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How to Negotiate Your Salary (For Career Newbies & Industry Vets)

Tips for getting the pay you deserve

woman negotiating her salary

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is on staff at InHerSight where she writes about data and women's rights.

Negotiating your salary is a necessary part of taking any new job.

While most people find it difficult to discuss money, women especially are culturally deterred, so when it comes to salary negotiation, many of us are not only uncomfortable but also ill-equipped.

But here’s the truth:

You should negotiate your salary. You have every right to make sure you’re paid fairly and appropriately.

So you need to go in with a plan. You’ll either come away with a salary you deserve or you’ll walk away from a job that wouldn’t have served you.

Let’s begin with the basic steps of salary negotiation.

1. Do your research to determine the going rate for the job

Before you negotiate your salary, know the median salary for the position based on location and experience. PayScale is a great tool for benchmarking your salary range.

You can also ask other people in similar roles what they make. Keep in mind that experience, location, company size, and public versus private sector will affect their compensation. Getting a few different numbers from both women and men can help you understand where you might fall relative to your professional peers.

Related: How to Ask Someone How Much Money They Make

2. Decide on a salary range (that only you know)

It’s best to have a range in mind when negotiating your salary.

For example, if you find that people with the same job title and experience in similar areas make $80,000 per year on average, then your salary range might be $75,000–$85,000. The top of your salary range is an ideal figure, the bottom is a fair number that you would be happy with.

Don’t disclose your range in the negotiation conversation. It’s a tool only for you.

If a job application requires you to enter a range, enter $80,000–$80,001.

3. Go in confidently

Before you go into the salary negotiation conversation, pump yourself up. Go for a run, listen to music, meditate, remind yourself of past success, call a friend or mentor for encouragement, wear something that makes you feel comfortable and powerful (even if you’re negotiating over the phone). Whatever you need to do to go into the conversation with confidence.

Read more: 6 Tips to Get Over Your Interview Nerves

4. Give them a specific number

When negotiating your salary with a potential employer, ask for a specific number, not a range.

Many hiring managers or human resources professionals will ask what your salary requirements are. Answer with the high end of your salary range. If they take it, great. If they don’t, having a range gives you wiggle room.

When you name a specific salary figure, you should be prepared to support it. Talk about how the salary you’ve asked for compares to your peers, remind the employer of your experience and accomplishments, the unique experience, skills, and point of view that you bring to the team.

5. Counter

Alright, so you’ve named your salary. Let’s say it was $85,000, the high end of your range. The employer comes back and says they can’t do $85K and counter with $75K.

This is not bad. They’re still within your range. But because they’re at the bottom, you could:

  1. Counter with something like $77K or $80K, saying it’s as low as you’ll go. You should then be prepared to walk if they won’t meet it.
  2. Take the $75K and negotiate a bonus, benefits, and perks—saying I would be prepared to accept your offer of $75K as long as I was also given the ability to work remotely for two days per week.

If the employer accepts the remote work offer, be sure this arrangement appears in writing in your hiring agreement.

6. Do not disclose previous salaries

Even if a potential employer asks you what you made in a previous role, you don’t have to answer—and you shouldn’t answer. Not only are you not legally obligated to do so, many states have laws that prevent employers from asking candidates and employees about previous salaries. Relying on previous salary to determine future pay is a way the gender pay gap is perpetuated, so it’s best to ensure that for each role to take, your salary is fair and appropriate regardless of what you’ve made in the past.

If they do ask about your previous salary, you could say:

I’d prefer to not discuss previous salary and instead focus on what I can offer your company, which I believe is a better measure for compensation.

What to do if they won’t meet your salary requirements

If the potential employer won’t meet your salary requirements, you should ultimately be prepared to walk away. If you do walk away from a great position because the pay is too low, be courteous and honest—and tell them that the salary is the dealbreaker.

Thank you for extending your offer. I feel like I could bring so much to your organization, but unfortunately, I feel that $75K is an appropriate salary for this position. If that is a salary you would be able to offer, I would gladly continue to conversation.

But if you see great potential in the job, you might consider going just below your salary range if you can negotiate a great benefits and perks package—ask for more paid time off, flexible working hours, the ability to work remotely for a few days per week, or a bonus structure.

Read more: How to Accept a Job Offer: When to Negotiate & What to Say

Tips for negotiating your salary in person

  • Know your numbers: know your salary range, know your walk-away figure.

  • Prepare. Have a friend or mentor stage a mock negotiation with you.

  • Know why you deserve the salary you’re asking for. Come prepared with how it compares to the market value of your job, figures that illustrate your past successes.

Tips for negotiating your salary over the phone

  • Create a cheat sheet: write down your range and walk-away number and perfect phrasings for the call.

  • Have a friend help you prepare for the conversation. Get them on the phone and have them help you get comfortable discussing the matter.

Tips for negotiating your salary via email

  • Take your time. Email lets you think through everything you say, so take advantage of it. Keep your tone courteous and friendly.

How to negotiate the salary for your first job

For those taking their first jobs, negotiating a salary can be especially intimidating, but it can be done. For those jumping into the job market, the same steps above still apply, but here are a few tips just for you.

1. Know the entry-level salary range for your position

Just like the career veterans, you should understand the going rate for entry-level employees in your field. You can set your salary range around this information.

2. Draw on success in internships

When negotiating salary with a potential employer entry-level employees will have less leverage than those with more experience because your resume or CV will be, understandably, a little thin.

You can back up your salary requirements by drawing on past success in internships, specific trainings or licenses you have, industry certifications, or publications.

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