Know Your Worth: Negotiate Your Salary

Know Your Worth: Negotiate Your Salary

Always ask for what you are worth.  If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table that can add up to hundreds of thousands in lost lifetime earnings.  Just a missed $2,500 from not negotiating your first salary means a missed $100,000 over 30 years, excluding bonuses and assuming a 2% annual raise.  It can be intimidating, but there are plenty of tricks to scoring a great pay bump.

General Tips for Negotiating

Do your research on the job and the market, both nationally and locally.  It will ensure you have realistic expectations.  Ask for too much, and you might not be considered.  Ask for too little, and it could mean lower earnings for the rest of your life.  You can use Glassdoor, Indeed, and Google to find national and regional salaries, and you can potentially find salaries for the specific company you are interviewing for.  You should have a rough estimate of the range you can expect to earn based on your skills, the location, the organization, and the job requirements.

Always think about how you add value to the company, and be honest about your experience level.  Prove you are worth it by providing concrete examples, and quantify where possible.  What skills might the company need now or in the future?  Pay close attention.  You might be able to leverage some of your skills to negotiate top dollar, but they will only pay top dollar if they feel like it’s a win for them as well.

Use the value you add to your advantage, and talk yourself up.  “Not only do I have [all the standard requirements that everyone else has] + but I also possess [the following unique traits that make me a better candidate and worth more money].” (from Money Magazine)

Don’t ask for significantly more than the employer would be willing to pay for you or the position.  It can show a lack of research about the position or the company.  Some companies will pay top dollar for the best, and some want only to meet the market but provide other benefits.

Remember that salary isn’t the only benefit on the table.  Consider a signing bonus, a flexible work schedule, the ability to work remotely, or extra vacation time for traveling.  Additionally, you should consider long-term career benefits like coaching or continuing education.

Any red tape can be cut with the right pair of scissors.  Sometimes the approvals have to go higher before it’s allowed, but exceptions can be made for anything.  The worst that can happen is “you’re told no and are in the same position you are currently in.”

Keep emotion out of the discussion.  It should be based on facts.  At the end of the day, “business is business.”

The Rules of Salary Negotiation

Rule #1: Don’t ask what the compensation for the position is.   Focus on being confident, positive, and enthusiastic about the job.  You want to make it clear your priority is whether or not you are a good fit, and this angle gives you more power later on.

Rule #2: Don’t tell them your number until after they share their number.  You want to get a range from them first so that you can ask for a number on the high side of that range.  Don’t feel obligated to share salary history at all.  If you share your salary history, they know exactly what salary you’ll work for and likely won’t offer as much if your current salary is lower.  It puts you at a weaker spot.  In fact, some states in the US have made it illegal to ask what your salary history is.  This is why the quickest way to increase your salary is to move companies.

Rule #3: Never accept the first salary offer.  Always ask for more, and make the number you are asking for specific.  Rely on your research to know how much more and consider vibe from the interviewers to decide whether to ask for a range or a specific number.  It’s OK to ask for some time to think about it and then get back to them at a specified time with a counter argument (but don’t take too long, a couple days at most).  As long as you are being reasonable in your request, then the worst they can do is say no.  They usually won’t revoke the first offer and you could still choose to accept it.  (If they do revoke the offer entirely, you likely wouldn’t want to work there.)

Rule #4: If the salary still isn’t where you want it after initial negotiations, play the time card or leverage another offer if you have one.  Suggesting a short turnaround time can show you are serious about the offer and might help push it along.  For example, “I will accept by end of business today if you can give me an offer of $80,000.”  This can close negotiations, though, so be careful.  Otherwise, if you have multiple offers, you can bolster your argument by sharing the amount the other company has offered and asking the company offering less to match (or exceed).

Rule #5: Don’t be afraid to walk away if the position won’t get you where you want to go.  Whether it’s not a desired/fair salary or you realize it’s just not the right position, it’s better to walk away now than to take a position that’s not a good fit.  Taking a position that’s not a good fit costs you time and costs them time and money.

Salary Range or Specific Number?

Provide a salary range to seem flexible and cooperative (but make the salary you want the low point).  For example, if you would like a $75,000 salary, express that you are looking to make $75-80k in your position.  Even if they offer on the low end, they still are offering a number you want.  This range should be firmly grounded in your research.  This worked well for my first job, which was more customer and team focused.

Provide a specific number to show you’ve done your homework. If the job emphasizes preparedness, knowledge, or experience, then bringing a specific number to the table could be a huge benefit. This worked well for my second job as a financial analyst.

When the “dreaded question” of what salary you are looking for comes up…

Your goal is to deflect and get the interviewer to provide a number or salary range first.  That way, you can aim for the high side of the range.  There are a lot of ways salary could be broached by the other side, but they likely won’t ask more than once.  Stay the course, and they’ll quickly realize they’ll be hiring a tough negotiator.

What did you make in your previous position?

“This position is a bit different from my last one.  Can we discuss the responsibilities for this role and what you think is a fair salary?”  Can’t argue with fair.

“My recruiter advised that my previous salary would not impact compensation for this position.”  Make it irrelevant.

“My current employer asks us to keep it confidential, so I’m not comfortable sharing this information out of respect to them.  This is the same respect I’d give your company.”  Can’t argue with confidentiality.

What is the salary range you are looking for?

“Let’s talk about the job requirements and expectations first.  I’d like to have a better understanding of your team’s needs.”  Turn the conversation around and show your priorities.

“I’m more interested in a job that’s a good fit for me.  I’m sure the salary offered will be consistent with the rest of the market.”  It shows you respect both yourself and the company.  Remember, they have teams of people studying industry salaries.

Hard ball: We can’t make an offer without knowing the salary you’re looking for.

“I’d appreciate if you could make me an offer based on whatever you have budgeted for the position, and we can go from there.”

If it’s your current position that you are trying to negotiate…

Make a specific list of your accomplishments.  A changing job description, more responsibility, training or certifications, new credentials or a new degree should all make the list.  Write down anything that helps your case.  You can even make a copy of the list to provide to your manager, but have the conversation in person.

Remember your manager may not have the authority to set your salary.  You may need to make a case to them, and then they may need to make a case to their boss or HR.  This is one of the reasons you should always have concrete examples.

Be professional.  Don’t compare yourself to your coworkers.  It doesn’t look good if you’re talking others down.

Timing is everything.  Your best chance is to ask after a big win or a strong quarter of revenue. Once performance reviews start and budgets are set, it can be very difficult to find more money.  However, they will usually accommodate for their best employees.

It might help to ask for a “salary adjustment” instead of a raise.  You can mention new skills you’ve developed, new roles you’ve taken on, value you’ve added or are continuing to add, or even the Consumer Price Index’s inflation rate.

Never bring them an outside offer or threaten to leave unless you are actually willing to leave your current position.  It can be a great tool to leverage the salary you want, but it could also cost you your position or leave you in a poor light with your manager.

If they just need time… give them time!  Say thank you.  You can ask when it would be appropriate to follow up.

If they say no… ask what you can do to merit a raise in a few months, and follow through.  This shows you are willing to put in the work, and will give you a specific example the next time you discuss.

If you’re still turned down, say “I understand your position” and end the conversation.  Leaving the room without saying more leaves your boss wondering what you will do next, and that might help your case in the future.  (However, it’s probably time for a job search.)


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