No one likes talking about money. It’s uncomfortable, and just the thought of discussing salary expectations can make you feel fidgety. But talking about money and salary expectations is a way to find out if you’re being underpaid compared to your coworkers, communicate your worth and what you deserve, and build your confidence.
Erin Lydon is the president of Poker Power, a company with a mission to teach a million women how to strategize, negotiate, allocate capital and take risks—like a winning poker player. She says, “The best negotiators bring a full toolkit to the table. This includes data, examples of being a value-add, and professionalism, whether negotiating in person or over a screen.
“Asking for what you are worth can be scary, but prepping what you'll say and how you'll say it are key steps to achieve successful outcomes. Practicing taking risks and feeling confident outside your comfort zone are instrumental skills that build courage and foster resilience.”
To build your negotiation toolkit and help you feel more calm and collected when talking salary, we asked 11 human resource managers, hiring managers, negotiation experts, and career coaches to share their top advice for discussing salary expectations.
Read more: How to Answer: What Is Your Desired Salary?
11 experts share tips for discussing salary expectations
Research salary trends and information
Before you start having any salary expectations discussions, you’ll need to understand the market and current trends. Marjorie Kalomeris, an interview and career coach, says research is the number-one thing that helps build confidence in asking for the salary you want. She suggests finding at least 10 salary data points showing the average pay ranges in your area for similar roles that you're interviewing for.
Career success strategist Jennifer Brick says, “If you're in a location where salary transparency is required by law, such as Colorado or New York City, you can review current job postings to understand the ranges. There are also several tools online that can help. Personally, I think PayScale, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn Salary are helpful. If you work in tech, Levels.fyi is a must-visit resource.”
Lydon adds that as pay transparency laws take effect in more states, key metrics and compensation numbers will become more accessible. In the meantime, tap your network for salary information and normalize discussing pay with peers and mentors.
When researching, Dana Hundley, head of coaching and content at professional coaching firm Allspring, says don’t neglect to ask around about benefits packages. “It's helpful to ask the people around you what they've experienced and seen. Especially around equity and stock options, it can vary a lot from company to company and industry to industry. If you're in salary discussions and there is some misalignment on the number, understanding what else is available or possible when looking at total compensation can help you get to a final package that you're happy with.”
Keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how companies are creating salaries. “COVID has thrown a bit of a curveball to salary ranges because it used to be highly dependent on where you were located, since most jobs were in person. But now, so many roles are remote, so cost of living and commutes aren't being considered in salary calculations,” says Whitney Kahn, a client director at Kelaca, a talent acquisition and advisory firm.
Find your number and stick with it
Alejandra Hernandez is a career and leadership coach and the founder of empowHER change. She has a saying: ‘clarity builds confidence.’ “This means it's important to get very clear on what you’re asking for, your non-negotiable bottom line, and negotiable requests. A big problem I see with my clients is that they are unsure about the exact number they want to ask for or don’t know what they would say if that number is rejected.”
To find clarity, she says to “review your budget and expenses over the past month—inflation can impact how much you’re spending even if you’re not technically buying more things. From this clear space, you’ll know how much you need to sustain your lifestyle.”
Clarity isn't just about numbers, it’s also about your skills and accomplishments. Hernandez says that when women aren’t clear about how they positively impact their team, it’s easy to not recognize their worth and feel guilty for asking for more.
To build clarity on your accomplishments, reflect on these questions:
What did you learn this past year?
What mistakes did you make and how did you improve?
How have you saved your company money in the past?
How have you helped your team run more efficiently in the past?
Finally, stick to your ask. “Use short sentences when you're discussing money,” says Stephanie Heath, a career coach and founder of Soul Work & Six Figures. “You can be friendly, kind, enthusiastic, and compromising throughout the entire interview process, but when you‘re at the point of discussing money, you’re more than welcome to be a bit less kind.”
Practice in order to feel confident when discussing salary expectations
Practicing your negotiation skills beforehand, either in a mirror or with a friend, goes a long way in building confidence for the real deal.
“Practice makes perfect—or at least progress—so negotiating in multiple areas of your life can build confidence, as can practicing saying the numbers you’re negotiating for out loud,” says Cynthia Pong, a career coach for people of color and the founder and CEO of Embrace Change. “Do the self-work to understand what you bring to the table and the value you offer. Remembering your ‘why’ behind negotiating can also be effective, like remembering that you’re advocating and setting the standard not only for yourself, but also for other women.”
Career coaching and personal branding expert LaTrice Huff says, “Get used to the number coming out of your mouth so when you say it to the recruiter, it's not the first time coming out of your mouth. Have your salary range written on a Post-it note and tape it to your monitor.” To boost confidence and combat self-doubt, she adds that it can be helpful to create a list of reasons why you deserve X salary.
Does practicing aloud mean you need to have a memorized script for your salary negotiation conversation? Hundley says writing out a detailed script isn’t always the way to go because if things go off-script, it can be disconcerting and more difficult to be nimble. Instead, create speaking points that you can adapt in real time.
Use your accomplishments and research to prove your worth
Once you have a concrete list of your accomplishments, you can show what you bring to the table and prove your worth.
“I have interviewed many candidates over the years and am most impressed with those who can craft a compelling case that benefits both the candidate and the business. Tell me something I'll remember that shows me how you'll be invaluable to the team, clients, and stakeholders,” Lydon says. “Demonstrate how your expertise and experience will advance the business objectives. Before discussing compensation, learn the organization's priorities and how your contributions will be additive. Be able to quantify how your work increases revenues or saves money or expands the brand.”
In addition to leveraging your accomplishments, career coach Tazeen Raza says you can use the job description to help your case—start with your core strengths and try to align them with the top three things they’re asking for in the job description.
Angie Callen, another career coach, says that while your performance is definitely sound reasoning for asking for more, it isn’t your only leverage. “When you back [your accomplishments] up with competitive market data that shows the ‘going rate’ for someone of your expertise and experience, now you've presented information that's about something much greater than you.”
Going into the conversation, she suggests you have salary comparisons for your industry, geography, and role from at least one source, in addition to your proven track record.
Use the right language with recruiters and hiring managers
Language and tone of voice are everything. Huff advises against saying that you’re open to whatever they’ll pay you or that you can talk about salary later. The salary expectations conversation is an important one, so don't put it off—the sooner you have it, the better.
Kahn recommends keeping your answers brief. For example, when answering, “What are your salary expectations?” you can simply say:
“Based on my research and level of experience for a [role title] in [location], my base salary expectation is $XXX,XXX per year, for a total compensation in the range of $XX-$XXXK/year.”
Brick echoes the sentiment of keeping your language simple. “A mistake I hear way too often is citing personal expenses in a salary negotiation. While your rent, car payment, and student loans will inform your target salary, they aren't relevant points to the hiring company,” she says.
Instead, she suggests citing the market research you've done, why you're valuing the role at a certain level, and how your skills and experience align with their needs to justify the numbers. “This brings me to the most important part, and a game changer in the negotiation: negotiate from the same side of the table. The salary negotiation process is a collaboration, so make them collaborators in the process, by phrasing your ask like:
‘Based on our conversations and the current market, my target is $110K. How can we close the gap?’”
Mirroring the other person's language gives you an advantage, says Pong. “However they are framing things, whatever terminology they are using, pepper that in what you say in return. It demonstrates you are truly hearing what the other person is saying, which will build empathy and make you more persuasive to them.”
Pong also suggests using ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions and statements in order to glean more information. Avoid ‘why’ questions, as they can cause the other person to be defensive. She says if you want to ask a ‘why’ question, simply rephrase it. For example, instead of asking, ‘Why can't you offer more money?’ you can say, ‘Are there certain reasons behind that offer?’”
Remember that silence is an important tool. “Pauses can be beneficial. Don't feel like you need to fill the quiet space. Pauses give people time to think, reflect, and formulate a response,” says Hundley. “When given the opportunity to answer and not feel put on the spot, responses are more thoughtful and informative.”
Experts agree that curiosity is key as well. Kalomeris says, “Ask questions like, ‘How are the compensation bands structured?’ and ‘How did you come up with this specific offer?’ Then, sit back and truly allow them the space to respond. Listen to what is being said and also, to what is not being said or answered adequately.”
Finally, you can use the fact that you’re interviewing elsewhere to your advantage. Heath says if they know you have several other offers or you're moving through other interviews for roles that pay at a certain range, they’ll have to compete to close the deal with you. Use language like: “I am being considered for X amount,” or “I'm currently interviewing for roles in the X range.”
Be aware of your non-verbal cues and body language
If there’s ever a time you want to project confidence, it's when you're negotiating your salary. Using body language to your advantage begins before you even step into the office or join a virtual interview.
Hernandez says body language has an impact on how people perceive you, even if you don’t notice it consciously. “I’m a big fan of doing things to feel strong and powerful before something nerve-wracking. I’ve danced before a webinar. I’ve stood up straight with my chin up before an interview,” she says.
Kahn also recommends using techniques to hype yourself up beforehand. “Before you go to talk about salary expectations, try the superwoman pose to make your body believe in the confidence you need to have the discussion.”
Maintain good posture and eye contact, and to keep an open disposition—don’t cross your arms, multiple experts say. Take deep breaths before speaking and have a cup of water to sip on before answering. Sitting back and relaxing your body after you say your salary range can also help you to exude confidence.
And if you’re feeling nervous, try a smile. According to Hernandez, smiling not only connects you with the person you’re speaking to, but your body also reacts positively to a smile if you’re in a tense situation. “It tricks the mind to think something good is happening which helps relax you. It’s a great mind hack that I use in yoga when I’m very uncomfortable.”
Take notice of when you play with your hair or when your hands start fidgeting. If these are things you do when you’re nervous, practice taking deeper breaths to help calm yourself down.
“Failing to make eye contact, slumping in your chair, or having meek voice levels indicate a lack of confidence,” says Callen. “Whether you need to go to the bathroom to psych yourself up or call your best friend for a pep talk, do whatever it takes to hold your shoulders high, walk in that room, make eye contact, and say confidently ‘I'd like to talk to you about my compensation.’”
Try negotiating for other benefits
Be prepared for an answer you don't like, and be prepared to negotiate outside of your base salary, says Callen. “Annual bonuses, equity, stock, paid time off, and tuition reimbursement are all opportunities to increase the bottom line outside of the salary.”
Lydon adds, “Be realistic to the economic and business environment. If there's a hiring freeze or layoffs, recognize that hiring managers may have limited negotiation power. ‘No’ is only ‘no’ for now, not forever. Be willing to think creatively about the total package. Ask your manager for a timeframe of when you can re-engage on a compensation discussion and ask what you need to accomplish in order to reach your pay goals in the interim.”
Know when to walk away
Lydon says negotiating pay is never one and done. It's an ongoing, nuanced conversation that requires mutual respect to reach an outcome where both parties feel good. If you don’t feel a sense of respect during the salary expectations discussion, it’s okay to walk away.
“It's important to ask for what you want, but if you don't get it, I think you need to be able to walk away as well.” says Raza. “This is something most women don't want to do for fear of not finding something. But, I think the more we do this, the more companies will realize that we won't be messed with and deserve to be compensated fairly.”
Brick adds that it’s a huge red flag if a company is unwilling to negotiate with you. “I know some people who read this are in need of a job offer because they need a paycheck ASAP,” she says. “But when you have the ability, don't be afraid to walk away from bad offers. The only way a company can really demonstrate how much they value employees at the offer stage is in how well they pay. A low salary offer, especially when the recruiter or hiring manager undermines or invalidates your experience and skills to justify it, is setting off red flags.”
Knowing your non-negotiables up front is helpful for knowing when it’s time to walk away, says Kalomeris. “What are you optimizing for with this job change? Is it salary, flexible working hours, or something else entirely? Always have another viable option, so that you feel you really could walk away if it turns out a company cannot meet or exceed your expectations.”
Overall, remember this is your opportunity to secure a good salary that you deserve and set the bar for the next generation of women. Brick says, “You can be the exception, and each of us who becomes the exception normalizes equitable pay.”