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This is How to Negotiate Your Salary
AYA Images / Adobe Stock
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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How do you negotiate salary with a current or prospective employer? It’s a difficult conversation to have—and one many employees would rather avoid having altogether. But wouldn’t you prefer negotiating your offer or current salary and getting paid what you deserve than settling for less than your worth?

Most people negotiate salary at some point in their careers—often many times. Here’s how to start.

Preparing Yourself to Negotiate

• Do your homework.

Make a list of your achievements, accomplishments, and areas in which you’ve gone above and beyond. If you have your job description available, consult it to remember what you’re doing that you weren’t expected to do initially.

Keep a list of praise colleagues and manager give you. It can help you express your value to your manager or prospective manager.

You might collate all these achievements into a list to bring to your meeting. This not only helps you remember everything you want to mention but also demonstrates that you mean business—and that you’re confident enough to know that you deserve this.

• Choose the right time.

If you’re negotiating a new job offer, the timing is obvious: you’ll discuss it when the employer makes the offer. But if you’re asking for a raise from your current employer, you’ll want to choose the timing wisely.

If you’re negotiating with your manager, take into account factors such as when you last got a raise, recent accomplishments, and your boss’s workload and mood. You don’t want to ask when she’s particularly busy or grumpy; that won’t help negotiations one bit. Instead, wait for a moment when she’s not super busy or stressed—all the better if it coincides with your particularly great performance on a project.

• Rev yourself up. 

Build your own confidence before you head into salary negotiations. Practice saying what you need to say and consider rehearsing in front of a friend or trusted colleague. Make a list of reasons why you deserve this and say them aloud to yourself; if you don’t believe it yourself, then you’ll never convince someone else.

Remember: you’re asking for a raise because you know you’re worth it!

• Come up with your target salary and know where to set the bar.

In most cases, mentioning a salary range rather than a specific number results in a higher salary. Do note that you’ve done extensive research and know that this is the range for people with similar experience and qualifications. If you mention a specific figure, you could be missing out on greater compensation since you might ask for a figure that’s too low.

You should also consider the minimum for which you’d settle. Don’t mention that number to the hiring manager or your boss, of course, but do keep it in the back of your mind. If what the employer is offering is just too low, it may not be worth it. 

Read on for advice on how to find out what you're worth professionally.

How to Research and What to Use When Finding Numbers

Before you even broach the topic of salary negotiations, you need to understand your own value as an employee. That means finding out how much someone with your experience, qualifications, and title who works in a similar capacity and location is generally paid. Some tools to try include:

• Websites that collect salary data

Start by checking websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Glassdoor, and Payscale. These sites collect data on people with the same title and industry across the United States and within certain locations so you can see how your salary compares and what you should ask for.

When you look at these ranges, think about your level of experience and qualifications as a worker. If you’re entry-level, you should be looking at the lower end of a salary range for a professional in the industry, while more experienced and qualified candidates should aim for the higher end.

Salary calculators

Also, check out tools like Dice’s Salary Calculator, Salary.com’s Salary Comparison, and Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth give you estimates of your value as an employee based on location, title, years of experience, and other factors.

• Industry colleagues 

It can be difficult—and even inappropriate in some contexts—to broach the subject of salary with a coworker. However, if there is someone you trust who performs similar functions or has a similar amount of professional experience as you at work, it may be worth asking what she thinks is a reasonable salary for you to request. Just make sure to do so privately and avoid asking what she earns; if she volunteers it, it can be useful information to have, but respect that she may want to keep it private.

Likewise, ask industry colleagues and mentors outside of your company similar questions. Some people may be willing to volunteer their salary information, but mostly, you just want to know what they think an employee in your position is worth.

Remember to factor in your skills—both technical skills and soft skills—certifications, awards, company contributions, and level of education attained. (For example, in many industries, someone with a master’s degree can expect a higher salary than someone with a bachelor’s, unless you’re expected to have a master’s for the line of work.)

How to Negotiate in Different Contexts

Different scenarios present different opportunities and challenges. For example, you would approach an email negotiation differently from an in-person one, since in the latter, you’ll need to play off of the manager’s reactions and questions.

Below are tips on how to handle different types of salary negotiation contexts. Read our advice on what to say when negotiating for more detailed scripts. 

In Person

In most scenarios, you’ll be negotiating your salary in person if you’re asking for a raise from your manager. It’s less likely that you will discuss an offer from a prospective employer in a face-to-face meeting.

When you’re preparing to meet with your supervisor, take the following steps: 

• Request and schedule a meeting.

Tell your manager you’d like to meet and schedule a time that works for both of you. Make sure you allow a reasonable amount of time, avoiding holding the meeting right before one of you has another commitment, since you don’t know how long it might take.

• State your purpose for holding the meeting upfront.

You want your manager to have time to request permission from the department head or HR. There might be other important considerations that she needs to hash out as well. That’s why you should be upfront about what you want to discuss.

• Gather your paperwork.

Gather together any supporting documents, such as a one-sheet detail your accomplishments and praise you’ve received, examples of your work, and any data you’ve collected about salaries of similar employees. Bring all these documents to the meeting.

• Practice. 

If you’re nervous, prepare by stating what you want to say in front of a mirror or to a friend or trusted colleague. You want to ensure that you sound confident.

Over the Phone

If the hiring manager or recruiter makes an offer over the phone, there’s no rule that says you have to immediately accept it. Ask when she needs your final decision, which should give you time to gather your thoughts and develop your argument. 

However, you should be prepared to negotiate over the phone in case she needs an answer more quickly. If she makes an offer initially, you can counter with, “I’m really excited about this opportunity, but I was looking for something along the lines of ___ because of X, Y, and Z.”

It’s possible that she’ll immediately counter. If that’s the case, bolster your argument with more reasons why you deserve this salary. Try to meet in the middle, around halfway between your two counter offers.

The hiring manager might tell you she needs approval before negotiating, in which case you may have this conversation at a later point or she will email you with a verdict from a higher-up or financial department. Remember that if this happens, it’s not a no. It’s very possible that she needs to get the go-ahead from her department head before offering anything else.

If it doesn’t seem like the prospective employer will budge, bring up other forms of compensation, such as benefits. You might, for instance, say, “Since you’re unable to match my salary requirements, perhaps we could discuss benefits. I currently receive 15 vacation days at my current employer, and you offer fewer. Would you be able to match that?”

If negotiations truly aren’t going anywhere, either ask for some time to think it over or politely decline the offer.

By Email 

Follow up your phone call with an email naming your counter offer. Start by expressing your enthusiasm for the position before naming your desired salary and rationale for coming to this decision.

Hi [Hiring Manager or Recruiter],

It was a pleasure to speak with you on [day of the week]. I really appreciate your offer for [Position]. I’m thrilled about the opportunity to work with [Employer].

Given my qualifications, including X, Y, and Z, I think I can bring a lot to the team. [List other value you offer.]

I’ve been considering the offer, and I’d be more comfortable with X salary. [Briefly summarize your qualifications.] 

Feel free to let me know if you’d like to set up a time to discuss this on the phone or in person. Thank you for your consideration. Again, I’m so excited about this opportunity.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

When You Should Negotiate Your Salary 

Choosing the right time to negotiate your salary can be tricky. In the case where a prospective employer makes a job offer, that is, of course, the time to negotiate. While you may be asked for your salary expectations before then, avoid negotiating until there is an offer on the table.

If you’re looking for a raise at your current job, there are some circumstances when negotiating is more appropriate than others. They include:

• You’ve received another offer.

The best leverage you have with your current employer is an offer from someone else. If a prospective employer offers you a better salary, inform your employer. It’s not unusual to bring a new offer to an employer to help advance you to the next level. In some industries, it’s even expected.

• You’re being promoted.

Most promotions come with a salary bump. But it’s still acceptable to ask for more money than your employer is offering. Just make sure you have evidence to back up your counter offer. For example, you might say, “I really appreciate the promotion. I was hoping for a salary of X. As we discussed, I’ve done X, Y, and Z.”

• You’re going above and beyond in your job.

At many companies, employees are often promoted after a certain period of time such as one or two years. This is less common in senior management positions, where there’s not as much room for advancement.

However, if you’ve taken on responsibilities that weren’t initially part of the tasks you were hired to perform, there’s no reason why you can’t ask sooner.

Do be careful of asking too soon. For example, if you’ve only been at your job three months, you’re not going to get a raise and your manager will find your asking presumptuous. A year, when you’ll likely have a performance review, is a good rule of thumb, though it depends on your company and situation.

When You Should Stop Negotiating

So when do you stop salary negotiations? It may seem like an endless cycle, but you’ll probably come to a natural ending point. 

If the hiring manager is willing to negotiate, in most cases, you’ll make a counter offer, and she’ll counter that offer with another one. Assuming it’s within a range that’s acceptable to you, try to meet in the middle, about halfway between your two counter offers. This might require a total of four back-and-forths: two offers from you and two from her. If you try to negotiate much further, it will become frustrating for both of you.

If you still aren’t satisfied with the offer to the point at which you don’t think it would meet your needs, it may be time to walk away.

It’s also possible that the hiring manager simply won’t budge. This could be due to a number of factors; for one, it simply might not be in the budget. If that’s the case and she’s upfront about it, make your argument once. If she’s still not about to offer more, let it go—either take the job or reject the offer.

Always establish a minimum requirement—the lowest amount for which you’d settle—in your mind before beginning negotiations so you know when you should walk away.

Why to Negotiate Your Salary 

Perhaps the best reason why you should negotiate salary is because you’ll probably get the raise. According to PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide, 75 percent of people who ask for raises get them.

More importantly, you shouldn’t lowball yourself and your value. You know what you bring to your employer, and you deserve to be recognized and compensated for that.

While research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that women ask for raises just as often as men do, in some contexts, the study found, they don’t. For instance, when the employer did not explicitly state that a salary was negotiable, women were more likely than men to accept the initial offer.

There are many reasons to avoid asking for a raise. Perhaps you’re shy or worried about offending people. Or maybe you’re anxious. Remember that salary negotiations are not personal, and the worst thing the employer can say is no. There are more reasons why you should ask for a raise that reasons why you should not. Ultimately (hopefully), you’ll get the reward you deserve.

One reason that you shouldn't use when asking for a raise is personal reasons. Extra expenses, such as childcare or a home mortgage, may be costly, but they shouldn't factor into salary negotiations. 

Tips to Keep in Mind

• You can always counter offer.

You don’t even have to ask if the offer is negotiable. You can just say that you’re looking for something higher, mentioning a specific range, and explain why you think you deserve the higher salary.

Still, you should try to be realistic. If you ask for significantly more than what the employer is offering it’s unlikely you’ll get close to it, and you may annoy the employer.

If you do ask for more and the employer counters with something lower than your suggested rate but higher than the initial offer, split the difference and try to settle somewhere in the middle. 

• Consider the entire compensation package.

You shouldn’t accept an offer that’s far lower than what you want; if you ask for a range of $65,000-$70,000, then $45,000 simply won’t work. However, if the salary is a little lower than what you initially suggested—in this scenario, perhaps $60,000—discuss what benefits the employer might be able to negotiate in lieu of more pay.

For instance, if the standard number of vacation days the employer offers is 15, discuss whether you might be able to increase it to 20.

• Ask for documentation and read your contracts carefully.

Request documentation on your salary negotiations as soon as possible. The employer (and you) can back out of the agreement at any point, so it’s important to make sure you have an agreement in writing if you want to go any further with the arrangement.

Read everything before you sign it. If there is any language in the contract that you don’t understand, ask someone who does to read it, too. I’m 30, and I still ask my dad to read my contracts on occasion.

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