How to Negotiate a Better Salary

Go into salary negotiations with a strong sense of what you bring to the table—as well as what you want from an employer—to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion.

Written by Hilary Collins / June 16, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Salary negotiations can be nerve-wracking but reframing them mentally can be helpful.
  • No matter what it feels like, the employer doesn’t hold all the cards—you’re an equal decision-maker in this process.
  • Remember that many elements besides hourly or annual pay are part of your total compensation package.
  • Not negotiating is a costly mistake that could impact your lifetime earning power.

As you reach the final stages of a job interview, you’ve probably dreaded this conversation: the salary discussion. Maybe at the end of a phone call with a hiring manager, she asks you for a number. Your mind races searching for the right answer—too high and you might be pricing yourself out of the role, too low and you might be selling yourself short. What should you say?

Well, don’t panic—here’s what you need to know to negotiate a salary that leaves both you and your employer happy and sets you both up for a long, mutually beneficial relationship.

Inside this article

  1. How much should you ask for?
  2. Manage your anxiety
  3. Consider the whole package
  4. How to negotiate professionally

How much should you ask for?

It’s never been easier to find the market rate for a position, to find out if an organization pays well, or how long their employees tend to stay. Some good sources to discover the salary range for a position include:

  • Glassdoor: One of the best-known sources of employer information, Glassdoor can give you a median salary range based on your job title and location. Glassdoor is also famously an excellent source of anonymous reviews that could offer you an inside glimpse of what it’s like to work with your potential employer.

  • Payscale: Payscale’s questionnaire is a bit more complex than Glassdoor’s, asking for more information from you but also delivering more statistical insights in return. You can get a good sense for if the salary number you have in mind actually matches up with the role, the industry, and your unique qualifications.

  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: The Bureau tracks wage data for over 800 occupations in around 400 industries. While the information they offer is simple and straightforward, it can serve as a helpful benchmark.

But determining your market rate is just part of a bigger picture. Experience, niche knowledge, and credentials are just some of the things that could raise you above the average worker in your position—and above the average pay grade.

Manage your anxiety

It’s common for job seekers to feel like they’re at the mercy of the employer, but that’s not true. Organizations don’t succeed without their workers, and healthy organizations will care deeply about finding, keeping, and fairly compensating great workers. Head into negotiations with the mindset that both you and the hiring manager are working together to ensure that this specific role is a good fit for both parties.

If you can reframe the interview and negotiation process and see it as a way for both parties to come away with something of value—or walk away with no hard feelings knowing that the fit just wasn’t right—it will be a lot easier to have an open and fruitful dialogue without nerves getting in the way.

Consider the whole package

While salary is of course very important, don’t focus on the annual or hourly dollar amount to the detriment of the rest of the compensation package. A compensation package includes benefits like paid time off, insurance plans, and retirement options. Other things to consider include the ease of the commute, the amount of work and stress you’ll be in for, and advancement opportunities.

Make sure you’re looking at the big picture instead of focusing on just one element. After all, if you’re eliminating a long commute and gaining multiple vacation days, you might settle for a modest pay bump—and if you’re looking at a significant increase in workload and responsibilities, you may want to ask for a larger number.

Here are some other questions you should consider: Do you enjoy interacting with different people every day or do you like keeping your head down and completing your duties? Do you want a fast-paced workplace where you constantly learn new things or do you like sticking to a comfortable routine? There is no right or wrong answer to these questions, but it can help you determine if a particular company or role is the right fit for you.

How to negotiate professionally

So you’ve done your salary research, you’ve really considered what you want from this job, you weighed the whole package, and you reframed the negotiation process as a mutually beneficial dialogue—but what does the negotiation actually look like?

A lot of people aren’t good at negotiating—and that can really impact their lifetime earning power. According to 2021 research from the University of South Carolina, 43 percent of those surveyed didn’t negotiate their salary at all and job seekers leave approximately 20 percent of the value on the table in the negotiation process.[1] In fact, 2009 research found that employees who were offered an annual salary of $50,000 and negotiated an extra $5,000 for a total annual salary of $55,000 would earn approximately $600,000 more over the course of their 40-year career than employees that didn’t negotiate.[2]

Here are some things to remember when negotiating:

  • Don’t allow the interviewer to make the discussion about your current or previous salary: In fact, it’s illegal for them to ask in some cities and states. Robin Schwartz, managing partner of MFG, told Glassdoor that applicants can redirect the question instead: “Instead of giving them your current actual salary, discuss the salary range you’re seeking based on your experience, education, skills, and certifications.”[3]

  • Don’t make it about your personal wants and needs. Maybe you have mortgage payments hanging over your head or really want to take a trip to Cabo this summer—it’s simply not relevant to the discussion. Instead, counter based on your salary research, the actual job description, and your unique expertise and experience.

  • Remember: You don’t have to counter. If the initial offer meets or exceeds your expectations, there’s nothing wrong with accepting it without further negotiation!

  • Be realistic: The final number is likely to be somewhere between your dream number and their starting offer. Do your research to ensure your counteroffer is reasonable.

  • It’s okay to ask for time to think it over. Take a day to mull it over and determine your next steps.

Spending a few days researching your chosen field and potential employer and considering what you really want out of your next role can do wonders for your confidence in the negotiation process. When you view negotiation as a dialogue that can end in a dream job for you and a highly skilled and motivated worker for the company, you can realize your full value—not just in a paycheck but in an exciting and fulfilling career path.

Article Sources
  1. “Are women worse than men at salary negotiation?” Oct. 6, 2021, USC News. https://news.usc.edu/192848/women-men-salary-negotiation-virtual-agents-usc-research/
  2. “Who asks and who receives in salary negotiation,” April 2011, Journal of Organizational Behavior. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41415674?seq=1
  3. “What to Do If You Get Asked About Your Current Salary During a Job Interview,” Sept. 22, 2021, Glassdoor. https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/current-salary/

About the Author

Hilary Collins

Hilary Collins

Hilary is an experienced finance writer with a passion for turning complicated topics into readable stories with real-world takeaways.

Full bio

Related Content