Salary Negotiation Is a Thing, and You Can Do It with These Tips!

Everyone wants to earn more cash. When you are out there in the marketplace and actually interviewing for a job, salary is the one subject that probably scares you the most, wondering when that subject is going to come around in the conversation. That’s because you know salary negotiation is key to getting what you’re worth.

Handshake representing salary negotiation

You may just gloss over the numbers when it is mentioned for a number of reasons. You may think “well, that’s what they’ll pay everyone” or “I need this job and I’m not going to be fussy about the pay and blow it”. Even if you want more pay, there is the dreaded, “we can only pay you a salary of $x, so take it or leave it”.

If you don’t happen to be a master negotiator, asking to be paid more can feel pretty scary. Maybe that’s why 59% of American employees surveyed by Glassdoor’s Salary Negotiation Survey accepted the first salary they were offered and didn’t negotiate. But I am here to tell you this: negotiating a salary is a real thing and you can do it if you try!

What Is the Secret to Getting the Pay You Really Want?

Looking for a new job? Anyone who is hiring knows that salaries are always negotiable when the right candidate is sitting in front of the recruiter. So the real question to ask yourself is this: “How do I become the best candidate for this job?”

The answer comes with preparation, especially for the interview, and actually begins with your résumé and the ability to get an interview in the first place.

The truth is that even though there are jobs out there, you can’t get anyone’s attention if your résumé isn’t suited for the position in the first place. So rule one: always have a really good updated résumé available.

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The personnel decisionmakers may get dozens or even hundreds of résumés for a position and use what I call “an inventive style” in picking the ones they want to actually sit down with and talk to. They may look for a one page résumé/application, or one that “looks” very businesslike, or even one that mentions some keyword related to the job, or any other reason you can think of.

That’s why you need to do some homework and know something about the company and position. Even information about the key people there if possible to get a really good shot at a job and a real good deal when it comes to the salary. If you are a good fit, salary isn’t the most important thing to the one who is hiring!

Salary Negotiation 101

You’re sitting in front of an interviewer and you have been responding to a series of questions and even asking a few of your own (always a really good thing to do) when it finally comes across the desk: the salary question. It may be straightforward such as “what salary are you looking for?” or a little less forward like “what is your minimum salary requirement?”. Those are trap questions.

Your answer needs to tell the interviewer that you are worth a great salary because of what you bring to the job and the payback you can give them makes you deserve being paid well. Their goal may be to get you for a low or bargain rate, but if you are worth it, salaries reflect what you are worth.

The good news is that once you establish a discussion about salary, you can infer you are on the verge of an offer.

Getting your salary requirement off the table and into your pocket

First, let me deal with a common problem. Let’s say you were so desperate for employment, salary was just way too scary for you to negotiate at hire. By the way that’s a huge mistake, but it happens all the time. You can always ask—after you are hired and you are doing the job—for a meeting at your first follow-up performance review (say after 90 days) and talk salary adjustment. It is not easy or a given, but if you are making a big impression, it can happen.

The how to ask, how much to ask for, and how to prepare for it—at the interview and point of hire—is a whole lot to get ready for. You may need to work up the courage to ask and that may be the hardest part.

But keep this fact in mind when you state your number and ask: You’ll never know if you don’t ask, and the worst that can happen is hearing a “no”.

The number one way to get paid more is by simply asking!

One of the things you are often told when you actually have a job is never to discuss salaries with your coworkers. Of course, you will anyway and one of the worst things you can ever find out is that some colleague who does the same or a similar job as you do gets loads more money for doing it! When that happens, you boil and you resent it and it can affect you forever! I know because it happened to me.

When I discovered that someone else doing exactly what I was doing (and not nearly as well) was making a better starting wage than me, I went ballistic.

I was brand new in my field and had only been at my position for three months, but I requested a meeting with my manager and presented an organized list of why I deserved more money. The result was a raise and making more simply because I deserved it and they knew it. I had settled for what the company was offering and I didn’t fully understand that people were negotiating because I never asked the right questions. I just didn’t.

By the way, many people worry that they’ll be judged or punished in some way for asking for more money or an amount that’s too high. But if your workplace is generally a pretty healthy place to be, then there shouldn’t be any negative consequences just for asking. If there is, consider moving on to a better place.

Sometimes you love your job but the phone keeps on ringing

If you are good at what you do, the word can get out there. You might even get an unsolicited call and get a higher salaried offer elsewhere. If that happens, you can ask your management team if they can match it. They may be shocked and make a counter offer if you seem like you may be considering changing employers.

You can love your job and team, but you can also tell the boss that you are getting some great offers and honestly at your current pay you are way below what you are worth. It is a friendly ultimatum, yes, and if it’s true you may have to say it just that way. Unless they can match the offer(s), you will have little choice but to accept one. That happens every day of the week to someone someplace.

This tactic isn’t just for the top jobs

Don’t think that you can only negotiate for more money and/or perks in the highest-paying jobs. No matter what your position and/or wages are, you can always ask for more, even if it’s a small perk.

Many people don’t realize lower-wage jobs are negotiable, too. During an initial interview, you can just straight-up say, “I’m actually looking for something a bit more competitive with other similar positions in this area at $x per week”. Again, the worst they can say is “no”, but they might possibly say “ok”!

What to do if negotiating is just way out of your comfort zone

Get a confidence boost and practice negotiating by talking to people you’re close with. Here’s one salary negotiation tip I learned by talking with others. When you interview for a new job, you may be asked for your “salary range”. Give one that spans higher, about $5,000 higher, based on research you have done for the position and similar to it.

If you get offered the job, it will most probably be the salary at the very low end of that range. Negotiating back and forth, ask for an amount closer to the top of the range due to any past experience and qualifications you might have.

I went back to the top range fully expecting that they would meet me in the middle. But they did me even better and accepted my proposition at the higher rate. I found out that I was a good negotiator even though I was a bit inexperienced even at a young age.

Always do the research on salaries for comparable roles so that you know how much your work is really worth. Another colleague taught me that lesson.

And finally, research from Columbia Business School shows that offering a more specific number, say $88,750 instead of $89,000, can get you a better result. That may be because the employer assumes you’ve done more extensive research to determine that specific value.

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Final Thoughts

I have the three big takeaways on salary negotiation for you right here:

  1. Know what your work is worth. Research, and bring the data when you ask.
  2. Ask. By the time they’ve made a job offer, they won’t ditch you for asking. At worst, they’ll say no.
  3. Base your salary expectations on the job you’ll be doing, not on what you got paid at the last place you worked.

Right now, despite the low numbers for unemployment, there are plenty of jobs out there and you can market yourself to get one of them.

In any business climate, good people always find good jobs and employers are always looking for really good people. That’s why with your skills and armed with some self-respect, you don’t have to take jobs that don’t reward you for your real value. An employer will pay you what you’re worth or what they can get away with, which do you prefer?

Are you ready for your next job? Are you prepared for salary negotiation? Do you know what you are really worth?

2 Comments

  1. Heidi Louise

    You’re right, Gary, that it may be frightening, but you might reap great rewards, (and a raise would continue as long as you are employed there, so it is an investment in your future salary as well).
    You might consider a column on other ways of being “paid” that you have seen in your working years: More vacation time, paid professional development, etc.

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