You’ve got a job offer: That’s great, but now what?
According to conventional wisdom, salary negotiations should be numero uno on your agenda. You weren’t going to automatically accept the first figure they offered, were you?
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens much of the time. According to a survey of 2,000 professionals conducted by Salary.com, 18% – or nearly one-fifth – of respondents never negotiated their salary when taking a new position. Meanwhile, another 44% stated that they negotiated for better pay or perks sometimes, but not all the time.
With so much money on the table, what’s stopping people from negotiating a better deal?
Why Many Workers Shy Away From Salary Negotiations
According to Jen Hubley Luckwaldt of Payscale.com’s Career News blog, too many people think of what they need to earn, and not necessarily what they deserve to earn. And for better or for worse, those two figures aren’t always the same thing.
“It’s tempting to calculate up your expenses and then name a figure that covers them,” says Luckwaldt.
Unfortunately, that strategy often leaves workers negotiating from a position of need, not from strength — the exact opposite of what you should aim for, she says. And if you negotiate from the perspective of someone who has done their research, you’ll be in a better position to not only ask for what you want, but to get it as well.
That matters not just for this job, but for your next one as well.
“Salaries are often determined based on what you were making previously, so if you negotiated your way up on your first salary, then that leads to more money over the long term,” explains money mindset coach Amanda Abella. And those extra dollars you earn every year could lead to tens of thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of dollars in extra compensation over the course of your career as one job leads to another.
How to Research Salaries In Your Area
First things first: To get paid what you’re worth, you have to know what you’re worth. And thanks to the Internet, that part of your job is now easier than ever.
To get an idea of the general salary range you should shoot for, start by taking the Payscale Salary Survey. This tool allows you to compare salary figures and other benefits for your position based on your geographic area, skill set, and experience.
“Let data be your guide,” says Luckwaldt. “The goal is to figure out what the market will bear for your skills, experience, education, and so on, and then figure out a salary target.”
Other sites that allow you to research salaries in your area include Glassdoor.com and Salary.com. Although all career sites like these offer similar data, you can leverage the information you find on all three to reach a figure – or a salary range – you feel comfortable with. When you enter your interview, or prepare to accept a job, the more information you have at your disposal, the better.
Government sites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics also offer fairly up-to-date information on salaries for hundreds of jobs in your area, although factors like years of experience and work ethic aren’t always reflected in these numbers.
Salary Negotiation Dos and Don’ts
Once you’ve reviewed comparable salaries in your area, you should have a dollar figure in mind. During the salary negotiation itself, strive to remain professional at all times. Speak clearly and confidently, knowing that you have done your research ahead of time. These salary negotiation dos and don’ts can also help guide you through the process:
Dos and Don’ts of Negotiating Salary
Do know your worth. As Payscale’s Luckwaldt notes, it’s important to show up with an idea in mind of what you want to be paid. A range is okay too, says Luckwaldt, as long as the figure on the low side is something you’d be comfortable taking.
Do know the data. If you want to make a case for the highest level of compensation possible, it’s important to know the research backwards and forward. “Keep emotion out of it,” says Luckwaldt, “and rely on data.”
Do let your employer make the first move. “Don’t name a number unless you absolutely have to,” says Luckwaldt. “If at all possible, you want the hiring manager to quote a figure first.” You don’t want to make an offer that is lower than your employer is willing to pay off the bat. “The first person who blinks often loses.”
Do get your offer in writing. Once you’ve stated your case and negotiated a salary and benefits package you feel comfortable with, get it in writing. According to Luckwaldt, this is mostly for protection since your offer might go through several departments before it hits HR. When you have your offer in writing, there is less of a chance that something will get lost in translation. “It’s better for everyone if you get everything in writing, before you accept,” she says.
Don’t fail to conduct research ahead of time. Since the best way to secure a high salary is to arm yourself with information, the worst thing you can do is fail to prepare. Never walk into a job interview without doing the legwork first.
Don’t accept a figure you aren’t comfortable with out of fear. And don’t apologize for the figure you came up with either, says Luckwaldt. “Do your research ahead of time, and base your quote on what others in your field are getting for similar job duties and job titles.”
Don’t forget to negotiate all terms, not just your salary. “If the hiring manager won’t budge, see if the company can offer more vacation time, a flexible schedule, or other perks,” says Luckwaldt. “You can also ask if they’ll do your review at the six-month mark, instead of a year, to move up the schedule for potential raises.”
Don’t forget to consider the career in its full context. As Abella notes, there is more to a job than its salary and perks; you have to make sure the entire package is a good fit. “Maybe you were offered a job that pays $10,000 more but it requires long hours that cut into your time with your family, in which case you may not be okay with that. Or, maybe health insurance is the most important factor because you have a medical issue and make your decision based on that,” says Abella. “People need to get very clear on what they want, and then make decisions based on that.”
Don’t accept an offer on the spot unless it’s exactly what you want. Unless you’re getting top dollar for your dream job, it never hurts to take a few days to mull things over. This is especially true if you’re considering positions with more than one employer. Instead of screaming “yes” at an okay offer, take a few days to decide if it’s what you really want.
Tips for Negotiating Salary: 10 Experts Weigh In
Since negotiating your salary is never an exact science, there will always be more than one way to strike the best deal possible. To gain additional insight on best practices when it comes to salary negotiations, we reached out to 10 experts from a wide range of industries for advice. Here’s what they said:
Expert Tip #1: ‘Anchor’ your desired salary.
“Research shows that one way to significantly increase the likelihood of negotiating a higher salary is to ‘anchor’ the desired pay increase,” says David Hoffield, behavioral science expert and CEO and Chief Sales Trainer at Hoffeld Group.
“Anchoring is the tendency to rely heavily on an initial piece of information when making decisions that are consistent with the information provided. The reason anchoring is such a powerful strategy is because it creates a starting point in the negotiation. Scientific studies have confirmed that when an anchor is created it will significantly influence the outcome of the negotiation.”
Expert Tip #2: Negotiate each term independently.
According to Jordan Wan, founder and CEO of tech recruiting firm CloserIQ.com, bringing out all your demands from the start can overwhelm your employer.
“Instead, dole out one demand at a time,” he says. “Start with your biggest priorities: If your top requests get rejected, you can work your way down the list. You’re more likely to get something you want this way—there’s more pressure for the employer to compromise after saying having said ‘no’ to something else already.”
Expert Tip #3: Negotiate your compensation last.
Never negotiate the compensation before you negotiate the job, says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “You create a competitive advantage when you demonstrate with passion and conviction that your skills and experience are a perfect match. That is what every hiring manager wants, and needs, to see. When you, or they, introduce compensation too early in the process, you risk being eliminated from consideration before this essential information has been communicated and they risk missing out on a great candidate.”
Expert Tip #4: Know your worth.
“Negotiating a fair salary is about knowing your real market value,” says Kashif Aftab, CEO of online job site SkillGigs. “That means understanding how many job openings there are in your field versus how many potential candidates are available. For example, when looking for certain tech jobs your value will spike because the tech field has just a 3% unemployment rate.”
Expert Tip #5: Don’t base salary negotiations on your previous salary.
According to Lynda Spiegel, human resources expert and founder of RisingStarResumes.net, you should base your future salary on what your job is worth – not what you have been paid in the past.
“Employers always try to peg the salary to the candidate’s current or last salary, which often means that you’ll leave money on the table,” says Lynda. “The offer employers make should reflect your perceived value to the company. If you’re valued at $100,000, does it matter that you were making $80,000 at your last job?”
Expert Tip #6: Don’t accept ‘no’ as an answer right away.
Should you go ahead and accept a position if you don’t get the salary and benefits package you desire right away? According to Evan Banul, chief operating officer of Industrial Motor Power Corporation, the answer is no.
“Keep the conversation going,” says Banul. “Too often candidates will counter with unrealistic quotes, and when I say ‘no,’ they take ‘no’ for an answer. The candidates who make it in are the ones who actively keep the conversation going with the focus being on mutual benefit.”
Expert Tip #7: Keep things professional.
One mistake interviewees constantly make during the interview and salary negotiations process is sharing too much, says Lori Robinson, human resources director and founder at CorporateMoxie.com.
“When negotiating for a higher salary, do not discuss your personal life,” says Robinson. “Your boss needs to know the value you add to the department, how you saved the company money, and what you would like to do in the future to better serve the company to consider your negotiation.”
Expert Tip #8: Ask for your potential employer’s ‘best offer.’
When it comes to negotiating salary, it never pays to sell yourself short says Michael Parks, president and CEO of staffing firm Messina Group. “You never know how high a future employer is willing to go on pay,” he says, “so the best response to a salary question is, ‘I am currently at a base salary of $x and a bonus of x%. I’m very interested in your opportunity and hope to wrap up my job search very soon. I want to feel good about the company, compensation, and opportunity to make a difference. If you’re interested in me, please give me your best offer.’”
Expert Tip #9: Don’t jump the gun. And only negotiate your salary in person.
According to High Point University career counselor and author Eric Melniczek, the first person to start the negotiation process often winds up on the losing side.
“The rule of thumb is that the person who talks first about salary in a negotiation usually loses,” explains Melniczek. “My top tip for salary negotiation would be to do in person. If that is not possible, I would opt for a phone call.”
Expert Tip #10: Start negotiations at the top of your salary range, but be willing to compromise.
As author, speaker, coach, and negotiations expert Michael Maven from investment strategy firm Carter & Kingsley notes, it’s important to remember that all negotiations are about moving numbers around.
“It is human nature for them to knock you down, so account for this,” he says. “Start at a higher price, but stay realistic. Then if they knock you down, you can apply a little pressure back. Once they see you are willing to work with them and meet them in the middle, they will be under pressure to seem reasonable and make a concession for you too. They will meet you in the middle, and you will end up with a higher salary.”
What Should You Do if You Have More Than One Offer?
Let’s face it – it happens sometimes. When you’re searching for a new position, it’s common to send your resume to a handful of recruiters and firms. If you’re in a high-demand field, you shouldn’t be surprised if you hear back from more than one employer.
Although your first inclination might be to hide the fact that you’ve got more than one offer on the table, sharing the news might actually work in your favor, says Luckwaldt. When an employer knows they are competing for you as an employee, they may even decide to up your pay in order to seal the deal. Of course, this only works when you do it the right way – politely – while also taking special care to not make each employer feel as if you’re pitting them against each other.
“Above all, be gracious,” says Luckwaldt. “Thank them, and reaffirm your interest, and get back to them when you say you will, no matter what your answer.”
But, what if you can’t decide?
If you’re truly having trouble choosing between two solid job offers, a good old-fashioned list-down of each job and its benefits usually helps, says Luckwaldt. “List the pros and cons of each job, both today, and in the long run in terms of your larger career goals. Then, pick the one that serves your needs the best.”
What Factors Should I Consider Beyond Compensation?
As if negotiating salary wasn’t difficult enough, another layer of data should be included in your decision to accept an offer – or walk. Beyond salary and compensation, it’s important to consider your general career goals. Luckwaldt suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- Will this job get you to where you want to be next year, in five years, in 10 years?
- Do the company’s goals resonate with you?
- How important to you is a sense of mission, and will you have that at your new job?
- Does the office environment fit with your personality and way of working?
- Did the people you met during the interview process seem like your kind of people?
In addition, you need to think long and hard about the company’s corporate culture, or at least what you know of it so far. Do you like the way the employees interact with their superiors and one another? Did you enjoy being physically present in their building and office environment? And most importantly, do you truly believe this company is a good fit for your skill set and personality?
“You’re going to be spending a lot of time at work, after all,” says Luckwaldt. “Ideally, you want to be happy there.”
How to Decline a Job Offer Gracefully
Whether you’ve got competing offers or you just don’t like what’s available, there will be a time when you need to walk away. And if you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into a position already, severing ties can be difficult, if not painful. But still, you know what you have to do.
First of all, don’t guilt yourself. “You’re probably not the first person to turn down a job offer and you certainly won’t be the last,” says Abella.
As with any other situation in the professional world, you should do your best to conduct yourself in a professional and courteous manner. Abella and other career specialists suggest sending a professional email or calling in to let them know that you won’t be taking the offer.
But try to frame your decision in a positive manner, says Abella. For example, instead of telling an employer they weren’t paying you enough to make it worth it, let them know you had another offer.
And no matter what, be polite! According to Luckwaldt, being polite should be a given in all professional situations — and that’s true whether others really deserve it or not.
“Even if you’re turning down the job because every staff member struck you as deeply weird and the salary looked like an intern’s stipend instead of a reasonable salary, there’s no reason to burn bridges,” says Luckwaldt. “Most industries are actually very small worlds, and people have long memories.”
The Bottom Line: Stay Positive
And that’s probably the best lesson for anyone in the business world to learn. Be polite, courteous, and professional at all times – especially when you’re negotiating a salary and benefits package that you may have to live with for years to come. And no matter what, stay positive. No salary – or career – will ever be perfect, but with the right strategy, you can rest assured that you orchestrated the best salary and benefits package possible.