No matter whether you’re stepping into a new career or have been in your field for some time, salary negotiations can be daunting.
You might simultaneously be worried about undervaluing yourself and asking for such a high salary that the potential employer walks away, neither of which is the outcome you want.
Gordon Helle, career counselor at Capella University, offers some advice to lay the groundwork for salary negotiation success.
“Most employers anticipate that you’ll negotiate your salary, so the first offer they make is not often the best,” says Helle. “If you accept the first offer, you’ve maybe left money on the table.” He notes there will likely be some push back from the employer, but that’s to be expected—it’s part of the process.
Do your homework.
Before you arrive at the point of a job offer, you should have already done your salary research. “Find out the average salary for this position in your geographical area, as well as the salary range,” advises Helle. “For instance, you might see that the average for the position you want is $45,000 with a range of $40,000-$50,000. Be sure to research how much job experience and education is required to obtain the upper end of that range. If you’re fresh out of school with limited job experience and trying to negotiate for that upper end, you’re not likely to succeed.”
You’ll have increased credibility and leverage by understanding how much your market is paying and for what level of experience. Knowing what that specific employer pays gives you even more leverage. A good starting place for researching salaries is Glassdoor.com.
Avoid disclosing current salary specifics.
If you’re applying for a job while currently employed, try to avoid giving out the specifics of your current compensation. “The employer may try to take your current salary as a starting point for their offer,” explains Helle. “Try to deflect the question and put the conversation back on your interest in the organization and understanding of the common compensation for the role.”
For example, Helle suggests responding to this question by saying, “I’m sure that if we agree I’m a good fit for this position we will be able to identify a salary that works for both of us” or “Having done some research, my understanding of the typical salary for a position like this would be one I would seriously consider accepting.”
If the employer insists on getting an answer to the question of your current compensation, provide it, then be prepared to discuss why you’re worth more than you’re currently earning. If you’ve researched the salary ranges and requirements, you can more actively list the reasons you are worth the higher price.
Take all compensation into account.
Maybe the salary offered is lower than you were hoping for, but be sure to ask for specifics on benefits. How much paid time off (PTO) is included? Is there a match on 401K deposits? Health insurance? Paid parking? Tuition reimbursement? It may be that the total compensation is greater than a position that has a higher salary, but not as many benefits.
Helle also notes that if the salary for a desired position isn’t as high as you like, consider negotiating some additional benefits, such as extra parking or PTO.
Know what will work for you.
Having researched the potential salary for your position and having heard your potential employer’s final offer, you need to be solid on your bottom line. “Know ahead of time the lowest number you’ll accept so you don’t waste time nickel and diming for something you aren’t going to accept anyway,” says Helle. “If it’s clear the salary and compensation offered doesn’t meet your needs, it’s better to politely walk away than continue negotiating only to turn down whatever offer you receive.”
Be willing to be an unproven quantity for a short period of time.
Especially if you’re new to the field, a prospective employer could understandably have uncertainty about your ability to succeed in the position. If the job is one you do want, and the number they’re offering is not ideal but is something you can live with, explore the possibility of revisiting salary after a set time period—90 days, six months, or a year. As an unknown commodity, it’s not unreasonable that you’d need some time to prove your value.
Setting a deadline means you have established a goal for yourself and a timeline for your employer to evaluate your performance and reassess your salary.
Get everything in writing.
Once everything has been negotiated, get all the details in writing before committing to the job. Verbal promises can get lost, not necessarily deliberately. The written details should include not just the salary, but benefits specifics and, if you’ve set a date to review the salary, that should be part of the written agreement as well.
Capella University students and graduates enjoy free access to career advice, information, and support. Learn more about Capella’s Career Center.