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You may have heard the advice that you should always negotiate your salary, or "never to accept the first offer." And there's some merit to this. Learning when and how to negotiate salary can make a huge difference in your earnings over your career.
However, it can feel really intimidating to bring up money at any point in the interview process, especially when it’s for a job you really want. Learn the dos and don'ts for successfully navigating negotiating a salary increase and why it makes such a big difference in your career.
Do I have to negotiate my salary?
Now, you don't have to negotiate your salary, but it's a great idea. You can almost never go wrong by negotiating salary. Many people are concerned that by asking for more money, they might lose the job offer — but that's almost never the case. After all, most job offers don’t disclose the salary range upfront, so recruiters expect that you’ll have to talk about it at some point.
Recruiters aren’t offended when you negotiate your compensation in a respectable and amicable matter. Especially when the salary is left open. It's part of offering any role to a new hire. In fact, some recruiters are even surprised when you don't negotiate your salary.
While it's not a mandatory part of the process — and almost no company will insist on giving you more money — negotiating is a good idea. After all, you can’t get more money if you don’t ask for it. And given raises are often based on a percentage of your base salary, it could mean the difference of thousands of dollars over your career.
Benefits of negotiating your salary
A higher salary equals higher raises.
If your salary is based on a percentage of your income, then it makes sense that a higher salary would equal higher raises — and even higher bonuses.
For example, a person who makes $50,000 per year and gets a 5% raise every year would be making $77,566 after 10 years. If they negotiate their starting salary up to $55,000, they would be making $85,325 after ten years (with the same raise). That’s a difference of almost $63,000 in their pocket over those ten years for the same job title.
Negotiating your salary can also set you up to be happier at your new job. In one research study participants who used collaborative negotiation were more satisfied with their job offers and their jobs. This can also lead to feeling more confident about what you can bring to the table and that your employer values your skills.
How to negotiate a job offer
There are typically three ways that the salary conversation happens when applying for a new role. In the first, the salary range is stated in the job description. The second is when the employer tells you the salary in the first interview (or asks your salary requirements). The third is when the negotiation happens in the final stage of the hiring process.
Typically, you have the most leverage when salary negotiations come last. However, this can be nerve-racking, since you run the risk of ending up with a low offer after multiple interviews.
But you shouldn't feel that you'll lose the position just for negotiating it. The company is clearly interested in you as a candidate, or you wouldn't have made it through multiple rounds of interviews. At this point, you're likely one of the top two candidates. Determining a compensation package is the last part of the negotiation before they finalize a candidate in the role.
In the other two scenarios, you still have a little bit of room to negotiate. Depending on how far the salary is out of your range and how interested you are in the position, you can test the range.
When salary negotiation occurs earlier in the process, you'll want to gauge your rapport with the hiring team. It takes a little bit of finesse (and a lot of bravery) to bring up money upfront. However, it can benefit both parties — and even help you reiterate your interest.
What to say during a salary negotiation
In a salary negotiation, the money conversation typically happens on the phone, in person, or via email. Both can be tricky. For one thing, nerves might make it hard to bring up salary in a real-time conversation.
If that's the case, you'll benefit from researching similar positions ahead of time. Look up the appropriate compensation range for your experience, the position, and the potential employer. Sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or Payscale can be helpful resources in your job search. Dial into the company that you're interviewing with as well as their competitors.
With remote work, finding an average salary can be pretty tricky. Some roles pay based on where the company is located, some pay based on where the candidate is located. That means a wide range of potential salaries.
Pick a number that you feel good about. Consider running it by other people in the industry and who live in the area that you're applying for to see if they have an inside opinion. One strategy you could use is to send the job description to a mentor and ask them what they believe that position should pay. This is especially useful if the salary is not listed in the job description.
If you're negotiating salary by email, you’ll probably still feel nervous — but for a different reason. It's common to second-guess yourself when you're negotiating salary. The lag in communication can make it even more nerve-wracking. Without tone of voice, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues, you may tend to overthink every word you say. You can use that to your advantage. Take a few extra minutes to read over your response before you hit send (strongly recommended).
Particularly by email, where conversation and tone can be misconstrued. Aim to come across as professional and amiable. Reiterate your interest in the position and your excitement about the opportunity. You want to give the impression that you will still be interested in taking the role, no matter what. However, your negotiation is part of establishing a happy working relationship.
Of course, don't say that if it isn't true. If you are determined to walk away if you don't get a certain amount, then they should know that as well. Just maybe don't lead with that information.
A good way to open the negotiation process is to ask, “Is there any flexibility in that number?” Phrasing it in this way indicates that you're willing to work with them. If they're not able to raise the number that they've offered you, they may still be able to give you a signing bonus or another perk to offset the lower salary.
What not to say
When people are nervous, there's a tendency to provide way too much information. Try to avoid this. They don't need to know all the personal reasons why you need to make more money, and it won’t help you get the job. And in some places, it’s even illegal for them to ask about your current salary. Don't be afraid. Just stick to the value you can bring to the role.
As mentioned before, avoid opening your counteroffer with an ultimatum. While most interviewers and recruiters are open to negotiation, many will react poorly to an ultimatum. They may consider an ultimatum a reason to rescind the offer. They won’t mind that you negotiated — but they will mind that you were difficult about it.
Remember you're joining the team, so camaraderie is important.
Don't hold a job offer over their head. if you've received a job offer from another company, it's okay to disclose that — especially if they ask you. But don't pretend that you have one just to try to force them to make a decision. They may decide to free you up to go with the other company, leaving you unemployed.
If you're really worried that you might say the wrong thing, you could always practice your negotiation skills with a communication coach. Many communication coaches have a background in human resources and business and can tell you from experience what to expect during a salary negotiation. They can also help reassure you that this part of the process is scary but normal.
How long do salary negotiations take?
Salary negotiations can take some time. They're typically representative of the company’s hiring process on the whole. If the company already has a lengthy interview process (upwards of two months), expect salary negotiations to take a week or two. If the company expresses hires rapidly, salary negotiation may go faster. Some companies may also have a phase of the interview process dedicated specifically to negotiating salary, in which case you'll likely have an answer within an hour or two.
If you're asking for significantly more money than the original offer, they may have to have it approved by C-level executives or members of the board. That may take additional time. Conversely, if you have another job offer pending, that may influence their decision and speed up their response (in either direction). No matter how eager you may be to quit your job, it's important to be patient.
How to accept the offer
When you choose to accept the final offer — and the salary and benefits package along with it — be sure to thank them. Reiterate your excitement about taking the position. From this day on, you're part of the team — and congrats on the new role!
This is a good time to ask for clarification on any other benefits, like a 401k, health insurance, or paid time off. Any changes to your standard offer, like a signing bonus or stock options, should be written in your offer letter.
Negotiating your salary can be challenging, but it's a great way to start off your role on the best foot. You want to feel as confident as possible, and you don't want the thought in the back of your head that you could have — and should have — asked for more money.
Negotiating your salary up-front should help you feel good about speaking up for yourself, and reassure you that the company values both you and your contributions to the team. And learn more about the relationship between your mental health and money.
BetterUp Staff Writer