The 10 Commandments of Executive Salary Negotiation

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Let’s get right to it.

Thou Shalt Study The Fundamentals

Negotiation boils down to information and timing.

Three things can greatly impact the best negotiation approach:

1. The direct information that you voluntarily share online.

2. The direct information that you receive through research or conversation.

3. The timing of when this information is known.

Indirect information, such as market data, perception of role, industry benchmarks, physical location, and other factors will also influence your outcome.

Study the fundamentals before engaging in any interview or screening process with a recruiter, hiring manager, or even a buddy bringing you into a new opportunity.

Thou Shalt Not Share Salary Expectations

Never be so sure of your worth that you wouldn’t accept more. I’ve seen a trend where companies are aggressively asking for salary expectations up front—and they typically don’t pay very well.

Of course this is subjective and relative, but executive roles that top 7 figures don’t play this game until the offer stage. If you hope to be in the upper percentile, you need to politely deflect and wait for them to make an offer or until you’ve collected more information and context about the reality of your role.

Thou Shalt Love Thy Competition

Being a leading executive is often an isolating and lonely experience. Many executives choose to build big walls and block out the world to avoid getting burned. A walls-up demeanor squelches growth, whether you like it or not.

Build a small support council of peers, mentors, and career advisors to collect even more information about your market. We’re in this together.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Competition’s Job

The grass is not greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it. While we can inform what’s fair from our competition, other executives, and advisors, your circumstances are unique to you. Nobody can determine what your time and freedom is worth except for you.

As such, set your own career benchmarks and don’t let society deem what you can and can’t do—or how you should spend your time. Sometimes the answer is negotiating less and living more.

Thou Shalt Not Spill The Beans

The biggest mistake that executives make, even when they are “walls-up” is that they overshare the wrong information. Oftentimes they don’t understand that sharing work that they are proud of, or think is impressive, may not leave the same impression on others.

In fact, oversharing can be used against them negatively, depending on the future role they are positioning themselves toward.

You must be diligently mindful about how you present your narrative to position yourself for the role that you want—not necessarily more of the same. If you talk too much about the past, you invite similar opportunities. If you talk instead about future ambitions and the path to get there, you invite new and transformational opportunities.

Thou Shalt Mine Even More Information

Knowledge is the lynchpin of negotiation success. Researching an organization, their history, their product, public reports, content, PR, reviews, competition, customers, and current (and former) staff is in fact both annoyingly time-consuming and mission-critical to know what you’re getting into and how to best position your negotiation.

Managers and Directors can skirt by half-assing this. Executives cannot. 

Thou Shalt Read Between The Lines

Everyone wears their Sunday best during an interview. It’s on you to ask deeply challenging and open-ended questions to dig at the reality of the scenario you’re getting yourself into.

Deceit or nervous deflection when presenting hard questions is a red flag indication that you’re dealing with an immature team.

Thou Shalt Be The G.O.A.T

If information and timing is the law of negotiation, then supply and demand is the law of microeconomics. When it comes to paving the way for—getting your way—understanding that you are the best person to overcome a challenge greatly sways the momentum in your favor.

Mastering the interview process will create distance between you and others competing with you. You must work to position yourself as the leading candidate and tactfully mine intel about other candidates as appropriate.

Be direct and ask, “Why do you think I stood out amongst the others?” This intel will come in handy as you learn about where you stand and how to finalize the deal.

Thou Shalt Be Time’s Puppeteer

Controlling the timing and the cadence of how opportunities come to fruition elevates your negotiation skills to expert levels. Not only do you win the deal—but you win the deal at the exact time that works best for you.

Organizations take months to prepare for a new role, farm candidates, conduct interviews, and debrief with trusted members of their team. They have the most information and power to make the decision. Then an offer is made to you and you’re often expected to make a decision in 24-48 hours. Not so fast.

Be patient and slow the process down. Collect more information about the company—or from other competing companies that you’re assessing. Tactfully drip information to competing offers to control the cadence of when you finalize a deal and use that intel to drive your value up.

You’re a supply of one and the demand is high. Illustrate it. 

Thou Shalt Never Show Thy Hand

No matter how well you did in a negotiation, never tell the other party you would have settled for less or gloat in emotional victory. In golf, the follow-through is a critical reflection of how good a shot it was. Your work isn’t over with a signed contract, it’s just beginning.

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