead-end job but only up to a point," he says.    

Instead of talking about money, you should try to secure opportunities for growth and long-term success. Ask to be more involved in projects "that are critical to the strategic goals of the company," Voss recommends.


Another question Voss recommends to kick off the conversation is, "How can I be more actively involved in the company’s future prosperity?"

Without broaching the subject of salary, "This instantly increases your value in your employer’s eyes," Voss says, because it shows you are invested in the company’s success as well as your own. In the long run, this strategy could boost your salary by more than a few percentage points; you may blast into a higher salary bracket through promotions or increased marketability.

If your boss takes the cue and starts telling you how to become more involved and visible in the company, you’ve gained an edge – and an advocate. "By offering advice, the boss has become personally invested in you and your success," Voss says.

Focusing on "salary terms" is shortsighted, Voss says, whereas "broadening the discussion to what I call success terms gives you a roadmap to get to a better place."

Of course, salary must come up eventually. Always have a range in mind, not just a number, Voss says. If you know the salary you want (say, $50,000), put it at the bottom of the range, not the middle. If you ask for $49,000 to $51,000 hoping to meet in the middle, the employer will jump on $49,000. And since you’ve indicated that’s acceptable to you, the negotiations screech to a halt.

It’s even better if you can get the employer to give a range first by saying, "It seems like you have a range in mind," followed by silence, Voss says.

However you feel about your employer’s range, it’s a wise move to follow up with, "It seems like you have reasons for that range," Voss says.

You then gain an understanding of those reasons and an opportunity to address real or perceived obstacles to giving you the raise you want. You will also get an idea from your boss’s response how firm or negotiable the offer is.


One tactic Voss likes to use once negotiations are underway is mirroring, or repeating as a question the last one to three words your employer has just said. If the boss says, "We’re prepared to offer you $85,000," for example, you’d say in response, "$85,000?"  

The boss may come back with, "Take it or leave it." Or she may say, "Well, what did you have in mind?" Her response gives you a better idea where you stand.

Although the negotiating process is adversarial, to the person sitting across from you, you’re more than just an adversary. As long as you’re employed there, you are also a company ambassador. Your behavior at the negotiating table suggests to your employer how you will represent the company.

"They don’t want you to be a jerk," says Voss, "but they don’t want you to be a pushover, either. They want you to hold strong to your position, and they want you to be nice about it."

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