There are four steps to negotiating a salary:
- Know Your Value
- Know Your Target Salary and Benefits
- Know Your Strategy
- Practice, Practice, Practice
Steps to Negotiation a Salary
First, prepare a resume which highlights your skills, qualifications, experiences, accomplishments and awards. Include any specific details and key words from the job description that align with your background, for example: proficiency with specific software programs, knowledge of social media platforms, strong communication skills, experience working in the target industry, interest/passion for a particular type of work, connection to the mission of the organization.
Next, create value statements to confidently share with the employer during the interview and negotiation process. Use the format listed below:
I accomplished [list one accomplishment] using my [list skills] which benefitted my school/company by [list results].
Example: I launched a campaign to raise awareness around sexual violence on campus using my leadership and communications skills—which led to the university strengthening its policies on sexual violence, and reducing incidences by 15% within the year.
When it comes time to negotiate your salary, use these statements to support your position about why you are qualified for the range you are requesting.
Assess the Market
Research salary ranges for the position, industry, and geographic area you are targeting. Be sure to factor in your skills, experience, and education level to find the right fit. Compare similar titles and job description for the type of role you are seeking, for example: Business Development Representative, Inside Sales Representative, Client Account Manager.
Use the following resources to identify an appropriate salary:
- U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
- The business sections of your local newspapers
- Industry compensation surveys
- Business publications or other publications specific to your industry
- The local chamber of commerce
- Anyone in your network who might know the company, the field, or the region
First, select a target salary which seems reasonable based on your research. Next, develop a range which will provide some flexibility to negotiate, typically about 15% - 20% above the starting point.
For example, if research indicates that an appropriate salary for an entry-level Business Development Representative is $45,000 then the range might be $45,000 - $54,000.
When calculating a range, factor in that salary may vary for the same type of position in different industries. For example, an Accounting Assistant role in a small non-profit organization may be more likely to fall on the lower end of a range while the same position might be on the higher end of a large for-profit corporation.
Determine a Walk-Away Point
Create a budget for yourself and determine the minimum salary you are willing and able to accept. If the salary goes below that range, and the employer cannot or will not negotiate, you may need to decline the offer. Consider these factors to decide your walk-away point:
- Available benefits.
- Other job offers that you have received.
- How long you’ve been looking for a job.
- The experience you will gain.
- Your promotion potential.
- Opportunities to go back to school.
- Networking opportunities.
- Your devotion to the work/company/mission of the organization.
Be sure to consider the value of benefits when deciding whether or not to accept a job offer. Some benefits may have monetary value, such as tuition reimbursement or travel and relocation assistance, while others may contribute to your overall job satisfaction and work-life balance, such as flexible scheduling, working from home, generous vacation time, or office perks like free lunch or a fitness center on site.
Plus, keep in mind that while some companies may not be able to negotiation salary, they have more flexibility with benefits.
Here are a list of common benefits:
- Health Insurance
- Sick, personal, parental leave
- Vacation time
- Family and medical leave
- Life and disability insurance
- Flexible/remote work schedule
- Commuter benefits
- Health/fitness memberships
- On-site childcare
- Professional development
- Membership fees
- Retirement investment plans
- Stock options
- Tuition reimbursement
- Moving expenses
- Title change
The appropriate time to negotiation salary is when you receive a job offer. Earlier in the process (during the application process, phone screening, or in-person interviews), the candidate should never bring up the topic of salary. However, it is important to be prepared to discuss the topic if the employer brings it up.
Some states, including Massachusetts, have made it illegal for employers to ask about previous salary history. It is allowed, however, to ask about expected salary.
When asked about expected salary, the best strategy is to deflect the question. For example say:
- What is the range that you have budgeted for this position?
- I would like to see if I am a good fit for the position first before we discuss the salary.
- I’d like to learn more about the role and how it aligns with my qualifications before I set my salary expectations.
If the employer will not share a range or pushes you to give your expected salary, be prepared to offer the range that you researched and a few reasons why this is your range, for example:
- Based on my knowledge of the industry and my research of similar positions, I am expecting to earn $45,000 to $54,000. Since I recently received my degree in business and completed an internship in inside sales, I believe I am qualified for this range.
If you are asked to enter an expected or previous salary on a job application form:
- Leave the box blank if possible
- Enter N/A or write in all zeros if you are required to fill in the section
- If you must write in an actual salary, enter your target range
- This range is not binding and you can change your response later in the process once you know more about the position/company
- If the company publishes a salary, aim for the middle or high end (for example, write $45,000 or $48,000 depending on your experience, for a range listed as $40,000 - $50,000)
Responding to an Offer
When you receive a verbal job offer, ask for a written offer letter so you can review the information carefully. Ask for a list of benefits if they are not already included.
You do not need to answer immediately. Be respectful, thank the employer for the offer, and give a timeline of when you will provide a response. For example:
“Thank you very much for offering me this position. I will review the information and get back to you on Friday with my response.”
If you get an offer at or above your expected target salary, you should still consider negotiating.
If you get an offer below your expected range, definitely ask to negotiate.
Remember, employers expect that candidates will negotiate so be prepared and be confident!
Here are possible responses:
- “Thank you for this offer. I would like to know if you have any flexibility on the salary number?”
- “Thank you for the offer. Based on my research with comparable roles in this area, I was thinking of something in the range of [your target salary range].”
- “Based on my prior experience and familiarity with this role, I believe that an additional [$2,000, for example] would be fair.”
The employer will typically need to discuss your request and take some time to respond. Commonly, an employer will not agree to your exact range but might meet in the middle. For example, if they offer $45,000 and you request $50,000 they may offer you $47,000.
If the employer has no flexibility with the salary and is not able to negotiate at all, consider asking about benefits. For example,
“I was expecting to earn $50,000, but I understand that you do not have that much allotted in the budget and cannot offer more than $45,000. I was wondering if we can discuss the benefits instead. Would it be possible to work remotely one day per week? [Or … would the company be able to help cover the cost of my membership to (professional association)]. Think about the benefits carefully and ask about the ones most important to you.
Alternatively, if the employer does not have flexibility to negotiate salary and benefits, ask if your salary can be reviewed after the probationary period. Say:
“I understand that this is the standard starting rate for all new employees, however I would like to request a review after the 90 day probationary period to discuss my contributions to the company.”
It is important to remember that after any verbal negotiation ask for a new letter in writing which includes the terms of the offer that you have discussed. Read everything carefully before signing to make sure the details you discussed are included accurately.
Negotiating a Raise
The same negotiation principles apply if you are asking for a raise at a current job, and here are a few other tips to keep in mind:
- To increase your chances of success, be prepared to ask at the right time
- A yearly performance review is often a good time to negotiate
- You may choose to discuss your salary at another time if your role or responsibilities have changed significantly, or you feel you are being underpaid compared to your peers
- Schedule a time to meet with your manager, let them know you would like to discuss your career path at the company (but do not say in advance that you are planning to ask for a raise)
- State your value, sell your skills, highlight your accomplishments, show what you have brought to the company
- Emphasize your unique contributions to projects or teams
- Do not focus on personal need for a higher salary (childcare, personal expenses, debts, etc.)
Four parts to the pitch:
- The thank you
- Compliment your boss or express appreciation for the company
- Highlight accomplishments (do not assume your boss remembers what you have done or your role in important projects)
- The salary ask
After you have made the pitch, remain quiet and wait for a response. You may need to schedule a follow up meeting if your manager needs time to respond or discuss your proposal with others.
The more you practice negotiating salary the more comfortable you will feel when the real situation arises.
Work together with a friend, family member, or career counselor to review possible scenarios. Speak with others who have negotiated salary and get tips on what worked best for them.
Anticipate different ways that the employer might respond and prepare an answer for each situation.
For example, what will you say if the employer:
- Will not provide a salary range
- Asks for your prior salary history
- Simply says no, they cannot negotiate
- Calls unexpectedly with an offer and wants an immediate response
- Says they do not have flexibility with benefits
- Implies that you are not qualified for the range you are requesting
- Offers a salary much lower than you expected
- Agrees to offer you the target salary at or above what you ask for
- Promises commission or a signing bonus
Each person’s situation is unique so consider all factors carefully before giving a final answer.
Accepting a Job
It is important to keep your promise to an employer once you agree to a job offer. When you accept and sign an offer letter you are committed to starting the job. At that time, you should stop interviewing at other companies and should not accept another position.
It is better to ask for more time before giving a final answer, rather than saying yes to a job you are unsure about and then reneging (declining a job after accepting). Reneging not only hurts your reputation as a professional, but it can harm your University’s reputation and can negatively affect your classmates who are applying to the same company.