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How to Negotiate Your Next Salary (and What to Avoid)

September 9, 2021

The era of employees retiring from a company after 40 years with a pension and a gold watch is long gone. Today’s workers typically change jobs and careers multiple times, for multiple reasons. In fact, a recent Microsoft study found that 41% of global workers were considering a change within the next year.

Changing employers is an excellent way to reinvigorate your career, find work that’s more fulfilling, and give your income a boost—especially if you know how to negotiate your salary. Though it could be nerve-wracking—and even a little scary—negotiating salary is worth the effort. And with the right strategy, you might even surprise yourself when you see that compensation package.

Why It’s Important to Negotiate Your Salary

Negotiating a salary is never solely about money. Yes, you’re asking for a higher income, but you’re also advocating for your career, family, and financial future. Keep that in mind if you’re second-guessing your decision to negotiate.

In addition to helping you get the salary you deserve, solid negotiation skills can help you achieve a better overall compensation package, which is essential to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It also shows an employer that you’re up-front about your expectations. And it demonstrates that you possess confidence and initiative—two assets that are highly valued in any workplace. 

Some people fear that asking for more money will make potential employers view them negatively, but many employers actually expect potential hires to negotiate their initial salary offer, and the employer’s initial offer often reflects that. Despite this, according to a survey conducted by the consulting firm Robert Half, only 39% of participants said they had asked for more money after receiving their latest job offer.

12 Tips for Negotiating Your Salary

When entering any salary negotiation, the most important thing is to be prepared. The more you bring to the process, the better chance you have of it going your way. 

1. Research your work’s value.

Research typical market rates for people in your position. Career sites like Glassdoor and Payscale function with real user data and can help you find salary ranges for your current job title, experience level, and location. You can also talk to recruiters, co-workers, former managers, or friends in the industry to get the lay of the land. Your professional network is a great resource when it comes to determining the latest industry and salary trends. 

2. Aim high.

Once you’ve established a salary range for the position you’ve been offered, don’t be afraid to ask for top dollar. Starting at the top shows your prospective employer that you know your worth and aren’t afraid to ask for it. 

3. Remind employers what you bring to the role.

This is your chance to reiterate all the great qualities that got you that job offer in the first place. Be specific about how your skill set will benefit the company. For example, if you have a particular area of expertise that could eliminate a certain expense, explain how you would utilize such skills. An employer will be much more likely to increase your compensation if you can convince them of the tangible value you bring to the table. 

4. Ask the right questions.

Questions like “How did you calculate my salary offer?” and “Are there other opportunities to increase my salary?” will help you hone in on the specifics of the position and get a sense of how the company approaches the hiring process. 

5. Consider perks and benefits.

In addition to traditional benefits like health insurance, paid time off (PTO), and a retirement plan, many employers offer additional benefits as part of their compensation package. Perks like gym memberships, childcare, free lunches, tuition reimbursement, corporate discounts, and more should be considered when negotiating your offer. When negotiating, think about elements beyond salary which might make an initial offer more appealing. For example, if you’re just starting out in a particular field, you may want to ask about opportunities for growth, like free or low-cost career-building courses. If you have kids, you may want a flexible schedule that could allow you to save on childcare costs. If your new job is with a startup, you may want to inquire about stock options or equity potential.

6. Reiterate your interest in joining the team.

Remember that your potential employer has invested as much time as you have. Reiterating all the reasons you’re excited about the job and want to join the team will remind them that you’re not just there for the money.

7. Make the most of your soft skills.

Don’t forget that work is very much about relationships. Though companies want to hire the best of the best in terms of skill sets, they also want people who communicate well and get along with others. Use your emotional intelligence and empathy when negotiating your compensation. It’s a great way to remind your potential employer that you’ll fit in culturally as well. 

8. Consider who you’re negotiating with.

Negotiating with a hiring manager or HR rep will likely be different than negotiating with a potential manager. For example, HR can answer detailed questions about your benefits package, but your manager might not have all those answers. If you’re negotiating with your would-be boss, keep it high level.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

Don’t go into your negotiations cold. Practicing with a friend, family member, or trusted colleague will help you be better prepared for whatever questions might come your way. The better prepared you are, the better the negotiation is likely to go. Showing up prepared also shows you’ve done your research and can deftly handle stressful scenarios—both great qualities to have in an employee. 

10. Get it in writing.

Once you and your HR rep (or other party) have agreed upon a salary and benefits package, make sure you get it in writing. You should expect to receive a written offer that includes the exact number you agreed on. 

11. Keep your options open.

Until you’ve signed a contract, keep your options open and have a plan in place in case your salary negotiations fall through. It’s also a good idea to continue to interview until you’ve signed an agreement. If you receive other offers, make the most of the information they provide and tactfully use that as leverage during negotiations. 

12. Know when to walk away.

Sometimes salary negotiations just don’t work out. If the offer they provided does not work for your personal or financial situation, it’s time to cut your losses. But make sure to refuse the offer graciously. Write a thank you note and make sure to acknowledge everyone who participated. You never know when you may encounter some of these people again or what might be available to you in the future. 

5 Things to Avoid When Negotiating Your Salary

In order to make a good impression and get the most out of your negotiation, it’s best to steer clear of certain practices. 

1. Asking about the offer too soon

The best time to talk about your salary is after you’ve been presented with an offer. If you jump the gun, employers can easily get the impression that money is your biggest priority, not your enthusiasm for the job or what you can bring to the company. Before you begin negotiating, make sure to listen to the full details of the offer so you get a clear picture of what’s included. Then, decide on what to ask for. 

2. Settling for less than you’re worth

When you settle for less money than you deserve, you may find yourself less satisfied with the job overall. It can also have some major financial consequences, like losing money for retirement. If the final offer is too low, it could be best to move on. 

3. Being inflexible

At the same time, you don’t want to be so inflexible in your negotiations that you price yourself out of a job you really want. “While it may be true that you have to be firm and determined when negotiating your salary, it’s a mistake to be inflexible during the whole process,” says job search strategist Noelle Gross. “Just discussing your demands and how a salary package fits your needs and lifestyle will leave a bad impression on your interviewer. Instead, focus on the fact that there are two parties negotiating, and the company has its needs as well.”

4. Not choosing your battles

Though you should be prepared to negotiate for what you want, don’t make the mistake of arguing for every single item on your list. Much of negotiating comes down to making compromises, so be prepared to make concessions in certain areas. Your potential employer will be doing the same.

5. Making it personal

When listing the reasons you believe you deserve a higher salary, stick to discussing your professional skills, experience, and industry research. Employers don’t want to hear your personal reasons for why you think you deserve more, even if they’re valid. Keep it professional to make the best impression. 

Negotiating Salary During COVID-19

Between remote working, office closures, furloughs, and layoffs, workers and employers alike have had to manage COVID-19’s impact on their daily lives. Because of this, it’s easy to assume that you shouldn’t try to negotiate a higher salary while the pandemic is still in play. But that’s not necessarily true. Though you should be sensitive to the impact COVID-19 has had on any company, there are many scenarios in which you can make a good case for higher pay. 

For example, if you’re a frontline or essential worker, you’re likely facing greater risks than you were pre-pandemic, which might entitle you to a better salary. Or, if you’re a salesperson, perhaps you managed to actually increase sales in 2020. In such scenarios, it makes sense to negotiate for higher pay. The key is to be sensitive to what the company has faced during COVID-19, ask questions, and make your case based on what you have to offer. 

Making the Most of Your Income

Whenever you get a new salary, don’t forget to revisit your budget. Whether you now have extra income to pad your emergency fund or need to cut expenses, a new job can serve as a great jumping-off point to reviewing your finances.

The Bottom Line

The most successful salary negotiations are the ones where both you and your potential employer leave the table feeling happy, satisfied, and excited for the future. With a little preparation and a good attitude, you’re sure to make a great impression regardless of the outcome. 

Common FAQs

How do you negotiate salary after receiving a job offer?

When negotiating a salary offer, it’s important to come prepared. Before the meeting, research your industry to make sure you’ve got the latest data on current salary ranges. It’s also a good idea to make a list of any questions you want to ask. During the meeting, listen to the details of the full offer before making your counteroffer. When it’s your turn, present your case politely but confidently, reiterating the skills you’ll be bringing to the table. Avoid common pitfalls like asking for too little or settling for less than you’re worth. 

Can you lose a job offer by negotiating salary?

Anything’s possible. However, it’s unlikely that a job offer will be rescinded just because you chose to negotiate. Most employers won’t penalize you for advocating for yourself at this stage. If your salary request is reasonable and well-informed, and the potential employer hasn’t already indicated that this is their best offer, you should speak up. 

How do you negotiate a higher starting salary?

Negotiating a higher starting salary should follow roughly the same process as negotiating a salary when you’ve been with a company for a while. Do your research and come prepared to talk about how your work can positively impact the company. You may also want to disclose the salary you received at a previous job or discuss competing offers as leverage. Demonstrate your worth and your potential employer is more likely to consider your ask. 

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