4 tips for salary negotiation

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Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. Once a hiring manager chooses you from what is probably the largest pool of candidates she’s ever seen, you know you’re a top candidate. The current economy won’t give you the edge to ask for first-class air travel, but you do have options that can improve your salary outcome.

1. Don’t disclose your pay requirements during the interview process. The first person to provide numbers establishes the range. If you give a number first, the interviewer will either tell you you’re in the same ballpark as him, or you’re too high.
If you ask for less than the interviewer was considering, you’ll probably get it — and never find out you might have earned more. So interviewers always want you to disclose your requirements first. (Do not try to remedy this situation by giving an unreasonably high number because then you will sound unreasonable.)

Your first line of defense is to say you’d like to talk about salary once you have an offer. Still, a good interviewer will persevere. So try asking the interviewer what HE would pay someone for this job. Whatever number he gives, you can say, “That will be a fine starting point.” (You will ask for more later.)

2. Do not negotiate until you have an offer in writing. Here’s why (and you should remember this for when the tables are turned): Let’s say the job pays a salary and a performance bonus, but you don’t know about the bonus part. If you do not get a written offer specifying the pay elements before you start negotiating, then you might negotiate a higher base salary but lose a portion of your bonus. That’s because the bonus gives your hiring manager some “wiggle room.” She can take it off the table before you know you’re supposed to receive it. (Then she can report back to her boss and say, “I saved us $5K.”) Get the full offer in writing so you know what you have to work with during your bargaining.

Once you have that written offer, ask for a night to think about it and come back with a counter offer. Admittedly, you may hate confrontation and feel you’re a poor negotiator, but you have nothing to lose and you’re likely to get more money. Plus you will get better at this each time you try. Remember, almost no one loses a written offer because he asks for more money.

3. Do your research and plan your attack.
To know what to ask for in negotiations, you MUST know the pay range for your position. Check out salary surveys online and in trade journals. Do not quote any numbers from surveys conducted earlier than 2001. They are inflated. Get more recent information. Talk with friends in similar jobs or recruiters who regularly fill this type of position in your geographic region. Find the top of the salary range and ask for that. Show the hiring manager your research and remind her why you are worth the top of the range.

If you are fortunate enough to find out that your offer already is in the high end of your salary range, then propose taking on more responsibilities so you can ask for slightly more pay. Suppose you are a marketing manager with a background in technical writing. You can say that while most marketing managers pass off technical writing in marketing documents to someone else, you will handle this yourself. This entitles you to ask for slightly more.

4. Know what you need.
Each person is compensated in different ways — and not always monetarily. For instance, if you love what you do, you may not mind earning less than your neighbor with the same degree. Likewise, if you have a shorter commute. Friends can advise you, but you are the one in the job, and you must decide if you want it, regardless of the size of your paycheck. No salary survey can tell you that. Decide what’s important to you and what trade-offs you’ll make pay wise, but be honest with yourself. Don’t give up being paid more because you hate negotiating. Self-knowledge, good negotiation skills — and a little chutzpah — will help ensure you earn what you deserve starting with your next job.


33 replies
  1. Brad
    Brad says:

    You said: “Remember, almost no one loses a written offer because he asks for more money.”

    The question I’m struggling with is:

    How many people lose an offer because of start date negotiations?

    (we’re talking about a month long disparity here)

    * * * * * *
    Yes, you can easily lose a job offer because of a start date. You’re being hired becuase there is work that needs doing. If the work can’t wait, it can’t wait.

    This is a great example of why specialists have more flexiblity in their work. If you are a speicalist and difficult to replace, then you are more likely to be able to put off a start date for a whole month.


  2. Poor Negotiator
    Poor Negotiator says:

    Do you have any advice if you had given a range that you have a suspicion is too low to the recruiter? I wish I had read your post before I made the blunder :(

  3. WWPTD
    WWPTD says:

    Hey Penelope, I’m huge fan of yours and a fellow ENTJ. I have a question: how much is happiness vs. financial stability worth exactly? I am a finalist for an amazing position at a small company (I currently work at a huge corporation) with huge learning opportunities and may get an offer in the next couple of days. The only problem? The starting salary is 10K less than I currently make. I believe I can negotiate it up somewhat, but am unsure what my minimum should be, given that I am in a tremendous amount of student loan debt. What would Penelope Trunk Do (WWPTD)?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      $10k is nothing. After taxes it’s more like $8K. Which is nothing per week. It’s not gonna change your life. Take the job that will be amazing. If you keep making that decision — instead of a decision about $8K — you will get financial stability by having star power in your career.


      • GHG
        GHG says:

        $10k is nothing? You’re right, if you’re already earning decent money. However, if this person is lower on the payscale and it’s $25k -vs-$35k, that’s definitely life changing. I understand the argument for the “huge learning opportunity”, but those don’t always pay off…I wouldn’t recommend someone jump ship for a lesser salary in this economy without knowing the facts around the information provided. Also, the suggestions for negotiating are nice, but I can tell you that as a hiring manager, I won’t even waste my time on someone who is unwilling to disclose their current salary, and expectations upfront. The recommendations make sense when dealing with jobs paying around $150k and higher – but I can tell you that when I hire someone for under $100k/yr, it’s just not worth my time to deal with someone who thinks they’re a smart negotiator. This advice would risk someone’s likelihood of making a jump successfully in my mind.

  4. cajeba
    cajeba says:

    What about those instances in which a recruiter is forthcoming about the salary range in the very first phone conversation, but even the high end of the range is below what I’m looking to make? Is it worth still going for the interview? Can negotiations ever bring me beyond the high end of that range? If so, how do I respond when they ask if that range is acceptable to me?

  5. Julianne
    Julianne says:

    I was once in a salary negotiation where the recruiter told me they were planning to make me an offer (note: that was verbal, not in writing), and then asked me what I was making at that time. I explained that my hourly salary at that time was for a short-term contract, so it was not comparable to what I was looking for in a more stable job. I did not tell the recruiter what I was making because it would have been ludicrous to imply that it was my expectation (I was making $60/hour in a freak situation where I was the only person who could do the job, but normal would have been more like $20/hour and I would have been delighted with $25).

    Well, the recruiter asked me over and over and over and over again over multiple phone calls. I told him literally at least five times that my current salary was not relevant to the job they were planning to make me an offer for, and asked what they were planning to pay. After a while he told me that they could not offer me a position if I didn’t answer the question, so I said yet again that I was currently in a very short term and unusual position, and that I did not expect to make anything like this wage at a steady job, and told him I was making $60/hour. He said he would get back to me, and I never heard from him again. I phoned him back a few days later to ask what was going on, and he said, “Oh, you’re too rich for our blood!” to tell me they were not going to make the offer.

    This was, needless to say, extremely frustrating, particularly since I had explicitly told them that I wasn’t expecting my current salary at the new job. What should I have done, lied and made up a number that was only a bit high for the normal pay for that job? I’ve wondered since then if they had no real plan to offer me a position and would have withdrawn the proposed offer no matter what I had said — is that at all likely?

  6. GHG
    GHG says:

    If it was a short term contract, not in line with the amount you were earning in your prior positions, then I would provide that data with numbers from those positions as back up. I too have been faced with much higher prior salaries from candidates, and while generally people don’t want to go lower than previous pay, in this economy, people will sometimes do anything to secure an offer. As a manager, I don’t care to bite on that bate, since the person is likely to be a short-term hire, and that is just painful for everyone involved.

    While I would not have gone further with a candidate who was paid two or three times the expected earnings of a position, I certainly would be open minded if that candidate also explained not just that it was a short term contract, etc…but rather that all positions prior to the windfall role were paid in line with expected earnings for the position, with an example or two. That’s part of why I don’t just ask for most recent salary…I recently had a candidate who had only been with their current employer 9 months, and my query exposed that they’d received a 25% salary bump in that move. I’m not going to tack on another 25% to move them to my company; that’s insane unless they’re just that valuable.

    Shame on the recruiter for being closed minded enough to not ask about prior roles once you disclosed the anomaly of your last position, but it’s up to you to set their concerns aside, not the recruiter. Perhaps you were this specific and just didn’t mention it in your post. If that’s the case, I’d say this was just a poor recruiter, and that can happen in any situation – if it doesn’t click, it doesn’t, and if it’s a reflection on the company’s mentality, you’re probably better off without them too. That said, if this is a pattern of the conversations with the employment you’re seeking, I’d adjust your strategy.

  7. ml
    ml says:

    Hey Penelope. I’m a loyal reader of this blog and I’ve been following you for a year now, and I’m loving it :)
    Here’s the issue: I’m on a temporary which will end soon; and will be negotiating the renewal of my employment.
    Some background: the company has been easy on the firing trigger recently citing lack of performance. A friend in a similar position who already went through the renewal process was able to get a permanent contract (which I am planning to ask for) in addition to a 13% salary increase (now equaling the amount I earn, which is a good deal in my opinion).
    I am satisfied with my performance, and so is my manager. Also, finding an alternative job is relatively easy, as it’s in high demand. Two questions, regarding negotiating a salary increase:
    – How much of a raise should I ask for, in order to reach my target salary which is about 7% higher; and how much is too much?
    – Can I argue that there’s a high demand on my profile, or mention being in discussion with competitors and receiving better offers?

  8. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    Right on, the offer has already been there and no one loses it just because you tried to negotiate your salary. There’s nothing really to lose, but lots to gain, if you’d be successful.

  9. Worried Negotiator
    Worried Negotiator says:

    Hi Penelope,
    When I filled out the application form, I indicated the hourly salary of $20. I interviewed with 2 VPs of the company and got positive feedbacks. They had me meet with another employee whom I’ll be working with. When they got back to me with an offer, it was a dollar lower than my request. However, this person who’s in the same level of position that I’m being offered actually told me to request at least $50k/yr. I feel like I made a mistake when I specified the salary because I couldn’t even get close to $50k and now I’m being offered under my request. I’m still waiting to hear back (should I call because it’s been a day?) if they will give me $20 but I feel I deserve more but I’m scared of losing this opportunity.

  10. Barb
    Barb says:

    It all sounds great, but as an HR person I’ll tell you, I expect people to be mature enough to tell me what they want. If it’s too much, so be it. If it’s too little, why would I risk losing a great person by paying them less than they are worth? Just interviewed someone who said he was currently making $45k and hoped to be able to come in comparably. We loved this guy and wanted him. Could we have low-balled it? Sure, but just as someone said earlier in the blog, what’s $10k. If you think it isn’t much to a prospective employees, guess what? It’s NOTHING to a company. We offered him $58k…what we were willing to pay. And he jumped all over it. He is thrilled, we are thrilled. Everyone is happy. So I disagree that you need to play games. We are going to ask what you are looking for. Have some guts and tell us. If you lose it, you lose it. If you really thought you were worth the big bucks and the company wasn’t willing to pay it, then it wasn’t the right job for you!

    • Jenifer Wise
      Jenifer Wise says:

      Barb – thats great that your company is like that, but thats not how the majority of companies out there would be. I personally have been used and taken advantage off before because I did not know any better.

  11. Richa Kumar
    Richa Kumar says:

    Negotiating for salary has never been an easy job. There shoots a question in the interview room and leaves most of the candidates nervous. That dreadful question is "What salary are you expecting from us?" or "What are your expectations in terms of your salary package?" This question not only leaves the inexperienced candidates nervous but even the experienced ones confused on what must be their answer. If the approach is right things will fall into right places. There are two approaches that could be adopted. They are- http://richakumar.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/salary-negotiation-now-made-easy/

  12. Laura
    Laura says:

    I’m looking for some advice on two specific things. First, if the job looks great but its a really long commute, can I use the long commute (and something I am dreading) as a negotiating chip to earn more money? Or is it something that I just should deal with (it is what it is) and it should have no relation to the salary offered? My second question is, if this job looks great but their benefits package looks weak whats the best way of trying to negotiate a higher salary to compensate for the losses in the benefits package. Thanks for any advice.

    • GHG
      GHG says:

      Hi Laura,
      As a hiring manager, I’d laugh inside about someone using their commute as a negotiation tool. That to me would make the person seem less interested in the job and me less likely to hire. Don’t mention it in that sense. However, if it’s helpful to you, ask about the possibility of a flexible remote working arrangement that would allow you to skip the commute some number of days per week, AFTER you have earned respect in the position, and assuming you’ve proven yourself self-manageable. As for the benefits, you do need to look at the comparison as total compensation, including benefits, for you to compare. So, in that sense, it’s perfectly fair for you to point out that right now your overall compensation is worth X more due to Y, and therefore you’d like to see your salary at Z. Your most negotiable time is when first hired. Don’t pass the opportunity to at least ask for more, it’s the time the hiring manager will have the most flexibility to provide it; and depending on where you are in their acceptable range, may not need any further approvals. That said, if you’re at the top of their range, the answer could be “no”. But, there’s no harm in asking if you position it right, and make your case professionally…and do it in person or at the very least – verbally. I’d love to hear how it goes.

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        Thanks so much for the feedback. This is really helpful. I do have a clarifying question though when you mention that the most negotiable time is when first hired. How is this so when you are hired after you agree to their offer, including the salary package? If I want to negotiate for a higher salary because the benefits package is weak compared to my current job, wouldn’t I do this once they make me an offer but before I am hired?

        Also, is it reasonable to ask my current HR director what is the overall value of my current benefits package (she knows that I am looking for a new position, and we are on good terms)? Perhaps she can help me understand the overall value of my current benefits to help me negotiate this with possible future employers. What do you think?
        Thanks again.

  13. GHG
    GHG says:

    Yes, you are correct – you wouldn’t want to bring this up after accepting an offer. You would go through the interview process, and assuming they decide to offer you the position, when they do so they’ll usually provide the salary offered at that time. This is when you would counter offer if you choose to do so. If it’s presented verbally or in person, I would be prepared to already know what you want salary-wise, and counter politely at that time. Frankly, even if they offer what you hope for, ask for 5-10 percent more. My point was just that once you’re hired, with most companies – especially larger organizations, you will end up in whatever their salary review schedule is, and that is the only opportunity for increases outside of a real promotion. Today, most companies are not very generous when reviews happen, so this literally is your best opportunity to begin as strong as possible. That said, there are always exceptions, and only you know the situation you’re interviewing for.

    As for your question about the value of benefits, I typically assume that the total package represents about 20-30% in benefits, 70-80% in salary. That varies, as benefits are not always highly variable. I would not think you’d need to ask your HR rep about it, but if you have the type of relationship where this wouldn’t be risky, no harm in asking I guess. The real differences are going to be the ones you can calculate without thinking – huge differences in insurance premiums, 401(k) match, any special circumstance benefits (for instance some companies contribute to adoption fees or fertilization therapies, others don’t touch either), etc.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      I’m so glad I found your site. Thanks for all the tips. I’m asking all of this now because I’m hoping that by the end of this week/early next week I will have an offer from a company I’ve been interviewing with. I made the mistake in one of my interviews of telling them my current salary and telling them what I am hoping to make. They didn’t seem to blink, and said this was very much in their range. Given that conversation, if they do make me an offer that is in that range that we discussed, is it still fair game for me to ask for 5 – 10 percent more as you suggest? And knowing their benefits don’t compare to what I currently have (they offer no matching fund for my 401K, which I currently have, and higher health insurance premiums), do I ask for even more on top of the 5-10 percent? Many thanks!!!

      • GHG
        GHG says:

        I don’t think it was a mistake to disclose your current salary or your desired salary prior – as long as you were truthful and were shooting for that you really want to earn on the latter. I wouldn’t continue the conversation with someone who wanted to remain mysterious.

        If your desired salary was based on assumptions about their benefits that you’ve since learned are way off, then you do have room to say, “I know I said X is what I’d like to earn, but I’ve since learned that based on the difference in benefits, I’ll actually be losing Y out of pocket.” But here’s the deal – it all depends on the range you’re talking about. If your desired salary was $45k, they offer it, and the difference in benefits will cost you $5k, that’s substantial, and worth mentioning and asking about – in fact, I would do it before they make a real offer if – and only if – you have a conversation with them before the offer comes. Most larger companies will have already sought the approvals for the offer amount and had it approved by HR by the time it is put in an official letter – then it’s a little tougher to change, as you’re asking the hiring manager to go back to the well. That is why it would be ideal to have the conversation during a verbal offer. I personally always make verbals before putting it in writing, since it’s just not worth going through the red tape to get an offer letter out if you’re not agreed on terms.

        If your desired salary was $120k and the difference in real benefits cost/value to you is $3k, I’d take the job and smile…it all depends on the scale of the salary, and the scale of the difference in benefits.

        If it’s a small company, it won’t be a problem. Over a couple hundred employees, it starts to creep into the red tape zone.

        The one key I would consider is what your TRUE out of pocket difference is. That is, if your prior company offered matching to 6% and you didn’t take advantage of it, I wouldn’t argue the point too much. If you did, it’s a big deal.

        Also, my 5-10 percent suggestion was based on you not having given them a desired salary. Once you do, that option isn’t really there anymore. That’s why it’s important to go in knowing what it’s worth to you. If you feel like you undersold yourself on salary, I’d tread carefully about renegotiating on compensation unless there’s a real difference in benefits value that you recognize.

        Good luck, I look forward to hearing how it goes. Role play the conversation before it happens, so you’re ready. At least with a mirror, better with a real person, even better with someone who hires as part of their role and is used to sitting in that chair.

  14. Laura
    Laura says:

    I’ll let you know how it goes. Any chance you can role-play with me :) Many thanks again for your advice. This conversation has been very helpful!
    Best, Laura

  15. Ramsey
    Ramsey says:

    Hi Penelope,

    came across your site today, and I’ve been devouring it. Great content, thank you for sharing so much.

    I have a question, what about an advertised salary range, where they specify that the successful candidate is expected to start at the bottom end of the advertised range.

    I think it is supposed to mean that the job is range x to y, so starters will get x and there are annual increments until they get to the top of that range y.

    How do I negotiate in those circumstances? What’s best practice? thanks. p.s. this would be a public institution.

  16. Greg Schwei
    Greg Schwei says:

    Know your bottom line for total package and stick to it. Negotiations is as difficult as you want it to be; however, knowing what is the least you will accept make it easier in evaluating the proposal. The company is proposing, it is up to you to accept – you are the lead. Stand-up, assume the super-hero pose with pencil between your teeth for 30s, and take charge of your negotiations.

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