Salary Negotiation Tips

Some people get uncomfortable at the idea of salary negotiation. You might fear you'll come across as rude or greedy. Or maybe you don't feel it's appropriate to ask for more. If you have concerns, be aware that salary negotiation is a standard part of the hiring process. (And note that the more you do it, the better at it you'll become.) You'll have more negotiating leverage after you become an experienced working professional, but you still have the ability to negotiate now.

A salary negotiation isn't about demanding more money—it's a discussion both sides hope will have a positive outcome. Many organizations (especially big companies) expect you to negotiate, so they factor that in to their offer. Occasionally the salary offer will not be negotiable (due to finances or organizational policy), but a conversation about it is common

Don't talk about salary until you've been offered the position.

Diplomatically avoid salary discussions during the interview stage. If you discuss salary and benefits before the decision has been made to hire you, you risk not getting the offer at all. You have more leverage after an offer has been made. You have even more leverage if you were the organization's strong first choice, so be sure your priority is preparing for a successful interview.

Salary is only one part of your compensation package.

Other possible benefits include vacation, sick time, health insurance, dental coverage, life and disability insurance, retirement options, tuition assistance, day care, and parking. These benefits are part of your compensation package and may affect the salary offer. Occasionally you can negotiate some of these benefits, such as vacation or sick days. You might try this option if an organization can't negotiate salary with you.

Prepare to Negotiate by Doing Research

In order to effectively negotiate a fair salary, you need to know what a realistic salary range is for someone:

  1. in the type of position you've been offered
  2. with your qualifications/skills
  3. in that geographic location
  4. with your amount of experience

Note that the same type of position will earn different salaries in different types of organizations. For example, there are often differences between a business, nonprofit, or government agency. To research typical salary ranges, try the following:

  • Network! Ask your contacts in the industry what the salary range is for someone in a similar position. (Ask about salary ranges; don't ask for someone's specific salary.)
  • Visit the CLA Career Services office (or a local library) to look for publications such as: the Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, or Salary Survey.
  • Go on Informational Interviews and include salary questions on your questions list.
  • Use an online salary calculator. Try, the NACE Salary Calculator, or search for other salary sites.
  • Do research about the organization. Try to understand their potential salary concerns. Be ready to diplomatically address them and to provide concrete reasons for requesting a higher salary.

Consider Your Limits Before You Begin

Decide how low you're willing to go on salary. The job may offer other befits too, so factor those in. Also, think strategically—are you willing to accept a lower salary if the position could lead to other opportunities?

Be prepared for the possibility that you won't come to an agreement about salary. If that happens, politely stop negotiating and neither accept or say no. If you do decline the position, be diplomatic about it. (Don't burn professional bridges!) Say in a friendly way that you're sorry if didn't work out, you think highly of the organization, and you hope it might work out in the future.

Tips for the Negotiation Conversation

Frequently state your enthusiasm for the position, and that your goal is to find an offer that works for both of you. This will help keep the negotiation a discussion as opposed to a debate. You might also frame the negotiation with questions. For example, you could say, "I'm wondering if you would come up to at least $40,000 a year?"

If they want to discuss salary before they make you an offer

Don't bring up salary yourself. If they do, try to diplomatically avoid the topic until an offer is made. There are several ways you can respond if they wish to discuss salary earlier on. You could say something like, "Salary is definitely important, but at this point I'm eager to focus on whether I'm the right person for the job and a good fit for the organization. if we decide I'm the right person, I'm certain we can agree on a salary that works for both of us." You can also keep it simple and say something like, "If we come to a point where I'm your top candidate, I will consider any reasonable offer. Thanks for asking about it."

If they continue to press you to discuss salary, avoid discussing specific numbers; focus on a salary range instead. Say something like, "In my research, I found the salary range for this position to be between $xx,xxx and $xx,xxx. Taking that into account, along with my skills and experience, I'm confident we could find a salary we're both comfortable with."

A note about salary ranges

If you choose to negotiate by discussing a salary range, the bottom figure in your range should be the minimum you are willing to accept. The top figure should be at least 10-15% about what you'd hope for.

How to negotiate after you've received an offer

You'll probably receive the initial offer verbally, followed by a written offer. Begin by expressing your enthusiasm for the position and how happy you are to be offered it. Say you will get back to them with a firm answer within 24 hours.

Open the negotiation dialogue by asking something like, "To help me understand the salary structure, could you tell me how you arrived at this compensation? My goal is to find a number that works for both of us." Listen to response.

Let them know that you understand the reason(s), then explain why you feel you deserve a higher salary. For example, because of the skills you'd bring to the job, or the salary range typical for the position. Say something like, "I'm really glad you're interested in me, and I'm excited about this position. I understand that you typically pay recent graduates $30,000 a year because they often lack the background for higher compensation. I do feel, though, that my technology skills and year of related experience bring me in at above the typical level of a new graduate."

If you want to negotiate by bringing up typical salary range, say, "I  have done some research about the typical salary range for this position, and I've found that the standard range starts a few thousand higher. I'm hoping we can adapt the offer to more closely reflect the market average."

Let the person on the other end think and/or talk. You might be tempted to talk to diffuse the tension, but you should make a suggestion and then listen. If you're asked what number you'd consider in order to accept the position, frame your answer as a question. For example, say "Would you consider $35,000?"

Once you come to an agreement on salary, ask for the amended offer in writing. Congratulations on your new job!

What happens if you have more than one job offer? A career counselor can provide support to help you navigate these tough situations - and make sure that you're aware of CLA's policy on handling multiple job offers.