Finding a job that’s right for you can be tricky. Perhaps you’re fresh out of college, but lack the experience requirements set by the hiring manager. Or perhaps you’ve been in a stable job for some time, but just haven’t been able to find the right opportunity to maximize your income and advance your career.
No matter what stage you’re in during the job hunting process, there’s one thing you need to be prepared for: negotiating your salary. Even if you’re new to the workforce or industry, and aren’t sure what salary you should ask for, there is power in knowing what you’re worth and what you can bring to the table. Additionally, if you’ve been in the business for a while, you may find that you’re being underpaid and need to reconsider your role or the salary and benefits you are getting.
However, negotiating your salary is much easier said than done. It can be difficult to advocate for yourself, and you have to learn to walk the fine line between assertive and not-to-aggressive. For some people, the ability to negotiate does not come naturally.
So how can you be a better self-advocate and get the salary you deserve? Let’s dive into the etiquette of salary negotiation, how you can understand and advocate for your worth, and what tactics you should avoid altogether.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why You Should Always Negotiate Salary
- 2 Prepare to Negotiate Salary Before Getting an Offer
- 3 Starting Salary Negotiations
- 4 Negotiating Salary: Dos and Don’ts
- 5 Getting the Salary And Job You Deserve
Why You Should Always Negotiate Salary
But first, why should you bother to negotiate your salary? Can’t you just be happy with what you get? And doesn’t it look bad to appear demanding (especially in an interview setting)?
The answer is: yes, you should negotiate your salary, and no, it doesn’t look bad to demand fair wages. In fact, asking for what you want can do exactly the opposite and make you look better. Negotiating your wages shows that you’re aware of the industry, your value, and your ability to perform the work that the position requires. Essentially, it can show that you’ve done thorough research for the position. It will also show that the company is willing to invest in you and appreciates the work you do.
Plus, many employees can (and will) be underpaid for their work simply because they didn’t know how to negotiate in the first place. Our economy teaches businesses (and business leaders) that cutting costs helps a business net better profits. If a business can hire or retain a worker for less than they’re actually worth, then that business will try to take advantage of that opportunity. However, knowing your worth and asking for a higher salary can protect you from missing out on a strong starting salary.
Businesses also are placing an increased emphasis on “work-life balance,” meaning they want employees to feel supported by the company as well as being comfortable in their everyday lives. If employees are guaranteed fair pay, a solid benefits package(s), and a cultural fit with the company, then they are more likely to stay for an extended period of time and contribute to the company. Negotiating your starting wage can be an important first step in building your relationship with the business.
The better prepared you are to argue your worth, the better your chances will be of starting your new job on the right foot.
Prepare to Negotiate Salary Before Getting an Offer
Just as with any other aspect of a job interview, it’s important for you to do your research before you accept a new job. The worst thing you could do is enter an interview with no knowledge of the position, industry, or business. So, as you construct your understanding of the job you’re interested in, also take the time to research starting salaries, what other companies pay, and what the industry standard for that position is currently.
However, negotiating your salary is also tricky. You will most certainly not get a “yes” right off the bat, but you also shouldn’t demand an unreasonable sum of money.
When you’re negotiating, expect three things:
- Provide evidence as to why you deserve the number you’ve landed on; build your case.
- Expect some resistance, even if you have a perfect case created to support your reasoning. They will most likely not say “yes” immediately.
- Remain firm but flexible. Some employers might be willing to meet you in the middle, which could also be better than the starting salary they initially offered you. If anything, expect a no, but hope for a yes, and have a salary range of what you want but what you’re willing to settle for as well.
Additionally, salary negotiation can also entail negotiating other benefits or perks. Although it’s always nice to get a higher salary or base pay, it is equally important to be supported with healthcare, workplace flexibility (such as working from home), and a strong retirement package. If the business you’re interested in does not offer these things right from the start, perhaps you can negotiate with them to get the benefits that you think are the most important. Businesses can often claim tax deductions for providing these kinds of benefits payments, saving the company money compared to simply paying employees more, so it can be a powerful bargaining chip for you to bring up.
Know Your Value
To help you build your case, you will need to understand how much you’re worth as an employee. This information is all based on a variety of factors, including: geographic location, seniority, the industry standard, as well as market information.
Your years of experience (sometimes referred to as “seniority”) should be your first consideration in salary negotiation. Consider how much money you spent on your education, and how valuable those years of knowledge were to you. A popular anecdote is the (possibly exaggerated) story of Picasso drawing a quick sketch on a napkin for an admirer, and then demanding a substantial sum for the drawing. When the admirer protests and says “but that only took you 5 minutes to draw!” Picasso responds: “No, that took me 40 years.”
The same idea should be applied to your experience in the industry. All those cumulative years of experience and knowledge have shaped you into a valuable asset for the business you’re interested in.
Know What the Position is Worth
It’s important to keep your geographic location in mind when negotiating. Minimum wage, competitive fields, and more are all dependent on your local job market. For example, although the industry standard for a Marketer in Seattle, WA might be between $90,000 to $135,000 a year, that information is only relevant to the booming Seattle job market. In nearby Boise, ID, that salary range might be closer to $45,000 up to $90,000 a year.
The position you’re applying for also has an impact on your salary negotiation. Are you applying for an entry-level position, or a more experienced role? Investigate how much that position is worth in your area and within the industry. This can give you a reasonable idea of what to expect when offered the job.
Once you’ve figured out all these aspects, you can better define your market value. If you’re not sure how to calculate that information, Glassdoor offers both company salaries as well as a “Know Your Worth” salary estimate calculator that determine how your years of experience and the market you’re in can influence your paychecks (aka your market value).
Have a Special Number in Mind
Determining your market value will give you an idea of the leveraging power you have in negotiations. If the company is offering you $33,000 for the position you’ve applied for, but you know your market value is actually $40,000 a year for this position, you can use that information and give them a range of $45,000 to $38,000 a year. Chances are they’ll meet you in the middle, and you might be able to negotiate a starting wage of $40,000 a year.
Keeping that specific number in mind — your market value — you can have a solid foundation for receiving realistic compensation. However, remember that the business you’re applying for will be more accepting of a range than a specific number, as this also gives them room to find a compromise with you.
Starting Salary Negotiations
Now that you better understand what you should ask for, you have to put this information into practice. Although it can be intimidating to talk money with your potential employer, it is essential that you do. Remember, there is more harm in the long run in not negotiating than there is in asking for more money from the get-go.
Before you go into your first interview, practice your pitch. Consider questions you might want to ask, and how you will shape your argument based on their answers. If you can, ask an experienced friend to listen to your pitch and offer some feedback. Make sure you are ready to go into the interview with confidence and professionalism, as well as a sound understanding of what you want to ask from the company. A little bit of a persuasive attitude (the ability to sell your skills and experience) can also come in handy.
However, it’s also important to not immediately ask for more money the moment you walk into the interview room. Salary negotiation is an important part of interviewing and starting a new job, but it is certainly not something you want to start out with.
While interviewing, make sure to answer all the questions presented to you, and allow them to get an idea of how valuable you will be for the business. Once they hand the question-asking over to you, you can ask them about the next step in the interview process and if salaries are negotiable.
If the business has a multi-interview process (such as two or three interviews before they offer you the position), then wait to hear back before you bring up wages and compensation. Be patient, and wait for the right time to bring up wages.
However, you can use the opportunity you’ve been given to ask questions about the business. And if salary or wages are brought up, you can also ask questions, such as:
- How long has the business been around? Only ask this question if the information is not readily available on their website or business page. This will give you an idea of how much experience the business has, and (potentially) what their budget is for employees. A young new company might not be able to negotiate wages as well as an older, well established company.
- Who are some of their main competitors in the industry, and what sets their business apart? Use this information to investigate those businesses and the salaries or benefits they offer their employees. This can help you build your case. Additionally, you’ll have a better idea of the culture of the business you’re interested in based on their answer.
- What benefits or perks does the business offer employees? Some businesses might offer this information in their application, while others you might have to ask. If anything, this will help you determine if you also need to negotiate employee benefits or perks.
- Can I negotiate the salary offer? Once they’ve shown you a number (keep in mind this might be on the second or third interview), you can bring up the possibility of reaching a compromise with the company. If the company says “no” because they have a strict starting wage, then consider your options: should you keep job searching, or should you stay with this business? Your answer will depend on your needs, and if you respond negatively they could move on to the next candidate (even if you’re still considering working there). So be sure to be careful with your wording if you really need the job.
- How did you calculate this number? This will give you an idea of the company’s methods for determining wages, and will give you the chance to compare that method with your own.
- How are raises or promotions handled in the business? This will give you an idea of the internal management structure of the business, as well as your potential to earn more in the future. If they offer you a lower starting wage, but promise the potential for a raise in six months, then it could be within your interest to accept the job offer (as long as the initial amount works for you).
- How do you measure success within the company, particularly for employees? They can then give you a better idea of what they expect from employees, and you can use this information to bolster your argument. Additionally, you can use this information down the road if you decide to work for them and have the opportunity to discuss a raise later in your career.
- Can I get this offer in writing? This will help you cement the salary that you’ve agreed upon. Nothing is permanent or guaranteed until it’s in writing.
Demonstrate Your Value
No matter what your end goal is for an interview, you always want to be sure of one thing: you can demonstrate and accurately describe the value you will bring to the company. Think of examples of how you’ve handled difficult clients or customers in the past, and what you did to turn that negative situation into a positive one. Or perhaps there was a time when you were thrown into a project with little guidance or explanation. Consider any difficult scenario that you experienced that ultimately proved your ability to withstand pressure and still provide an exceptional product.
The more examples you can provide that are relevant to the business you’re applying to will help build your case for salary negotiation. A business is going to be more willing to listen to your request if you also can prove a history of exceptional work ethic and dedication.
Remember, be patient and wait for the right opportunity to present your evidence and ask for a wage negotiation. The outcome of your negotiations is dependent on a couple of aspects: the business’ budget for employees and your ability to compromise and persuade the hiring manager. No matter what the outcome is (good or bad), it’s important for you to remain patient with the business if you still decide to accept their offer.
Some hiring managers might not be able to give you a competitive wage from the get-go, but they might be able to promise you a raise in six months that is dependent on your performance. This will give you time to really demonstrate your value to the company. Additionally, the business might be in the start-up phase, which means it will accumulate profits over time. Waiting for those profits and remaining loyal to the company could pay off for you in the long run.
Patience is important with many aspects in business, and it’s also a valuable asset to have as an employee. Patience will most likely be rewarded.
Negotiating Salary: Dos and Don’ts
All this information might be helpful for building your case, but it can still be tricky or awkward to start the conversation all together. Your personality and experience will play a large role in how you broach the subject, but there are still some guidelines that you might want to keep in mind as you prepare for the negotiations. Remember the following “dos and don’ts” while you build your case:
Do Imagine You Are Negotiating for Someone Else
For many people — especially women and minority groups who often suffer from imposter syndrome — self advocating can be the biggest hurdle to overcome. Imposter syndrome is the sense that you’re not qualified for the position you’re in, and you’re afraid that you’ll be “found out” as an imposter. It’s the sense that you’re faking it, and not actually that great of a worker. Imposter syndrome can be a major career setback, as it can prevent you from seeking out better raises or promotions.
However, a temporary solution to combating imposter syndrome can be seeing yourself in the third person. Essentially, pretend you’re advocating for someone else. Think about your favorite work colleague, or a good friend that is in a similar field as you. If you’re beating yourself up, would you think about your friends in the same way? Or would you be more compassionate and celebrate their successes?
Do this for yourself as well. Look at yourself and your career successes with the same compassion as you would show a friend. Many women tend to be better advocates for colleagues than for themselves, and if this is true for you, then lean into that instinct and use it on yourself. Remind yourself that you’re not an imposter, but that you deserve reasonable compensation for the valuable work you do.
Do Ask for More Than You Want
As mentioned earlier, you should always give a range instead of an exact number of what you want from the negotiations. There’s a few reasons for that — such as market research, fluctuating industry standards, and what you desire for wages and compensations (such as saying “I want X amount plus a large benefit package”) — but mostly it’s a lot easier for the business to make a compromise if you aim high and are willing to meet in the middle.
When you create the range, aim about $5,000-$10,000 (a year) over what you hope to get. The business will negotiate from there, and you’ll be more likely to get the amount you actually believe is your market value.
Plus, you might be surprised to learn that the business is willing to give you the maximum amount you requested. It can be rare, but it’s always a nice surprise when it happens.
Do Negotiate Benefits and Salary
No matter what, don’t forget to factor health and retirement benefits into your negotiation process. Ask about their 401K package, and what sort of health, vision, and dental benefits they provide. There are also other perks that you might want to request or research, including: tuition reimbursement for college or university, intensive training or coaching for new hires, a flexible work calendar that lets you work from home, and child care compensation.
If you know ahead of time what the business offers (such as if it was mentioned in the job description), then be sure to factor that into your wage negotiations; maybe even combining those benefits with the salary range that you offer. For example, say your market value is about $45,000, but the benefits you want cost about $10,000. You could say: “I’m hoping to make anywhere from $60,000-$50,000 a year, which includes a strong benefit package with health insurance, child care compensation, and a 401K.”
Do Understand Anchoring Bias
One important aspect of salary negotiating is getting your offer in before they have the chance to set the “anchor” for the conversation. This is in reference to anchoring bias, which is defined as: “Anchoring […] is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions.“
During salary negotiations, once you’ve had the chance to discuss the position and transition into the negotiating phase, be sure to place your offer on the table first. The first number that you offer will become the “anchor,” and hopefully will work in your favor to get a better salary.
Don’t Be Too Aggressive
Your ability to persuade the hiring manager is important, but you must also be aware of your tone. No matter how the conversation goes, you should never come off as aggressive. It is vital for you to still remain grateful and enthusiastic for the opportunity to be able to negotiate.
Showing signs of frustration or anger doesn’t just lower your chances of winning the negotiation, but also makes you look like a poor team player. The hiring manager could rescind the job offer altogether if they think you’re an aggressive negotiator.
Don’t Focus on Salary But Ignore Culture
Lastly, don’t forget to consider the company culture. Although the opportunity for a large paycheck might be tempting, you should never ignore the company culture and put your personal happiness on the line in exchange for more money.
When considering the importance between money and happiness, remember that you will be more successful in the long run if you prioritize your personal wellbeing over a large paycheck. A proper culture fit is essential to you enjoying your job, and can help you achieve a better balance between work and your everyday life.
Getting the Salary And Job You Deserve
Salary negotiations are certainly tricky, but they can set you up for a promising career and a stable income. Be sure to research your market value, the culture of the business, and advocate for yourself so that you can receive the reasonable compensation — and the job — that you deserve.
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