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How to Negotiate Starting Salary to Get the Best Offer

When it comes to your salary, bigger is always better. A higher rate gives you more opportunities to invest in a home, car, vacations, and those high-priced coffee drinks you love.

While it's possible that your recruiter will give you the salary of your dreams on the very first try, it's likely that you'll need to negotiate to get the pay rate you deserve.

Does that surprise you? It might, as a full 57 percent of people participating in an employment survey said they'd never asked for a raise. If you're not comfortable asking for more when you have a job, the thought of bringing up money before you're employed might terrify you. Relax. You can, and should, negotiate your starting salary.

In this guide, we'll tell you how to:

  • Set realistic goals
  • Skirt a trap question about money
  • Know how much more to ask for
  • Find hidden benefits
  • Accept or decline the offer without ruining your reputation

Find Out What the Job Is Worth

Salary is crucial for job hunters, and employers are encouraged by organizations like the Society for Human Resources Management to put ranges in the job description. Most people looking for employment search for that number, and they use it to determine whether or not to apply for the position. If you see that range, you may have all the data you need. But if not, don't despair.

people-discussing-at-desk

Some companies resist the idea of putting a salary range in the job posting. They'd like the flexibility and ability to save money if they find a candidate willing to accept less. You can be sure they know how much the position is worth because they have to write that salary expense in the budget, after all, but they may not be willing to share it with you.

Do your research using:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics. This national resource lists job titles, responsibilities, wage ranges, and job outlook. You won't find every job here, and some data is a bit broad, but it can give you a good start.

  • Our website. We have plenty of articles that explain salary ranges, including some that dive into salaries in specific parts of the country.

  • Your community. One online expert recommends verifying your research with on-the-ground interviews. Reach out to professional organizations and ask others in your community about their compensation packages. You'll emerge from these talks with a good idea of what salaries people in your area and industry pull down.

  • Connections at the company. This might sound unorthodox, but people within the organization you hope to work for might share their salary data with you. Harvard Business Review studies suggest that willingness can vary by industry. While about half of those in education would share salary information with applicants, only about 15 percent of those in publishing would do the same. Even so, it doesn't hurt to ask.

Know Your Worth

Industry, community, and organizational research can uncover clues about how much someone with your experience might get paid. You must keep in mind that you are an individual with unique gifts and talents that might shift the data in one direction or another. Before you determine your final set of negotiation figures, you'll need to take a hard look at your performance and career.

Consider your:

  • Education. Do you have more or less than someone applying for the position you want? An enhanced degree could be worth a bigger salary.

  • Experience. Have you worked in the industry for a year or for decades? The longer your track record, the higher your pay.

  • Accomplishments. How much value do you give an employer? Can you prove it? The more numbers you can collect, the higher your asking price.

  • Expectations. Consider your current salary. How much more would you want in order to feel satisfied with your career path?

With outside data and introspective analysis, you should determine a range that's right for you. Include the lowest number you'll accept and sketch out notes about where you think you should be in this job. Those are the numbers you'll rely on as you negotiate.

Don't Talk About Your Salary

man-saying-no

In the last step, we told you to think about how much money you make, and whether or not that's appropriate. You know that data, but you should never share it with your recruiter.

In some parts of the country, says Business Insider, companies can't legally require you to disclose your salary history. New laws designed to level the playing field for women make it illegal for employers to ask about the past before deciding on a future compensation package.

But even if you are asked, remember that you don't have to answer directly.

If asked about your salary, you can:

  • Be firm. One recruiter recommends using this phrase: "My salary is personal, just like the salaries of your employees." This is a bold move that stops the conversation before it progresses.

  • Be honest. Say that you're not comfortable disclosing your current salary and that you won't do so.

  • Be funny. Another recruiter recommends saying something like this: "Only my accountant and I talk about my salary."

  • Be evasive. Rather than tossing out a specific number about your past, tell your recruiter about the salary range you're hoping for.

After the Offer: How Much Should You Ask For?

After all of your prep and conversations, you'll reach the moment when your recruiter gives you a hard number. Now the hard work begins. Start by thinking about your salary range.

If the number you're given:

  • Disappoints. One recruiter suggests you can counter almost any job offer with a 20 percent salary bump. If your research supports that number, cite it as you respond. You could say something like this: "I'm excited about the opportunity to work with you. My research suggests the starting salary for someone in my position should be in the X range. Is there any wiggle room on that salary?"
  • Matches. Consider raising the stakes a bit, but don't get greedy. The amount to cite varies widely from expert to expert. One recruiter says a counter of 20 percent is always too high, for example, but she supports a 5 to 10 percent suggestion. If you think you can justify that bump with your history, experience, and research, you can try it by saying: "Thank you for this offer, and I look forward to working with you. I'd love to begin with a starting salary of X. Can we discuss that?"

  • Exceeds. You can still negotiate, if you choose to do so, but it's not mandatory. Be happy you got what you're worth on the first try!

You can hold these conversations via email, but in general, it's best to pick up the phone or schedule a meeting to discuss the hard numbers. This is a negotiation in which you'll offer a number, they will counter, and so forth. Your voice and body language help you make the case, and there's no delay in answers. If it's possible, real-time talks are always best.

Consider the Value of Your Job

What happens when the boss won't budge? As much as your future employer might want to give you every last cent you're asking for, it might not be possible. That doesn't mean you should stop the conversation or turn down the job.

Before you make your next move, consider:

  • Learning opportunities. Is this job going to give you skills you can use in a future position? Can you bargain for a dedicated mentor or more money to attend educational conferences? Will the employer subsidize your education?

  • Your passions. Jobs in the nonprofit sector come with low pay, and although some organizations are trying to change that, others simply can't. Does the job you're offered support a cause you care about, and is that enough for you to make a sacrifice?

  • Your perks. Can you bargain for a bigger retirement check, flexible work hours, or more vacation days? According to CNBC, more paid time off would make 9 percent of workers a little happier with their jobs. If you're in this camp, why not ask for it?

  • Your situation. If the employer won't move, and you can't get a single thing you've asked for, you should ask yourself if this is the right job for you. Can you stay where you are? Switching jobs is no easy feat, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. If an employer starts off with such a firm stance, how happy will you be with the job in the future?

Accept or Decline With Grace

Salary negotiations can be prolonged, and it's not unusual for conversations to stretch into weeks or even months. Through it all, you're building a relationship with an organization and the people within it. You'll want to set yourself on a solid foundation of courtesy.

If you accept the job, your behavior during the negotiation will taint your first few days on the job. If you were rude or inflexible, you'll have to overcome that poor impression.

If you decline the job, your recruiter might talk about your conduct with your peers. Misbehave, and you could end up blacklisted throughout your entire community.

Whether you accept or decline, make sure you express your:

  • Gratitude. It's an honor to be considered for any job, including those you don't want.

  • Expertise. You must demonstrate why your salary is worthwhile, and you can lean on that as you accept or decline the position.

  • Professionalism. There's nothing personal about a salary talk. Make sure you never delve into insults or barbs.

If you didn't get the job you wanted and you’re still on the hunt for a solution, let us help. We gather jobs across the United States into one easy-to-use platform. Search for jobs near you, or look for a career in the city of your dreams. Get started today.

References

How to Successfully Negotiate a Salary Offer or Pay Raise. (August 2018). The Huffington Post.

Salary Is Most Important Part of Job Ad. (August 2018). Society for Human Resources Management.

Don't Make These 8 Mistakes When Negotiating Salary. (January 2014). U.S. News and World Report.

Setting the Record Straight on Negotiating Your Salary. (March 2015). Harvard Business Review.

9 Places in the U.S. Where Job Candidates May Never Have to Answer the Dreaded Salary Question Again. (April 2018). Business Insider.

Ask the Headhunter: Never, Ever Disclose Your Salary to an Employer. (June 2013). PBS News Hour.

When Employers Ask About Your Salary History, Say This. (March 2017). Forbes.

How to Determine Your Counteroffer When Negotiating Starting Salary. Fearless Salary Negotiation.

How to Mess Up a Salary Negotiation. (March 2014). CBS News.

Beyond a Raise, This Is What the Majority of American Workers Want to Be Happier. (April 2019). CNBC.

The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee. (August 2016). The Atlantic.

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