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2 Steps to Sun Tzu Your Salary Negotiations

By |October 12, 2015


Sun Tzu's The Art of War presents two principles that I teach my students and clients to use in salary negotiations. 
  1. “Attack where he is unprepared.”
  2. “Subdue the enemy without fighting”.

One of the my MBA students used this strategy to get her job and take an incredible step forward with her new employer – leapfrogging all of the others hired at the same time as her.  She effectively got an unfair head start.

1. “Attack where he is unprepared.”

The key to this is asking a question that’s appropriate for the context, different enough to really catch their attention and begins to map out your success.

The question she used sounds a lot like “What are you looking for in a prospective employee/new hire?” (which is the advice offered by every career/job placement advisor on the planet) but was not.   

The first and biggest problem with “What are you looking for in a prospective employee/new hire?” is that asking a question that everyone else asks makes you sound just like everyone else.  You distinguish yourself in no way.  You ask an expected question – you get an expected response.  They don’t think about you in a new way.  You attack the situation where they are prepared. You are forgettable.

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Here’s what she asked instead:

“What does it take to be successful here?”

One of the members of the interview panel leaned forward and literally said, “No one ever asked us that before.”  He then proceeded to outline in specific detail what it took to be successful.  My student was offered the job.

Later, one of the other members of the interview panel told my student that the man who leaned forward and answered the question was famous in the company for never saying a word in the job interviews.  He was well regarded and preferred observing and assessing candidates, then sharing his insights only with the other members of the panel.  They were stunned he spoke up.

2. “Subdue the enemy without fighting”

The secondary critical issue here “Subdue the Enemy Without Fighting” is that by answering the question, this existing leader in the company now had a stake in my student’s success.  She had recruited her first mentor without having to fight the typical battles necessary to find a mentor.  He would be there watching her, first to see if she followed his advice, and secondly to be there to offer adjustments and help if she did.  He was vested in the advice exactly because he had so rarely given it.

Among the many things your prospective colleagues want to know about you is will you be smart enough to ask questions of the right people and even smarter still, will you listen to the answers?  If your prospective employer has thought enough of someone to place them on your interview panel, they are giving you a clear signal of whom they think you should be listening to.  Engaging them in this fashion puts you two steps ahead.

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