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How to Negotiate Your Salary

Manager and employee handshake after finish agreement about negotiating salary.

With such a complex job market, you might hesitate to negotiate salary after receiving a job offer. After all, with so many companies laying off workers, shouldn’t you just be glad to have a job in the first place?

If you look at things a little differently, though, this climate actually creates a unique opportunity for qualified candidates to negotiate–that is, if you can make the case to back up what you’re asking for. We’ll explain how to negotiate your salary and share some common pitfalls to avoid. 

Reasons to negotiate your salary

Negotiating is a crucial step in getting paid what you’re worth. This is especially true for female and minority candidates, who have historically earned less money for equal work. Negotiating helps bridge the gap between the company looking to control costs and the candidate who will benefit the company by contributing valuable skills.

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 there’s almost always wiggle room in a company’s first offer, don’t negotiate just for the sake of negotiating. This can create a negative impression, especially if the initial offer was very strong, to begin with. 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 you come with specialized credentials, which could mean an increase of between 10 and 20% is warranted. 

8 steps on how to negotiate your salary

1. Overcome the 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. 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 researching your would-be job title with this employer using a site like Glassdoor. If the information on the exact position you’re interviewing for isn’t available, look up the same role with similar companies using our salary data tool or a site like Payscale. You may also be able to find publicly advertised salary ranges for similar positions by browsing open job listings.

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

3. Build a case

After learning about the fair market rate for similar roles, it’s time to build the case for what you specifically bring to the table. Why do you deserve the amount you’re asking for? Your argument should include specific accomplishments and examples of adding 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. Talk live

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 being face to face that can give you clues on 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

We focus mostly on salary when discussing negotiating, but don’t forget there are other important aspects to a company’s offer. Other forms of compensation, like bonuses and moving expenses, may be negotiable, while the full benefits package also plays a role in your total take-home pay. 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 is high on your list of priorities, it may be worth settling 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. This is why some negotiation experts 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. …And prepare for 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 come to agreeable terms, get it all in writing before officially accepting the job. This includes salary and any other terms you discussed, like 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 be certain you’ll kiss the 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 they’re trying to achieve. You want to get 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 also 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.