Demystifying Salary Negotiation

Salary negotiations are uncomfortable. With the inside tips below, you can learn how to navigate the conversation with confidence and improve your results.

We walk confidently into meetings every day to demonstrate our value on behalf of our employers. But for some reason, doing the same on behalf of ourselves sends many of us running for the hills. Negotiating for compensation that reflects your market value and experience need not be the dreaded task many consider it to be.

Rely on Data

Better access to data improves the quality of salary negotiations by making it possible to start on common ground. The new salary negotiation is starting to look more like this:

  • Agree on a benchmark job.
  • Agree on your proficiency and performance level.
  • Agree on the market value of the job.
  • Agree on where your salary should fall.
  • Agree on what performance is necessary for future salary increases.

The good news is, when it comes to statistical salary data, there are several resources on the web including and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, many employers have found salary data on these sites to be inflated, so you may need to adjust some of your expectations or be prepared to provide additional justification to hit the top of a salary range derived from online salary surveys alone.

When to Negotiate

When you are considering a job offer on your own, employers expect you to counter-offer and often structure their offer with that in mind. Thank them for their offer. Express clearly that you want to work for them. Lay out the reasons you feel the position should pay more than what was offered. Then, you can confidently make a counter offer.

For example: “Thank you for the opportunity. Everybody I have met here and all of my research have convinced me this is the place I want to work. I am looking forward to getting started. I’ve been checking salary sites and talking to some of my peers in similar positions, and given the average base salary for the position and my five years of experience designing Excel pivot tables, which you said are so important to you, I was expecting an offer in the $65,000 to $70,000 range.”

When you are working through a third-party agent such as a recruiter, your agent is already doing all of this on your behalf. Trying to renegotiate after a negotiation has been completed, frequently jeopardizes the offer. So make sure your agent understands your salary goals at the outset rather than trying to renegotiate after an offer is made.

Similarly, when you are on the job, do not wait for your review meeting to broach the topic of a raise. Your manager may have already worked with senior leaders to determine raises, and it may be too late at that point for a negotiation. Instead, start laying the groundwork for the raise you want in advance of a review meeting.

Gain your manager’s support by equipping him or her with your achievements — those things you did that made or saved the employer money or improved a process. Your manager can use this evidence when working to get the raise you want approved in advance of your review. Do not forget that you can also negotiate for other compensation such as the chance to work on prime assignments, special parking spaces, flexible scheduling or other perks if a more generous raise is truly out of reach.

When Not To Negotiate

Sometimes, the time is not right for negotiation. Often, an employer will start the conversation by saying they’ve put their best foot forward and made the best offer they can. In an “all-in” situation, there really isn’t any room for negotiation and if the offer is outside of your range, there likely is not budget to offer more.

Other times, an employer will lead with an offer that is completely fair and within your desired salary range and to haggle might leave a bad taste in your future employer’s mouth. Ultimately, feeling the situation out is up to you, but you want to weigh the reward of seeking higher compensation against the risk of possibly contaminating what might already be a great job with a fair offering by asking for more.

Enjoy the Discussion Fearlessly

You should be excited to negotiate. If someone is extending an offer to you, or if you are a current and valued employee, that means your skills are in demand. They want you! Thinking of yourself as a valuable commodity is the first step towards getting your worth.

Don’t Assume Everyone Else is a Great Negotiator

Statistics vary, but a 2011 survey found 18 percent of people never negotiate or make a counter-offer when taking a new position. Many more leave thousands on the table because they weren’t prepared. Just the fact that you are reading this and looking for more information probably puts you ahead of most of your co-workers.

“Desired Salary” Disclosure

Desired salary is one of the most common questions asked when people talk about negotiation. It often comes up early in the interview for a new position as companies try to screen out candidates through an online form or an initial interview. While there are several ways to evade the question, the best answer is to not be in this position at all. Up to 80% of jobs are found through networking, so it is much more advantageous to try and steer your resume to a hiring manager through a connection versus battling thousands of candidates applying online.

But often, this phase of the discussion is unavoidable. If you’re asked to disclose verbally, you can broaden it by saying “I’m glad you asked, but my desired salary will depend on the nature and full scope of the position and its responsibilities, so I’d like to learn more about the job before I respond.” That way, your future employer knows that you value your abilities and their needs and will give them a fair estimation of where the two meet.

If however, the disclosure is part of a job application or a form, such a disclosure early in the process may be unavoidable. In those cases, putting an honest range in place is the right thing to do, with your low number being the low end of what you consider fair, and the high number being the high end of what you reasonably believe your labor is worth.

Fair Pay

Can getting a giant raise from $50,000 to $75,000 ever be a bad thing? It can be if your coworkers are all making $90,000 and other opportunities in your field are offering six figures.

In most cases, you should judge your salary goals against your current worth in the marketplace, not what you’ve made in the past or what others around you are making.

It’s Not Just What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Your entire body language — from how you sit and stand to how you speak — will determine how you are perceived. In her book “Knowing Your Value,” author Mika Brzezinski talks about self-sabotaging language that kills your chances for effective negotiation before you even start. Don’t walk into your boss’ office to request a raise and start out with phrases such as “I don’t know if you’ll consider this, but…” or “I don’t know if there’s room for this in the budget, but…”


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