Salary Negotiation 101

When an employer extends a job offer, they will usually present you with a compensation and benefits package verbally or in writing that includes a proposed salary. If you do not feel the pay aligns with your education, career level, skillset, and experience, you may choose to negotiate for more money. You may also suggest another form of compensation, such as equity or stock options, or additional perks such as extra vacation days.

Knowing how to negotiate salary offers is a valuable skill that can help ensure you are fairly compensated for the work you do. However, like any skill, it takes preparation and practice to do well. In this post, we cover how to negotiate the salary you want in ten steps.

Why you should negotiate your salary

The idea of negotiating a job offer and discussing your pay can feel intimidating and uncomfortable. However, many managers expect candidates to negotiate their salaries and doing so could increase your lifelong earning potential. For example, if the average U.S. annual salary increase is 3% and you accept a starting salary that is 10% below your expectations, it could take over two years just to regain those earnings.

When to negotiate your salary

Typically, it is best to negotiate your salary after you receive an offer rather than during earlier stages of the interview process. You have the most leverage after you have proven that you are the best candidate for the job and you fully understand the employer’s expectations.

It is also important to request a salary offer change once or twice at the most. You should also avoid revisiting a compensation package that you have already agreed upon. Doing so shows you respect the employer’s time and have boundaries around what you will and will not accept.

If your initial offer is presented on the phone, it is okay to ask for some time to process the information. If necessary, let the employer know you appreciate their offer and are excited about the opportunity and ask if you can get back to them within a day. If you decide to negotiate, it is best to do it over the phone so there is less room for miscommunication—though it’s also appropriate to email your negotiation requests if that feels more comfortable.

10 tips to prepare for salary negotiation

1. Start by evaluating what you have to offer

It is important you know exactly how much value you can offer an employer before you begin the process of negotiating a salary. There are several factors that can influence your compensation, such as:

  • Geographic location: Consider the cost of living in your geographic location. For example, you might require a higher salary in San Francisco than Minneapolis for the same set of responsibilities because it generally costs more to live there.
  • Years of industry experience: If the job description requires 3-5 years of experience and you meet the higher requirement, it might warrant a higher salary.
  • Years of leadership experience: Like industry experience, if the employer prefers or requires leadership skills and you meet or exceed their expectations, it may be justification for higher pay.
  • Education level: Relevant bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, or specialized degree programs can impact your compensation depending on the role or industry.
  • Career level: In general, you might expect a higher pay range as you advance further in your career.
  • Skills: Niche or technical skills that take time to master may attract higher salaries.
  • Licenses and certifications: An employer may require or prefer that you have specific licenses or certifications. If you already have them, you might be in a good position to request greater compensation.

When you begin your salary negotiation, be sure to reiterate why you will be a valuable employee and consider using the above factors to justify your desired salary.

2. Research the market average

Having this data can help support a more successful negotiation and can be found online through websites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Knowing the market average can give you a good baseline for your salary request and can even be used as justification. Here are some questions to consider as you begin your market research:

  • What is the national average salary for the position?
  • What is the average in your geographic location and in cities nearby?
  • How much do similar companies in your area pay employees in this position?

3. Prepare your talking points

As you’re developing negotiation notes, it might be helpful to answer the following question as a framework for your conversation: Why do you feel you deserve a higher salary than the one the employer is offering? Put together a few talking points before you contact the employer and be as specific as possible. Those details might include information like:

  • Results you have achieved in previous roles such as goals you have met, revenue you have helped drive or awards you earned. If possible, use actual numbers.
  • Years of industry experience, particularly if you have more experience than the employer stated as a minimum requirement.
  • Skills or certifications, especially if they are in high demand within your industry.
  • Average salaries being offered by other similar employers for similar roles.

4. Rehearse with a trusted friend

Practicing your talking points can help you gain confidence and identify areas of improvement. The best way to practice would be in front of a trusted friend or colleague that can provide helpful feedback. Alternatively, you can try recording your conversation on a camera or speaking in front of a mirror.

This step is especially important because talking about money can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but the more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel when it comes time to have the conversation.

5. Be confident

Delivering your negotiation with confidence is as important as the words you say. The more confidence you convey, the more confident the employer will be in their consideration of your feedback. Confidence—an appreciation of our own abilities and qualities—should not be confused with arrogance—an exaggerated sense of our importance. Lack of confidence can also result in over-explaining or apologizing for your ask—neither of which is helpful in a negotiation scenario. Instead, confidently and simply state your ask including a brief summary of your reasoning and let your contact process your request thereafter.

Remember that you are bringing an important set of skills and experience to the organization, and the pay an employer offers should account for the value you provide. If you feel the employer’s original offer is below the value that aligns with your skills and experiences, have done market salary research and have personal value data that supports your ask, have confidence in your decision to ask for more.

6. Ask for more

One fundamental rule of salary negotiation is to give the employer a slightly higher number than your goal. This way, if they negotiate down, you will still end up with a salary offer you feel comfortable accepting. If you provide a salary range, the employer will likely err on the lower end, so be sure the lowest number you provide is still an amount you feel is fair.

7. Share job-related expenses you are incurring

Another reason you may ask for an increased salary is to cover any costs you are accumulating by taking the job. For example, if you are relocating to a new city for the job, you will have to pay moving expenses as well as any costs associated with selling or leasing your current home. If you are taking a position further away from home, you will have to factor in commute expenses such as train fare or gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. It is not unusual for candidates to ask employers to adjust the salary to account for expenses related to accepting the position.

8. Be flexible

Even if the employer is unable to provide the salary amount you want, they may be able to offer other forms of compensation. For example, you may be able to negotiate more stock options, extra vacation days or additional work-from-home days to combat a lengthy commute. Do not be shy about asking for alternatives. In some cases, they may be just as valuable (or more so) than a paycheck.

9. Do not be afraid to walk away

In some cases, an employer may not be able to meet your minimum salary requirement or offer additional benefits that make it worth your while. Or the employer may counter-offer with a salary that is higher than their first offer but not as high as your request. In this case, you will need to decide if the job is worth the lesser amount.

If it is less stressful than your current position, closer to home, or offers you more flexibility or more free time, you may be open to taking a lower salary. However, if not, you should consider walking away and seeking other opportunities elsewhere.

10. Express gratitude

Once you reach the job offer phase of the hiring process, you have probably invested a great deal of time and energy applying and interviewing for the position. The employer has also invested time in the process, so it is crucial you recognize this and thank them for considering you for the opportunity. Be sure to share any specific reasons why you are excited about the job, such as the culture or the product.

Even if you end up declining the offer, it is important to do so in a friendly and professional manner. After all, you never know what opportunities they may have available for you in the future.

Salary negotiation is a critical step in the hiring process. By taking the time to talk through why you feel you need more compensation, you can help employers better understand the value you provide. As with any new skill, the more you negotiate, the more you will improve and the easier it will become. By using the above tips to negotiate your salary, you can walk into the conversation confident, prepared, and ready to secure the pay you deserve.