The moment has arrived: you’ve sailed through multiple interviews, skills tests, and personality assessments for the job of your dreams—and you finally have an offer in hand. You’re elated, excited, a little bit nervous…and then it hits you: it’s time to negotiate your salary.
“Salary negotiation” is a phrase that puts a bundle of nerves in many job seekers’ stomachs. It conjures up images of awkward back-and-forths, pointed questions, and agonizing over pressing “send” on a simple email. It’s an experience that few job seekers look forward to, but that virtually all job seekers will have to address at some point in their careers.
The anxiety is understandable. Many candidates start making concessions on their compensation packages before negotiations even begin, out of fear that asking for what they’re worth will jeopardize their offer or make a bad impression on their new manager or leadership team. On the flip side, some job seekers enter salary talks with unrealistic expectations, taking themselves out of the conversation before it’s really begun.
Maybe you’ve received an initial job offer with a lower-than-expected starting salary, and you need tips on how to proceed. Maybe you’re feeling the nerves over impending salary talks for an exciting new opportunity. Wherever you are in the compensation conversation, preparation is the key to securing an offer that satisfies you.
Here are some key salary negotiation tactics to help you navigate compensation talks and start your new role feeling valued and confident:
- Support your salary expectations with research and data
- Know your worth
- Be prepared to answer additional questions
- Know when to be flexible
- Maintain your enthusiasm
- Put your negotiation skills to the test
Support your salary expectations with research and data
It’s important for all job seekers to know the fair market value for their skills and experience—before they even start the job application process. Why? Because it helps them evaluate opportunities more effectively. A certain job description may seem like the perfect fit at first glance, but if the salary starts $15K below your fair market value, you may think twice about investing time in applying.
In the same vein, you don’t want to enter consideration for a role with salary expectations that outstrip your skill level, education, and years of experience.
Settling on a salary range that’s in line with your market value can feel like a lot of work, but there are resources and tactics to make it easier:
- Online resources like Glassdoor.com, Payscale.com and Salary.com provide estimates for a candidate’s market value based on factors like job title and location.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program provides annual wage estimates for hundreds of occupations. You can see national or state-level estimates for certain job titles as well as specific industries.
- Don’t underestimate the power of your network! Talk to colleagues, co-workers, friends and peers in similar roles to find out what they make. If you don’t feel comfortable asking about their personal salaries, simply ask “What do you think someone with my skills and years of experience should be earning?” or “What are you seeing in terms of salary ranges for candidates of my caliber in the labor market?”
With the right data on hand, you can enter your salary negotiations with a boost of confidence.
Know your worth
Once you have salary estimates for professionals in your position and your market, it’s time to reflect on what you deserve. Be honest in your evaluation; your experience level and education have an impact on your earnings, and your desired salary may need adjustment when you consider things holistically.
Your accomplishments and contributions at your previous or current job(s) also affect your salary. Consider projects you’ve completed that reflect expertise or experience that you could apply to your new role.
- How were you able to make a quantifiable impact in your past jobs?
- What are some specific examples of difference-making contributions you made? For example, did you help implement new sales tactics to boost overall sales? Did you help stand up a new technology program that improved operational efficiency?
- Are there specific performance increases or improvements you can cite to support your examples, i.e. decreasing costs by X% year-over-year or increasing sales by X% quarter-over-quarter?
Quantify your past accomplishments to prove your worth. Be ready to give examples of how you can contribute to the company’s bottom line so the employer has valuable information to consider during negotiations on your starting pay.
Remember: you can’t simply state what you want in a salary negotiation. If you’re asking for more than the initial offer, you’ll need to explain why the increase is not only justified, but also deserved.
Be prepared to answer additional questions
If you’ve received an initial offer and have provided your counteroffer, the potential employer may respond by asking about your current salary or salary history. Don’t feel obligated to answer with hard numbers. In fact, it’s illegal in many states for employers to ask candidates about their salary history, so know your state’s laws before divulging specifics to any hiring company.
If you live in a state where salary history is fair game during a job interview, there are ways to give a satisfactory answer without jeopardizing the success of your negotiations. Instead of giving your exact salary amount, you can respond by saying, “The compensation I receive is fair for my position, experience, and responsibilities.”
One thing you should never do when asked about your salary history? Lie.
Giving a potential employer an inflated number can backfire, as most business leaders have decent intel on average salary ranges for the roles they’re trying to fill. Plus, it’s never a good idea to kick things off with a new employer by being dishonest. You never know if or when it can come back to haunt you.
Know when to be flexible in your negotiations—especially if you’re passionate about the role and company
Unfortunately, some jobs have firm salary ranges, and there’s simply no room in the company’s budget to offer more. In these cases, a potential employer may respond to your counteroffer by referencing a superior company benefits package, an attractive paid time off (PTO) policy, or company-sponsored professional development opportunities.
If you feel strongly about the role, there may be opportunities to negotiate for perks or compensation that falls outside of your starting salary. Calculate how much your current employer contributes to your employee benefits, including your health insurance, life insurance, retirement savings, PTO and annual bonuses, and see how it stacks up against your current offer.
If your potential employer is firm on salary but seems flexible on other benefits and perks, consider it a negotiation opportunity.
A lower starting salary can be softened by a range of negotiable factors, including:
- Higher signing bonus
- More paid time off/sick days/vacation days
- Increased work-from-home flexibility
- Reimbursed moving expenses
- Stock options and equity percentages
- Annual or quarterly bonuses
- Stipends for home office equipment
- Company-sponsored training, professional development courses, and certifications
If you’re truly passionate about a job opportunity, but the starting salary isn’t negotiable, consider other desirable perks you can work into your offer. Oftentimes, factors like bonuses, stock options, and additional PTO can bring your total compensation into the range you’re looking for.
Maintain your enthusiasm throughout the negotiation process
No matter what the offer is, always show gratitude and express your excitement at the opportunity to make an impact on a new team.
Maintain a positive and enthusiastic attitude throughout the negotiation process to prove that you’re a team player and that you can handle yourself professionally; you never want to create the impression that you’re ungrateful or entitled.
If you do decline the final offer, always do so graciously—and remember to thank the company for their time and consideration. Walking away in a professional manner will leave a positive impression on the employer, and who knows—you may form a solid professional connection that will serve you in the future.
Put your salary negotiation skills to the test
Most salary offers come with the expectation that candidates will counter, so be prepared to negotiate instead of accepting or declining an initial offer right off the bat. Accepting a salary lower than you deserve may affect how much you’ll earn in raises, including yearly increases and promotions, as well as how much a potential employer may offer you ten years down the road.
Similarly, asking for too much in your counteroffer without the research and data to support your expectations can preclude you from landing the job in the end. It may also leave a negative impression on a hiring team.
Salary negotiation is a normal component of any job application process, so it’s important for job seekers to come to the negotiation table knowing what they deserve and how to demonstrate their worth. Don’t be afraid to be assertive and confident, but try to balance it with being diplomatic; knowing when to walk away graciously and when to be flexible in your expectations can go a long way in helping you land the offer of your dreams.
Want to elevate your job search? Vaco is with you all the way. Check out our job seeker page to submit your resume or browse our current job listings.