Tips & Resources > Employee Benefits

Know Your Worth and Get It: Negotiate Your Salary

Many job candidates feel at the hiring manager’s mercy when receiving a job offer or enduring a performance review: take what the company offers and be happy about it. That makes hiring managers and accounting departments happy: they got a top quality candidate for what they consider a bargain price. Candidates who accept the first offer fail to realize that the company and the applicant negotiate from opposite angles: the company wants to hire for the lowest possible compensation package and the candidate wants to work for the best possible compensation package. The job offer ends the interview process and begins a negotiation.

The consequences of failure

Numbers don’t lie. In a landmark study published in 2007 under the title Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation—and Positive Strategies for Change, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever discovered that only 7 percent of women even attempted to negotiate their salaries, compared to 57 percent of men. That might explain one factor affecting the gender gap in wages to this single statistic: “Of those people who negotiated, they were able to increase their salary by over 7%.”

Let’s put that in real numbers. If you are offered a full-time wage of $15 or $30,000 a year, then a 7 percent increase would translate to $16.05 per hour or $32,100 per year. What could you do with an extra $1.05 per hour or $2,100 per year?

If you’re at the upper end of the wage scale—such as a part-time attorney—and you’ve been offered a salary of $175 per billable hour, the results become even more dramatic. Negotiating that 7 percent increase nets you an hourly wage of $187.25 per hour which results in an annual salary of $187,250 per year for working only 1,000 billable hours per year.

Consider this, too: If you begin at a higher rate, then future raises and bonuses proportional to that salary will also be larger. That further increases your career earnings versus the money you might leave on the table by failing to negotiate.

Salary negotiation need not focus entirely on dollars paid for work. It encompasses benefits and perks, such as tuition reimbursement, paid training and professional certifications, mentoring and coaching, childcare (either reimbursement or some other arrangement), health and fitness, and flexibility regarding hours worked and location. Any mother, especially those with young children, knows that childcare expenses consume a hefty portion of income. Negotiating the option to work available hours from home may even justify a lower hourly wage which would compensate for wages lost due to time off needed to care for children, fulfill their school obligations and healthcare checkups, and ferry them to extracurricular activities. You’ll save on commuter expenses, wear and tear on your vehicle, and possibly parking fees. Also, having the flexibility to work when it’s most convenient for you also enables you to be more productive and to demonstrate your value to the company in terms of higher production and enhanced quality of work.

Know your salary range

Know what you will accept—and what you won’t. Now that you have an enlightened understanding of the financial advantage of negotiation, you must be prepared to embark upon the negotiation process before the company offers the job. Desperation doesn’t help you here, so assume confidence in your worth and the value you bring to the company. If the company offers a wage lower than the minimum you will accept, thank them politely, invite them to improve the offer, and wait. This is a negotiation, which means give and take on both sides of the conversation. Be flexible: establish a feasible range for your salary.

Prepare yourself with up-to-date evidence justifying the salary you want. Sure, we all want to make a billion dollars; however, reality always intrudes and not all careers command the same monetary value in the marketplace. The surgeon driving a luxury vehicle and wearing designer clothing might fall utterly to pieces trying to keep up with a busy bartender, but the years of academic learning and supervised practice needed to succeed in the field command greater commitment, resources, and—oftentimes—respect from society which are reflected in a higher marketplace valuation. 

Base your desired salary on evidence to begin a successful negotiation. In other words, don’t perpetuate inequity by starting with a low valuation of your skills and experience. Factors beyond the field of work that affect valuation include college degrees, location, years of experience in the field, transferrable skills, and the pool of available candidates.

Where once wages were closely kept secrets, such information is now easily found via an internet search. Check with Salary.comGlassdoor, professional associations and other authoritative resources to determine a range of feasible pay.

The right words and the correct delivery

Know what to say and what not to say. Having the necessary information to justify the request for an increase in pay doesn’t absolve you from knowing how to make that request in terms that will not meet with outright rejection. Once you have the salary information in hand, prepare a script. Memorize and practice it. Prepare for the company’s objections and have counter-arguments at the ready.

When beginning the negotiation process with a job offer, savvy negotiators typically begin with a counteroffer of “10-20% more than their offer,” focusing on the base salary.

Many people do not realize that salary negotiation often begins in the interview process with hiring managers asking questions pertaining to past wages and current salary expectations. According Fearless Salary Negotiation, this prospecting conversation determines whether the recruiter or hiring manager decides whether you’re a candidate worth pursuing. 

If the question concerns your salary history, explain that you’re not comfortable divulging that information. Let’s be honest: what you earn or earned at a current or previous job has no bearing upon the value this prospective employer places on the job. Refusing to divulge such information makes sense especially when you know that you’ve been working at the low end of (or below) the range of standard wages in your industry.

Questions concerning salary expectations enable you to set a minimum wage expectation. This minimum acceptable salary provides you with an “objective way to evaluate the final result of your negotiation so you can make the best decision about whether to accept the job.”

When you receive the job offer, request time to consider it. At this time, compare the offered compensation in whole to your current compensation package. If the offer falls below your acceptable minimum, then you really need this extra time to proceed through your negotiation  and decision-making strategy. 

When a company gives you a lowball offer, consider whether you applied to a listed job opening or whether they initiated contact with you. If the latter, then you know they specifically want you, which means you have a stronger position from which to negotiate. In that circumstance, thank them for the offer, mention that it’s disappointing, and ask them if they can improve upon it.

If you initiated contact, then your standing is less certain, and you may decide to respond with a counteroffer. Your counteroffer should consider the minimum acceptable salary and other benefits, such as a signing bonus, working from home, extra vacation, etc.

When negotiating wages, especially when the company lowballs the first offer, be prepared to endure uncomfortable silences and use them to your advantage. In a face-to-face or telephone discussion, simply ask, “Is that all?” And wait. The first person who breaks the silence loses. An email exchange allows you to present evidence (again) of your value to the company.

What not to say when negotiating your salary

Avoid offense. Writing for Forbes, CEO and founder of Human Workplace Liz Ryan presents a comprehensive list of what not to say and why when negotiating a job offer. Inevitably, a hiring manager will ask why you deserve more than the original offer—even though you already demonstrated and they apparently agreed—that you’re the best candidate for the position. This discussion will lead into verbal pitfalls in which the candidate can either show desperation or cause offense.

Never attempt to incite a bidding war by claiming other companies are attempting to recruit you, even if it’s true. Never insult the hiring manager by implying that the company is cheap or that you’re too good for them. Don’t waste their time or yours if you don’t plan on sticking around once you accept an offer. If you did receive a competing job offer and if you truly would prefer to work for the company making the lower bid, then you can refer to the higher offer and ask how they can improve their offer. Otherwise, simply state that you’d like to accept the job, but there’s a discrepancy regarding salary expectations. Invite the hiring manager to discuss how to bridge that gap. And wait. 

If the company refuses to budge on an unacceptably low offer, walk away and preserve your self-respect. Another opportunity will come.