10 Tips for Negotiating Your Salary
Money is never an easy topic to broach with a prospective employer. As a result, many of us shy away from advocating for what we're worth when discussing pay — in fact, research shows that only 39 percent of workers try to negotiate a higher salary at the job offer stage.
Yet it's a critical conversation to have if you want to achieve financial security and positively influence your career trajectory. As a candidate with plenty of value to add, you have bargaining power on your side, so it's important to leverage this fact. After all, negotiating could mean the difference between a paycheck that barely covers the basics and a salary that leaves room for nice-to-haves.
Not sure where to start, or how to navigate this discussion? Follow the expert tips below to negotiate successfully and secure an offer that appeals.
1. Research your market value
Step number one is to empower yourself with reliable information about what the market is willing to pay for a position like the one you're pursuing.
Bryant Galindo, professional mediator and founder of coaching and consulting company CollabsHQ, recommends looking at platforms like PayScale and Glassdoor to get an idea of the going rate for your target role, based on your location and level of experience. He also suggests that you reach out to your network for "insider pay rates." "If you don't have anyone in your network that's in your industry, utilize LinkedIn and see if you can set up informational interviews with people — ex or current employees of the company in question," he advises.
Similarly, Ashley Paré, CEO and founder of Own Your Worth, an organization that specializes in career negotiation, encourages job seekers to speak with recruiters and human resources professionals to get a sense of what the market is like. "HR departments have access to the best salary surveys out there," she says.
2. Settle on a range that you are willing to accept
Once you've conducted your research, you need to decide on the maximum amount you feel it's reasonable to ask for, and a minimum amount you'd be willing to accept.
"You have to get really honest with yourself about what compensation package and base salary feels fair, is going to be motivating, and is something you're willing to live with for the next six to 18 months," notes Paré.
It's important to have specific numbers in mind, especially when it comes to your minimum — you need to establish exactly how low you're willing to go, so you don't wind up accepting an offer that's unsatisfying. It's also key to work within a range, as this allows room for flexibility, which is vital in any negotiation.
3. Consider non-monetary benefits
Your prospective employer might not be able to offer you your desired salary, but perhaps they'd be willing to agree to flexible working hours, more paid leave, tuition assistance or a subsidized gym membership, for instance.
Think carefully about what kind of perks and incentives you'd be willing to accept — if any — in lieu of your stated salary. It's important to give thought to these potential non-monetary benefits before you start your salary negotiations, so that you're clear on what does and doesn't work for you. Perhaps more perks aren't worth a lower pay for you, based on your financial situation.
4. Role-play a negotiation at home
In the case of salary negotiations, practice makes perfect. You don't want to fumble over your words when you're sitting in front of your prospective manager. Rehearsing this discussion before it happens is the best way to ensure you don't wind up staying silent simply because you don't know how to express what you want.
"Role-playing a negotiation at home is the single best piece of advice I can give job candidates," says Galindo. "Work with a trusted friend or partner who is willing to play the employer's side and practice what you would say and how you would say it. By taking five minutes to do this, you get yourself into the right mindset and can engage in the process feeling empowered."
5. Don't share your salary expectations too early on in the process
Recruiters and hiring managers will likely try to get a sense of your salary expectations during their early screenings of you in order to determine whether you're a viable candidate for the position. But as Galindo stresses, "You lose a lot of leverage if you say a number from the beginning, and you risk losing dollars down the line."
Paré agrees. "If you can defer the salary conversation to the offer letter stage, you'll be in a better position to negotiate, ask questions, and land on a compensation package that's competitive," she says. At this point, you'll have a better sense of the scope of the role, and the employer will be much more invested in getting you to accept the offer. They will, therefore, be more likely to engage in a collaborative discussion with you about your salary requirements and settle on a number that makes both parties happy.
If you are asked about your salary expectations during the application or screening stage, Galindo recommends that you politely and respectfully say, "It's still too early on in the process for me to throw out a number right now," and then shift the focus to your fit for the position.
Occasionally, however, you may be required to state your salary expectations up front. In these instances, if the context allows, you can simply say that you hope to earn the going market rate for the position and your experience level.
If you're pressed to commit to a number, pick a figure toward the top of your desired range that you feel is fair and competitive, based on your research, while still being appropriate. It's best to state a single number, not a range, as prospective employers will naturally gravitate toward the lower figure in a spectrum and you'll likely get stuck here.
It can also help to be very specific in your request – list something like $72,300, not a round number like $70,000. This is because research shows that more precise requests tend to result in closer offers as hiring managers assume you've done thorough research into what you're worth and are armed with definitive information.
6. Don't share your salary history
Similarly, prospective employers may try to get a feel for what you earned in your last job so they can base their offer on this number. "What companies usually do is offer a salary that's about 10 to 20 percent higher than what a candidate was making before," explains Galindo. Naturally, this is problematic if you're looking for a more substantial increase.
Truth is, though, you're not obligated to share these details. "This is your confidential information, akin to your health information," Galindo explains. He suggests that if you're asked about your past or current salary, you reframe the conversation by talking about the value you'll be bringing to the role and the going market rate for your position.
Here's a sample narrative, shared by Galindo:
Candidate: "I'd be happy to talk about the value I will be bringing to the position and the market rate for this role, which is based on other similar positions in the area."
Recruiter: "Well, I really need to know your salary history. I have to have it."
Candidate: "I understand. Like I said, for a comparable position based in [insert city], a range of [insert salary range] is appropriate. I would be happy to talk from that perspective."
Recruiter: "So you're saying you won't tell me?"
Candidate: "I'm saying that this information is confidential, and I know that I will be bringing massive value to the organization. I really respect [insert company name] and I know I can be an incredible asset."
7. Be clear and ask for what you want
When the time comes — ideally at the offer letter stage — Paré argues that job seekers need to try to let go of any fear they have around self-advocating and money talk so they can come out and ask for what they want.
"If you don't ask, the answer is 'no'," she says. "If you don't ask, you risk feeling resentful before you even join a new firm."
The best negotiation tactic, says Paré, is to put your cards on the table and "let the employer know what it will take for you to say 'yes' to the job offer".
8. Frame the salary negotiation as a conversation around value
Don't tell prospective employers that you need to earn a stated amount because you have to pay school fees or cover increased expenses. Rather, show that you deserve your requested salary by keeping the emphasis on what you can offer in exchange for your paycheck — your unique capabilities and expertise.
In order to be able to clearly communicate your value, remind yourself of all the ways you've delivered results in the past. Write down former achievements and awards you've won, and list out positive changes you've brought about for past companies.
It's important that you truly believe in your own value, and you may need to regularly remind yourself that you are worth what you're asking for throughout the process. "For most, salary negotiation becomes a mental exercise regarding self," explains Galindo. "The recruitment and job application process is dehumanizing, so by the time you get an offer, you are willing to accept anything. Don't let that be you. With the right information and goals, you too can get what you want for what you're worth."
9. Don't let "no" end the conversation
Paré recommends that if you're told "no," or if you receive an offer that's lower than you'd like, you get curious and ask for more information. The key, she says, is to keep the conversation going so you can come to a mutual agreement that works for everyone.
She suggests that you respond with a question like, "Can you help me understand the company's pay philosophy so I can understand how you've come to make this specific offer?"Alternatively, you can say something like, "I am excited about potentially joining the organization, but if I'm being honest, the job offer is much lower than I was expecting and what I consider to be market value. Can we discuss an alternative compensation package that is closer to my ideal salary range?"
10. Stay positive, respectful and authentic
As Paré says, "Negotiation is not a game; it's a discussion between two parties that are hoping to come to a mutual agreement".
It's important to be helpful, respectful and collaborative throughout the process. Approach the conversation with honesty and authenticity, keep your tone positive, don't make threats, and do your best to work with your prospective employer to arrive at a win-win situation that appeals to both parties. Remember, if all goes well, you'll soon be working with these individuals; you want to start off on the right foot.