Negotiating for Yourself

Proper preparation can make anyone a tough negotiator.


Anthony Watson

3 years ago | 5 min read

Be prepared to win the battle at the negotiating table

If you are a tech worker right now, you are in demand. If you are considering moving on to another position, you are going to want to prepare. Of course, you need to burnish your resume and reach out to your LinkedIn network for endorsements.

Such things are a given, but if you really want to be a TOUGH negotiator, then certain things must be so. Get your ducks in a row.

If you want to be a tough negotiator on your own behalf, you need more than attitude. Some people are quite good at "creating attitude". These are great salespeople. What they feel internally is not easily readable on their faces.

In fact, they are able to create trust through their facial expressions and mannerisms. These are the special people who can sell sawdust to lumber mills.

Frankly, most tech people do not have these kinds of skills. This is why you have to prepare to be a tough negotiator. If you want to turn a tech worker, a knowledge worker, or logical thinker into a TOUGH negotiator, they have to believe.

Their strong logic circuits make it difficult to "bluff", so they must be in a good position to negotiate well. If you can get these three things in order, you WILL be a tough negotiator.

Below are the three most important things you must get in order to be a tough negotiator. Of course, if you have the sales skills to "spin the web", then these are simply nice to haves. However, for me, these three things made me a very very tough negotiator.

I knew what I wanted and I was going to get it from this employer or the next one. I was determined to get what I wanted. Those with Asperger's Syndrome don't always do a good job across the negotiating table, but I found the secret ingredients which made me a very tough negotiator.

#1 Have an employable skill

I think this is the most important requirement. If you do not have a skill that is in demand, then you don’t have much negotiating power. I am not saying you have to go to college, though it would likely help make you more employable. I did not get my bachelor’s until very late in my career, but I had coding skills.

In any case, you MUST have a skill that businesses covet and will pay money for. If you are a janitor or an administrative assistant or mail room clerk, it is fairly difficult to negotiate anything other than please hire me.

In my case, I was a programmer/software engineer/DBA…a full stack developer is what they call me these days. I can do it all, soup to nuts, which also means that I am not necessarily an expert in any one of those things.

Still for smaller companies having someone that can wear many different tech hats has its utility in the 21st century, so I have some leverage. Other tech workers with good leverage are security engineers, DevOps, cloud developers. They are all in big demand.

Another skillset might be graphic artists. Those who can turn people’s visions into reality are special as are sound technicians in an ever more musical society. And not to leave out blue-collar skills, I think journeymen and higher electricians might also have sufficient leverage to pull this off.

Any skill set that is in demand is fine, but you MUST, MUST have a skill you can shop. Without it, you are just hoping the hiring manager likes you and you get hired.

#2 Keep yourself financially sound

You must always be negotiating from a position of strength. In America, strength is defined by having enough money to say, "No." If you are in financial straits or even on a very tight budget, it can be difficult to negotiate anything. Financial hardship is all-consuming.

Gaining the aforementioned employable skills is difficult, and I list it as #1 because you have nothing to bargain without skills. However, I don’t think it is as difficult as pulling off financial stability when you are not coming from that place. Depending on where you start economically in this nation, it can take a while before you achieve this state of affairs.

You don’t have to be rich, but having a buffer is very much required. If you have to take the first job that comes along, it is hard to negotiate. If you are in such tight financial circumstances that you MUST make a certain number AND that number is the tip-top of the pay scale for your skillset, again it is hard to negotiate.

You will be negotiating hard on money at the beginning of your career and employers can leverage that to their benefit, knowing you NEED the money. When you come in negotiating other aspects of your employment besides salary, you are implicitly saying that your financial house is in order.

It’s very, very important to “signal” to moneyed power that you don’t NEED their money. The playing field becomes much more even when you are trading a skill for money.

You are entering into a bargain with moneyed power. You are providing a service and they are paying. There is a clear understanding that if you do not provide the service and/or they no longer need the service, the bargain is over.

These days though you are in demand even if someone just showed you the door. There are a lot of rich people out there who CAN’T code.

#3 Figure out what you want

This is very important. It is #3 because this is the luxury of choice which most people do not have. You do not even get to seriously consider #3 until the first two are settled. You need to figure out what you want from the job.

Do you want more money? Do you want more responsibility? Do you want better work/life balance? You need to determine what is exactly you are looking for from the next job.

If it is money, you are looking for, then have a bottom-line number. You have to be clear in your own mind what it is you want from the next job. For me, I was mostly looking for better work/life balance after I had reached a certain salary.

I often would negotiate a four ten-hour day work week. I would take Wednesdays off and walk my children to elementary school.

Honestly, if you want to be a tough negotiator, then become a parent. Now you are negotiating not for what YOU WANT, but what your children NEED. Once you have children, you see certain things about life with great clarity.

Many aspects of life are less clear when there are not tiny individuals dependent upon you successfully navigating this crazy world.

The fact is the kids need you to get wins. Their need is what drove me to play hardball at the negotiating table. They made sure I got what I thought they needed. It motivated me to push back in ways difficult to fathom without the little ones requiring support.

Of course, this is not really a requirement to have a family, just a suggestion. Personally, it was not until I was a parent that I really started showing some backbone.

I had been doing OK across the negotiating table, but it was only later I became really tough...IMO I needed parenting inspiration to give me the extra boldness required to negotiate hard with moneyed power.

However, if you have the first two nailed, then take some time to figure out the third. It is an absolute MUST to know what you personally want from the next job. Good luck!


Created by

Anthony Watson

Coder/Consultant -







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