The 12 Keys to Negotiating Your Salary, Explained by Career Experts
Nervous about asking for more money? Follow this advice from career experts, and you might just get what you want.
Conversations about money in the workplace, particularly salary negotiations, are always difficult (and if it's your first time having this discussion, it can be especially intimidating). What words do you even use to ease into that conversation? How much is too much to risk asking for? Should first-timers even try to negotiate an entry level salary? It's absolutely crucial to be your own best advocate, but that doesn't always mean shooting for the impossible (which, if you're not careful, could hurt more than help). We’re jumping into the most essential advice to know about asking for—and actually getting—the pay you deserve. Follow these 12 tips from career experts and set yourself up for success during your next salary negotiation.
How do you negotiate compensation when you're fresh out of school and bring essentially no work experience to the table? The truth: "Unless their graduating from the top of the class from an Ivy League university in finance or law, or with an MBA, or something like that, the majority of recent grads have almost no negotiating leverage," says Greg Giangrande, a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company and former executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Time Inc.
One big mistake young professionals make is trying to negotiate work perks. "When you try to negotiate for things like vacation and benefits it sends the wrong message," he says. "First of all, benefits are never negotiable. Secondly, negotiating vacation time leads [a recruiter] to think, 'okay, you probably shouldn’t have enough time to take the vacation that we give you—because that’s how hard you should be working—but here you are negotiating for more time off. Those are definite don’ts."
If you're looking at other positions, or have received other offers, it is okay to tactfully ask if the compensation you've been offered is up for negotiation. "You can say you've been looking at other jobs paying X range, and ask whether this one is at all negotiable—[but] don’t make assumptions or demands," Giangrande says. Pay attention to the reaction you get: If it really seems like compensation isn't up for discussion, don't push your luck—leave it be.
Accepting a job offer? “How well you negotiate at the beginning sets you up for how well your salary flows in the future,” says HR consultant Laurie Ruettimann, author of I Am HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR.
When asked about your salary expectations, respond by asking what the new job will pay, instead of presenting your personal salary history. “If you follow prescriptive advice and you never take a risk, especially during salary negotiations, you don't earn a reward,” says Ruettimann.
Another tactic she recommends is asking for the “best first offer” (the maximum they’re able to give) when discussing compensation for a new job, because it presents the assumption you won’t need to negotiate a higher salary.
“When women do not do their research, they typically undervalue themselves at 30 percent,” says Sara Laschever co-author of Women Don’t Ask and Ask For It, and the Academic Coordinator for the WIN Summit. Sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com will help you get a sense of the market and how your current salary compares.
Your connections can offer even more valuable information than a website. Money can be difficult to talk about, but if you simply ask for salary ranges, you’ll have a better sense of what you should be asking for in your meeting, says Kathleen Harris, the chief content editor of THE CRU, a female-first networking platform. Additionally, expand your network from just your coworkers (it might be less awkward, anyway). Ask old classmates or people in your alumni network for guidance and insight,Laschever says.
“It’s very difficult to negotiate your salary off of the performance management cycle,” Ruettimann says. This means you should typically wait until review time to bring up the conversation, because that’s when employers and companies are most prepared to discuss compensation. However, it’s smart to preempt the conversation by checking in with your boss a month or so ahead of time for an “impromptu performance review,” says Harris, so you can asses your strengths and weaknesses, and ask how you can improve and grow in your position.
“The surprise factor is never good,” Harris says. Always give your employer notice that you want to discuss compensation. You don’t need to explicitly call it a meeting about salary negotiation—just asking to discuss your role in the company will tip your boss off that you'll likely talk money.
Whether you outline it beforehand, read it in a mirror, or practice with a friend, make sure you’re comfortable with your talking points (yes, you need talking points). Laschever recommends asking a friend to role play the conversation, because a friend can offer feedback on your speech and body language—you might not realize you tend to shake your leg, tap your fingers on the desk, or gaze off into the distance when you’re thinking about a question.
“Cheerfulness is infectious, it’s catching,” Laschever says. Right before the discussion, do something that puts you in a good mood and calms your nerves. Need ideas? Here are six easy, soothing activities that will help you prep.
All of the experts agree that a negotiation is not an egocentric meeting—you should spend time emphasizing what you bring to the company. “There’s no ‘me, me, me,’” Harris says. Your manager would rather hear how you contribute to the company. “It’s so much more economical to retain great talent than to have to lose somebody and start recruiting from scratch,” Harris says. Remind them why you're not only worth keeping around, but worth rewarding.
When you talk to anyone about numbers—be it your boss or human resources—you need to be prepared to answer the question, "Why now?" Outline accomplishments and projects that showcase your direct value. "They don’t really care that you can’t pay your cable bill," Ruettimann says. "You need to be able to make a strong business case that retaining and promoting you is important to the business."
The best negotiators are self-aware. They understand where they excel in the company, as well as areas they need to improve in, Ruettimann says. Not only that, but they also have “a plan of action for addressing their deficiencies.” Everyone is flawed, but if you’re routinely checking in on your performance and improving upon those weaknesses, your manager will remember that during a compensation review.
After you present the number or range, sit back and don’t say anything, Harris says. "Too many times, people start trying to fill that silence and end up double-talking or apologizing for asking, and that just weakens your message," she says. Ask for what you want, and then wait for your answer. A clear and direct approach goes a long way.