Few things can stir up anxiety like having to negotiate a salary—especially if it’s your dream job and you’re worried about losing the offer quicker than it came.
Here’s the thing: Just because someone offers you a salary doesn’t mean you can’t ask for something different—in fact, you should. But if you’re negotiating a salary offer, you have to be prepared. This isn’t something you can or should do off the cuff—this is serious business!
So, whether you’re preparing for an offer you see coming on the horizon or you’ve already received one and want to go back to the hiring manager to ask for more, there’s an order for how you should do this.
I want your conversation to go off without a hitch, so let’s break down each step.
1. Research what you’re worth.
If you’re asking for a higher salary, then you need cold, hard facts to make your case. Here are some good ways to do the research.
Find similar salary ranges in the job market.
Start by doing some research on websites like Monster, CareerBuilder and Glassdoor. These sites will usually let you narrow down your search to some pretty specific criteria. You’re looking for the salary range in today’s job market for:
- Your position in your specific city and state
- Someone with your level of experience
- Someone with your training or educational background
If you don’t have the job yet and the company you’re interviewing with has a profile on any of these sites, you might even be able to view the average salary ranges at that specific company. This can help you get a more accurate picture of what you can expect to be offered.
One important note: You may already know how much you’re worth because of what you got paid at your previous job. It’s okay to volunteer that information if it will help your case, but just know that it’s illegal in many states for an interviewer to ask your current or previous salary.
Estimate your value for the organization.
If possible, try to find out how much revenue your position typically brings in for an organization. A concrete dollar amount really helps measure your value (as an employee—not as a human being!).
If you’re negotiating your salary at a company you’ve already been working at for a while (maybe for a new position), see if you can get an estimate of the revenue you’ve already made for the business. Keep track of any other achievements, accomplished goals or awards that help show what you’ve been able to bring to the table.
Ask recruiters in your field.
Another great research method is to just ask people. Do you have any friends or friends of friends who do similar work and have similar experience in the field? Are there any recruiters or other HR professionals in your community who would be willing to share salary ranges for your position and industry?
I know it might feel awkward to ask for this information, but it’s worth it. No one will be able to give you a clearer understanding of a reasonable salary range than someone who’s in the industry today. And I’m willing to bet that people will be more open with this information than you think.
Whatever method you choose, gather up as much research as you can. The only way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to take the time to do your homework!
2. Land on a salary number.
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to land on a number. Notice I didn’t say land on a range. That’s because when you’re negotiating, you’re not going to ask for a salary range—you’re going to ask for a specific number. Now, if salary comes up in your very first interview and you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself until you have more details, you don’t have to be this specific. But once you’re more informed on what the job would entail and it’s time to actually negotiate, being specific will only help you.
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I’m just riffing here, but let’s say you discover in your research that your position can range in salary from $60,000–75,000. Based on your experience, you need to decide what number you’re going to shoot for within that range. (Once you pick that number, aim a little higher when you actually negotiate. That way the hiring manager may feel like they’re getting a deal if they go a bit lower.)
Before you speak with the hiring manager, there are three numbers you need to have in mind. Here’s how to find those three numbers:
Identify your salary.
This is the specific number you just came up with that’s within the salary range you found in your research. From our example above, let’s say we want to negotiate a salary offer of $67,000 (yes, you should be that specific!). If the hiring manager is able to offer you this number (or higher), you know you can immediately accept the offer without regrets.
Decide on the lowest salary you’d accept.
This number is the lowest salary you can accept based on your budget and your family’s needs. Let’s call it $60,000 in this case.
This number might mean you need to adjust your budget and make some sacrifices, but you’re willing to do that because you really want this job.
Here’s what I want you to keep in mind with this particular number: If you and the hiring manager get to your lowest ideal salary, before you accept the offer, I highly recommend you ask them for a financial growth plan. That sounds like some fancy contract, but it’s not!
It’s a simple conversation where you can say something like, “I’m really excited to work with your team, and I’m eager to accept your offer of $60,000 if we can come up with a plan for financial growth in this position. I’d love to know what I can do to be in a higher salary in 12 or 18 months.”
Set your deal-breaker salary.
The name of this number says it all—make sure you know what number will cause you to walk away from the job offer. This number could simply be anything under your lowest ideal salary.
Think of the deal-breaker number as the salary you’re simply not able to live on, no matter how great the opportunity might be.
To continue our example, let’s say that—if push comes to shove—you’d be willing to consider $58,000 or $59,000 if there are other benefits and perks involved. Your deal-breaker number could then be $57,000, meaning you wouldn’t accept that salary or anything lower.
Once you’ve done your research and landed on your ideal salary, lowest acceptable salary and deal-breaker salary, you’re ready to step out and ask boldly!
3. Make the ask.
I know negotiating a salary offer is intimidating, but it might feel less scary if you think about negotiation as simply asking questions and presenting information. Here are some things to keep in mind when you ask:
Watch your body language.
Even if you’re not looking forward to the money conversation, walk into the room with confidence and a smile. Make eye contact (without staring) and don’t fidget, slump, or shift your gaze around. Keep breathing and remember that you’re worthy of being paid well!
You can and should be bold when making your case, but adding a question or two into your “pitch” can help this feel more like a dialogue than a demand.
Here’s a sample script for starting the conversation:
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to join your team. After doing some research, I found that based on my level of experience, the market rate for this position is about $70,000. I feel that number reflects the value I’ll bring to your organization. What can we do to bring my compensation closer to $70,000?”
Don’t be afraid to ask more questions throughout the conversation too. If the number the hiring manager gives you is way lower than what you found in your research, respectfully ask how they came to that number while showing them what you found in your research. And remember to use concrete examples of how you’ve performed in the past and the kind of revenue you could bring in.
Stick to your range.
The person you’re negotiating with may challenge you on certain things or ask you to provide even more examples of the value you bring, but that’s all part of the negotiation process. Don’t let that intimidate you or make you settle for a lowball offer. Stand firm in the boundaries you’ve already decided on.
Don’t be pushy.
The conversation can take many twists and turns, but the important thing to remember is to remain respectful and humble. (No one wants to bargain with an arrogant jerk.) Make up your mind beforehand that you’re really prepared to walk away if they won’t offer anything above your deal-breaker salary—and if you do have to walk away, be careful not to burn any bridges.
Remember, folks—negotiating a salary is all about having an informed discussion. It doesn’t have to be awkward or embarrassing. And as long as you take time to prepare, it won’t put you in jeopardy of losing the opportunity.
I know you can do this. You have what it takes!