When I started my first job, I didn’t even consider negotiating my salary. I thought it was too stressful and that I had no leverage. I told myself I wasn’t a “negotiator” and would be thankful for what I got.
As a famous Julia Roberts character said in Pretty Women: “Big mistake. Big. HUGE.”
I thought of negotiating—whether it be for my salary or anything—as a game, an art, a skill I didn’t have and wasn’t going to have. I let my nerves and inexperience overshadow what salary negotiation really is: asking for what you’re worth and being confident in that.
Of course that can still feel difficult, but believing in yourself and your value shouldn’t be so hard! And it’s definitely something to get over when it comes in the way of you making money.
“The majority of women don’t negotiate because they’re intimidated. And they feel they don’t know how to go about that,” says Mary Jeanne Vincent, career coach and pro salary negotiator. “But always attempt to negotiate. Always ask for more. Even if you don’t get it, that’s okay. But you ask for it.”
And if you, like I used to, feel like you can’t do this, stop those thoughts right now; you can! Some of you may be negotiating already, just not for yourself. Research has shown that women negotiate more assertively for others than they do for themselves. It’s time you speak up for you!
If you’re not negotiating your salary, we’re here to help you get over that intimidation, fear, or unfamiliarity. If you are, these tips will help you level up your strategy. Read on so you can ask for what you’re worth.
Why it’s so important to negotiate your salary
Obviously there are a handful of reasons that jump to mind when deciding to have a salary negotiation conversation, like being able to afford better housing, or more travel, or aligning your pay with added responsibilities or education. But it’s not just about making more money right now. Asking for a raise or a higher starting salary is very much about the future.
“Every time you don’t negotiate, you lose the money you didn’t ask for,” Vincent says. “Every time you don’t negotiate, you lose the interest on the portion of that increase that you could’ve banked. Every time you don’t negotiate, you lose the future money you would’ve earned because of future raises that are stacked on top of what you make now. And every time you don’t negotiate, you lose credibility with your bosses and your coworkers—and with yourself. I’m always saying, if you don’t negotiate, the other person thinks that they are paying too much. They think ‘She just rolled over and took that; I bet I could’ve gotten her for less.’ So that value that you had just evaporates.”
Of course, it might feel less stressful in the middle of the conversation to accept what you’re offered without a back-and-forth, or to wait for your performance review to talk about a raise instead of asking for a meeting mid-year, but you’re only cheating yourself.
So, where do you begin? Here’s how to get ready.
Salary negotiation strategies and tips to prep for your conversation
Track your accomplishments
You should always be tracking your accomplishments, if you aren’t already. This will help you support what you’re bringing to the company, and also help when you update your resume.
“When you negotiate salary, probably the most important thing is that you’ve actually done the work, that you have accomplishments that support that salary negotiation,” Vincent says. “They’re not simply going to give it because of time in the chair. It’s about what you’ve delivered. People don’t really track that. But at the end of every week, write something down about what you’ve accomplished, so when it’s time for that performance appraisal, you have a list, and then you monetize it. You can say, ‘here’s why I’m worth more, look at the value I’ve added.’ And that’s the number-one thing.”
Writing them down weekly means you don’t have to try to remember back to all your wins and what they yielded for the company. And there’s no win too small! Track it all.
Don’t just have the list in your head. Vincent makes sure her clients have their accomplishments list in hand, if they need to reference it or slide it across the table to support what they’ve done.
Research salaries for similar positions within your company and industry
“Always do your homework,” Vincent says. “That means you’ve done your research on the company, or talked to people you know at the company, or you found people at the company to have conversations with about what they’re paying. You can go to websites and see what’s been said about the company. And if they’re paying the least amount [in the industry], maybe that’s not a company you really want to pursue.”
There are plenty of sites to use when looking for insight on what a “good” salary is:
Ladders (for jobs paying $100k or more)
Know your “walk away” number
Vincent says to make sure you know the number that you won’t accept. It makes it easier to know what to do when you get to that point in the negotiation. What you never want to do is panic and accept a lower salary than you deserve, which she has seen happen.
Practice asking for what you want
Seriously, practice saying it out loud! In a mirror, before you go to sleep, to a friend… say the words so you hear them and believe them. Vincent says standing while you practice—and when you have the conversation—can help strengthen and project your voice, and help you feel more powerful.
Salary negotiation strategies and tips to use when you’re talking numbers
Now you know what the company pays, you know what you’re worth and what you’re willing to accept, and you’ve rehearsed so many times you’re asking for a higher salary in your sleep. Here are the expert tools to use once your salary negotiation begins.
Even if you’ve done some communicating with your interviewer or potential future boss over email or the phone, make sure when you talk about salary, you are doing so face-to-face.
“Do not negotiate over email,” Vincent says. “You want to negotiate either in person or on some platform that allows you to see each other. Because when you write something in an email, how many times has that gone wrong? Even a telephone conversation can be tricky. You don’t see eyebrows go up when you say something, or maybe someone’s not saying something but they’re making a face when they’re reacting. That’s something that happened that you don’t have the information on.”
Start higher than what you want
Vincent says when you’re aiming for a certain salary, start your negotiation above that target.
“There’s negotiation both ways, they come up and you come down. You’re always going to shoot over what your target is, that way when you negotiate you come down to a range that’s really a range that you want to work in,” Vincent says. “It gives you wiggle room.”
Don’t go down by a lot at first
You start the negotiation with a number higher than your target so you can end up no lower than your target. If they don’t match it right away, don’t counter by dropping right to your target.
“Don’t make a huge jump the first time,” Vincent says. “Because then they think ‘oh man, no confidence, we got this one.’”
Lessen the increments each time you offer a lower number
“As you’re coming down [from your starting proposed salary], never come down in the same increment twice,” Vincent says. “Let’s say you’re at $90,000, and they’re at $80,000. You come down to $87,000. [On your next move] you wouldn’t come down another $3,000 because you don’t want them to know what your next increment is. Otherwise they know you’re going to come down another $3,000 after that, and they’ll just play a little longer.”
Read more: How to Negotiate Your Job Offer
What not to do when negotiating your salary
Now that you’re armed with pro negotiation strategies, make sure you don’t get in your own way with these missteps.
Do not accept a salary you don’t want
This might sound obvious, but it happens. And it puts you in a tough spot going forward.
“Generally when you accept an offer, the door has slammed shut,” Vincent says. “You can attempt to reopen it, but often you can’t. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and work there, or you decline the opportunity and burn that bridge.”
Don’t negotiate salary with your recruiter before your interview
You might be eager to talk about money right away, but it’s best to wait until the company has gotten to know you and what your worth is. You always want to give yourself time to learn what the position really entails before talking about your salary expectations.
“Bring up salary when they offer you the job. Don’t bite early,” Vincent says. “Because before that, they’re just playing with you. They’re not serious yet. If you talk about salary too early on, it shortens the conversation. You’re either too high or too low. Rarely are you going to hit it right on.
“You also don’t know what they call this position. You don’t really know if that’s the level of responsibility that’s the right level for that pay. You’ve got to have a conversation. And the longer you have that conversation, the more of a relationship they feel with you. They can see all the value.”
Don’t give an ultimatum
Vincent says if you’re not getting what you want, do not give an ultimatum with salary negotiation. Once you know what your company can or can’t do, you make your decisions from there. It might mean leaving or walking away from the offer, but you don’t need to threaten that.
Plus, remember you’re building a relationship with this person, and you might end up working with them after negotiating. You want your tone to reflect that.
“It’s not a one-time conversation. Often the negotiation takes place over a period of days or weeks,” Vincent says. “It’s not that I go in and I negotiate and it’s a slam dunk and it’s over. You have to maintain your sense of decorum and humor and all of those kinds of things because you have a relationship, whether it’s your future boss or whoever. So it’s about negotiating in a way that you’re both on the same side. You’re saying ‘here’s why I’m worth more; look what I can add/how I can add, and having me in this role is going to lighten your load.’”
Don’t apologize or pardon yourself
Pardoning yourself—saying ‘sorry’ during the negotiation, for example—is like saying you don’t really believe you deserve the money you’re asking for. So don’t say “sorry to ask,” or any of these related phrases:
“I know I don’t have a lot of experience, but…”
“This may not be the best time to ask…”
“Even though I don't have everything you’re looking for…”
Don’t slack off
If you already work at a company and are trying to get a raise but get denied, keep working at the same level you were before the conversation. You don’t want to burn a bridge and have it affect your future relationships.
“You might not find that next job fast enough, and then you get booted, and you have a poor reference. You have to keep working at the same level,” Vincent says.
What you can negotiate besides salary
“You can’t negotiate everything all the time,” Vincent says. “That’s why it’s good to have a range of what you want, and to be able to rank order of that.
“You can negotiate a higher or better title, so you have that title the next time you negotiate or if you move somewhere else. That’s helpful for you, and it doesn’t cost the company anything. Or you can negotiate a commitment to a retroactive raise. If you’re coming to a new company, you can negotiate a sign-on bonus if they don’t want to meet your salary expectations otherwise. You can negotiate some kind of educational fund or going to a particular conference.”
Check out these examples of perks that can be included in employee benefits packages for ideas on what to look for at companies and what to ask for when negotiating. You might find a company that pays average salaries but has killer benefits related to leave time or flexible schedules.
Read more: How to Negotiate Your Start Date
Now go get that higher salary
Now that you know the strategies and tips for successful salary negotiation, nothing’s stopping you from getting your desired pay, right? End-of-year reviews are happening now, which is a great time to bring it up.
“Every performance appraisal I say you go in and you ask for more than what they offer,” Vincent says. “If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. And even if you get 1 percent more, that 1 percent next year is going to build on top of that extra percent. So it’s so worth negotiating. You might not get it, but maybe you do, or maybe you get something, like that conference you wanted to go to. Or you get an understanding that you have more objectives to hit, and you say, ‘If I hit those in the next 90 days, let’s have another conversation about that, can we agree to do that?’”
Your mission: Don’t delay getting the pay you deserve. Good luck!
Read more: Our Guide to Finding a Career You Love