Manager and young smiling female employee handshake after finish agreement about negotiating salary.

Money talks….yet, hardly anyone likes talking about it when it comes to job offers!

Although many years have passed, I remember feeling awkward as a new recruiter when it was time to get personal with candidates about money. But I quickly realized I wasn’t going to last long unless I got over it. Easy to do for someone who discusses compensation all day, every day, but not so much for workers who may go years between discussing, let alone negotiating, their salary with someone else.

Despite compensation being the primary factor in nearly every job search, most candidates become immediately uncomfortable when discussing their salary. If you’re part of that majority, know that you’re in good company, and most importantly, worry no more. Below, I’ll share how to negotiate your salary and the common pitfalls to avoid.

Reasons to negotiate your salary

Negotiating is a necessary step in getting paid what you’re worth. Don’t expect a company to offer the maximum salary with their initial offer. Employers naturally want to control costs, but they also understand the best job candidates have skills and experience worth paying for. It’s the job seeker’s responsibility to not settle for an initial offer.

Negotiating is also essential if you want to maximize your lifetime earnings. The average person holds 12 jobs over the life of their career, and each one typically represents a stepping stone in terms of income–you make a bit more than you did at your last job. If you take a lowball offer for even one of those positions, it can significantly hurt your chances for higher earnings down the road. 

Let’s look at an example to illustrate. We’ll use two hypothetical candidates holding five different jobs to keep things simple. 

Each job offer comes with a pay increase of about 15%. Not bad, right? Here’s how that looks for candidate A, who takes the first offer without negotiating:

Candidate A

Job 1
Initial offer: $35,000

Job 2
Initial offer: $40,000

Job 3
Initial offer: $46,000

Job 4
Initial offer: $53,000

Job 5
Initial offer: $61,000

Then there’s candidate B, who isn’t afraid to negotiate. They can secure between 5 and 10% more with each new position. Here’s how it shakes out:

Candidate B

Job 1
Initial offer: $35,000
Negotiated to: $36,500

Job 2
Initial offer: $42,000
Negotiated to: $44,000

Job 3
Initial offer: $50,000
Negotiated to: $54,000

Job 4
Initial offer: $62,000
Negotiated to: $67,000

Job 5
Initial offer: $75,000
Negotiated to: $82,000

The difference is huge–more than $20,000–and that’s only over the course of five jobs. The effects are even greater over a 40- or 50-year career. So, negotiating not just now but for your future self pays. 

Should I always negotiate my salary after receiving a job offer?

Some career coaches advocate for negotiating 100% of the time, leaving nothing on the table. However, the reality isn’t usually so black and white. 

There may be times when it’s in your best interest to refrain from negotiating, like if you’re changing careers or it’s been a challenging fight just to get to an offer. Or, sometimes, you’ll receive an excellent offer immediately!

While a company’s first offer almost always has wiggle room, don’t negotiate just for the sake of negotiating. This can create a negative impression, especially if the initial offer was very strong. Do it strategically when you feel confident your skills, experience, and credentials are worth more than the company’s initial figure. 

How much can you realistically negotiate salary?

Five to ten percent is a reasonable range to negotiate. If you come back asking for much more than a 10% increase, it could indicate a mismatch between your qualifications and the realities of the role. 

The exception would be if you’re at the very high end of the qualifications the company is looking for or if you come with specialized credentials, which could mean an increase of between 10 and 20% is warranted. 

8 steps to follow when negotiating salary

1. Overcome your initial uncertainty

When you’re not experienced with negotiating salary, it can feel awkward, nerve-wracking, and intimidating. This is normal! 

What’s important to remember that negotiating is a standard part of professional life, and thousands of people do it every day (it’s also incredibly rare for an employer to rescind a job offer because a candidate attempts to negotiate). 

Negotiating gets easier with practice, and you have to start somewhere. Remind yourself that you’ll get better at it every time, too. 

2. Do your research

Research, research, research. You want to come to the table armed with solid evidence that the number you’re asking for is reasonable. 

Start by looking up your targeted job title in our salary database. If the information on the exact position you’re interviewing for isn’t available, look up the position on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site. You may also be able to find publicly advertised salary ranges for similar positions by browsing listings on our feed of national job openings or on LinkedIn.

When doing your research, be mindful of location. Because of the difference in market size and cost of living, a company in San Francisco will likely pay more than a company in Birmingham for the same job. Whether the position is on-site or remote also matters. 

3. Build your case

After learning about the fair market rate for similar roles, it’s time to build the case for what you bring to the table. Why do you deserve the amount you’re asking for? Your argument should include specific accomplishments and examples of how you have added value to your current and previous employers. 

Some examples might include the following:

  • Saving the company money
  • Helping win new business
  • Improving your team’s performance
  • Finding a way to increase efficiency

You can also cite your years of experience and any advanced degrees or specialized credentials you hold. Help the company see why investing in you will pay off for them in the long run. 

4. Have a live discussion

Salary negotiation is a conversation you want to have in person, over the phone, or via video call, if at all possible. When you’re ready to negotiate, ask the hiring manager to schedule a time to discuss the offer. 

While it’s acceptable to negotiate salary via email, you miss the subtleties of face-to-face communication that can give you clues about the other party’s position. Ideally, you want to be able to engage in a back-and-forth conversation rather than just typing out your statement and waiting for a response.

5. Consider the full package

When discussing negotiating, people tend to focus mostly on salary but don’t forget the other important aspects of a company’s offer. Non-salary items like bonuses and moving expenses may be negotiable, while the full benefits package also affects your total compensation. For example, if the company has excellent employer-sponsored healthcare, that may mean less of your paycheck goes toward your premium. 

Paid time off is another important aspect to consider. If work-life balance or travel are high on your priority list, you may be willing to settle for a slightly lower salary in exchange for an additional week of vacation. 

6. Prepare for the company’s response

While it’s possible a prospective employer will come up to meet the salary you’re asking for right away, it’s more likely they’ll come back with a counter-offer that’s somewhere in between your asking price and theirs. Some negotiation experts even suggest asking for slightly more than the actual dollar figure you want so you have wiggle room to “meet in the middle.” Take this into consideration when preparing to negotiate.

7. Anticipate tricky questions

Once you’ve laid your cards on the table and named the salary you want, the hiring manager might ask some forthright questions like whether you have any other offers and whether they are your top choice. You want to be prepared to answer these questions honestly but pragmatically. 

Remember, the company wants to feel confident you want to work there, not that you’re just choosing a job based on the highest bidder. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position with a statement like, “I’m in the final stages of interviewing with another company. I’ve been told to expect an offer, but your company is my first choice, so I wanted to move quickly to see if we could agree on a number that works for both of us.”

8. Put it all on paper

Once you’ve agreed to the terms, get everything in writing before officially accepting the job. This includes salary and any other terms you discussed, such as moving expenses, bonuses, time off, and other perks. 

Need help putting your salary negotiation in writing? Check out these tips for how to negotiate a job offer.

Mistakes to avoid when negotiating salary

Dragging it out

Unless you’re negotiating for an executive-level position, there shouldn’t be multiple weeks of back and forth. If you’re splitting hairs over a small sum of money, you risk alienating the hiring manager and starting off on the wrong foot, even if you do eventually accept the job. 

It’s best to go into a negotiation with your desired figure in mind and be prepared to either accept their best offer or walk away if you’re not getting it. 

Lying about other offers

To make themselves appear more desirable and force a hiring manager’s hand, some candidates employ the duplicitous strategy of making up another offer to use as leverage (i.e., “Company X has offered me $10,000 more. Can you match it?”). Don’t do this for any reason. 

Mentioning other offers can be risky even when they’re real, as some employers simply don’t want to deal with getting into a bidding war over a candidate. But if the other offer is fake and someone finds out, you can kiss the real job goodbye.

We’ve even heard stories of employers discovering this kind of deception years after hiring an employee and having to make the tough decision between firing them or keeping them on staff with serious doubts about their principles. It’s a no-win situation. 

Losing perspective

Negotiations can be frustrating, but if you allow your emotions to creep in, you risk losing your cool and failing to reach an agreement. 

It can be helpful to remember that this is a business deal, and both sides have goals to achieve. You want a job with a comfortable salary, and the company wants to land a qualified candidate who fits within their budget. But ultimately, you’re both working toward a shared goal: to reach a figure you both feel good about and have you say ‘yes’ to the job. 

If you can keep this perspective in mind, you’ll be more likely to retain your composure, make a strong argument, and ultimately arrive at an offer you’re excited to accept. Good luck in your search, and happy hunting!

Home / Career Advice / Compensation / How to Negotiate Your Salary
Pete Newsome headshot


Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn