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Negotiating Salary

Friday, March 4th, 2011

One of the most difficult negotiations for anyone is the salary negotiation. It’s so personal  that we tend not to think of it in the same objective terms that we might apply to buying a car. In fact, many people don’t like to think of it at all, going in unprepared and hoping for the best. Rarely will they achieve it.

Salary negotiation doesn’t have to be awkward or arbitrary. Rather than grabbing a number out of the air—or passively accepting whatever the employer offers—here are ten tips on what to do and not do when faced with the question: “What salary are you looking for?”


Do your homework. With information so readily available, there is no excuse for going into a negotiation blind. If possible, find out what the salary ranges are in the company you’re applying to. If you can’t find that, an internet search will give you an idea of the pay scales being offered by similar companies for similar positions—or those that require a similar skill set. One excellent site that gives a range of salaries by both job category and location is If the job involves a move, a number of online sites will show you the cost of living difference in the area you are moving to.

Know your value. Take into account the skills/accomplishments you bring to the job. Then consider the value you bring to the company. This shouldn’t be an inventory of everything you can do or have done in life—but rather a list of qualifications from the company’s point of view. Salary isn’t a magical formula. An employer will pay more if you can show that you bring higher tangible benefit to the company.

Consider the whole compensation package. Salary is only one part of the package—and becomes a smaller percentage as you move up the career ladder. In a shaky economy, an employer will often be more open to bonuses than to high starting salaries as pay-for-performance poses less financial risk to the company. Items to consider in your negotiation include bonus, title, flexible working conditions, timing of promotions and/or raises, benchmarks, retirement, insurance, transportation, meals, and so on.

Be confident, but pleasant. It will rub off on the person hiring you. If you are confident (not cocky), you will give the person hiring you the confidence that they are making the right choice in paying a little more for a person who can deliver. That said, neither men nor women react well to women who are perceived as aggressive. Smile; show your sense of humor. Show an interest in them by asking questions—and listening to their answers. People are more generous when they like you.

Anticipate challenges and prepare answers. If this is a stretch position, a new field for you, or much higher compensation than your previous position, don’t just hope that the employer won’t notice it. The same holds true if you’ve been out of work for a while. Assume that you will be asked—or that you might be offered a lower salary as a result—and prepare a convincing and confident response that will give the employer assurance that you can handle the new position and are not a big financial risk. If the employer has genuine concerns, you might offer certain benchmarks or propose a higher bonus to salary ratio.


Put all your eggs in one basket. Negotiation strength really comes down to supply and demand—or who has the better substitute. If the company has many qualified applicants and you have only one possible job, you are in a weaker position than if you have a couple of opportunities. Having other options will also keep you from panicking and negotiating an agreement that doesn’t benefit you.

Lie. In this information age, lies are so easily caught and they will destroy your reputation. Instead, follow #5 under Do’s. If the employer asks you what your previous salary was, rather than lying, refusing to answer, or offering a range (which just makes the listener more curious to know what you are hiding), give the whole compensation package (not just salary) and, if necessary, an explanation. For example, “I was making X, but that was for a non-profit. Although I loved the work and the cause, I am switching to a profit-making company in order to increase my income to market range.”

Be passive . Don’t expect an employer to perceive your worth through osmosis. It is your job to show that you bring value to the company.

Undervalue yourself. If humility gets in the way of valuing yourself, think about the importance of those earnings to your family, to charities you would like to support, or to your lifestyle. When you have a specific aspiration it makes it easier to take the steps needed to achieve it.

Fear asking for more. The worst thing that will happen is that you won’t get what you want—which is exactly where you would be if you didn’t ask at all. More likely, you will get more than if you didn’t ask. Even if you don’t, the employer knows that you are hungry for more and will keep that in mind when raise time comes around. That said, you don’t want to come across as greedy or unrealistic. Just make your case, calmly, pleasantly, and with justification.

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