Negotiating Salary


In this article, I want to discuss negotiating, specifically as it relates to salary for those of you out there job hunting, or about to undergo a review in your job.  First I want to state, that in life, everything is negotiable.  In the USA our society has made this a bit taboo, however other societies in the world thrive on the negotiation.

I have negotiated in many different circumstances and aspects in my life and saved quite a bit of money in the process.  Home Depot, Medical Bills, Internet/TV Bills, Salary, Benefits, Favors, you name it.  You can too, it just takes a little practice.

If you don’t ask, the answer is always NO.

Read that again, that is a very simple statement, but it is the truth.  Whenever you feel you don’t want to say something, or don’t want to ask, remember, if you don’t speak up, if you don’t advocate for yourself, the answer will always be the opposite of what you want.  In addition, no one, not one person, will do it for you, you must do it for yourself.  That might not always be true, I just want to convey that you need to advocate for yourself, don’t rely on others to do it for you all the time.

You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.
– Chester L. Karrass

What is a Negotiation?

To me, a negotiation is an open dialog between two entities seeking to resolve differences.  Negotiations begin when there is a difference between the two entities and is successful when a mutually beneficial resolution is reached.

There are many a great book out there on this topic and you could read endlessly about negotiating.  It is an art form, as much as a science, and you can take college level classes on it.  Getting good at it takes practice, and experience.  Have fun with the process.  Indeed, it may feel uncomfortable, and this something we all must overcome.

Here a list of my favorite books on the subject if you feel like some expanded reading (yes, these are amazon affiliate links, I do make a commission if you buy through this link).

Negotiation Process

Every situation is different, hopefully it is an even playing field and neither side has leverage.  In this article we are talking about this in terms of negotiating a salary.  The employer is wanting to pay someone for their set of skills and talents as they apply to the employers business.  In return, they compensate the individual with money and benefits.

First seek to understand, then to be understood. –  Dr. Stephen Covey


    • Listen, understand what and why it is the employer is seeking out your services. This comes in the form of understanding the duties, responsibilities and expectations the company has for position you are seeking to fulfill.
    • Put off the salary talk as long as possible. Identify the items above and understand the role; Title, Responsibilities, Budget, Authority, Reporting Responsibility, Future and Performance Expectations.
    • Doing these 2 steps will get the employer emotionally involved. When this happens, it helps you negotiate from a position of power as the company is starting to choose you and is becoming invested in you.

Approaching the Negotiation

Now many employers may not approach things this way.  In fact, many like to use a salary range or cap as a first round elimination.  Why?  To hopefully get the talent they are looking for at a discount.  Every businesses goal is to make a profit, so if they can lower expenses by paying less for talent, then why not.  I don’t necessary agree with this approach by a business, but that’s a post for another day.  So your goal should be to delay any talk of pay.


Here are a few ideas / ways to delay the topic:

  • “I really need to know more about the position, its duties and responsibilities before I would feel comfortable in discussing compensation. Does that seem reasonable?”
  • “I just make it a policy not to discuss compensation until I have a better idea of the role and how I will be involved in the company.”
  • “I have some flexibility with compensation. Let’s discuss your needs and my involvement, we can go from there.”

Or some variation of the above, it’s easy to politely say that you want to know more and understand the job more before discussing money.

Know Your Worth

Man I wish that had been beat into me earlier in my life and career. Know Your Worth. I thank a mentor of mine, Yvette, with really communicating that to me and helping me understand that.  It comes back to what I was saying a few paragraphs above, do not rely on anyone to give you what you deserve, you must advocate for yourself.

To know your worth you need to do some research.  With the internet it is easier than ever before to find out what you should be compensated for a position.

  • Glass Door
  • Great Place To Work
  • Indeed
  • Comparably

Do a little “googling” and you should be able to find comparable salaries in your area.  If you find them outside of your area, make sure to look at the cost of living there versus where you live currently to make sure it is inline.  Nerd Wallet has a cost of living calculator here you can use.

In addition, know what your needs and wants are in regards to benefits, these will play a part in the overall compensation package.  Health insurance is generally a huge thing, along with retirement and 401k.  Depending on how good or not good these things are, will affect your take home pay number.  So make sure to figure that into your calculations.

Its Time To Get Down To Brass Tacks

One of the best pieces of advice I can give at this point is to practice.  Practice with a friend, a significant other, maybe random strangers (I’m serious, I encourage people to practice negotiating in public, at the store, market, whenever you buy something).

When you get to the table to talk about money, you need to remain calm.  Never show emotion.  Meaning, keep you voice at the same level, do not show shock, surprise etc.  Now that is understood, you need to give your opening position.  It should go something like this:

“I appreciate the time and opportunity to learn more about the company and this role.  Based on what I have learned about this role, its responsibilities, what I have been earning and cost of living, and other opportunities I’m exploring, and goals I have for myself, I would expect to be at $XX,XXX range in the next 12 months.

So a few things here that are pretty important.

  • “Other Opportunities I’m Exploring” – Let them know subtly you are out in the market, this creates a bit of competition, that’s a good thing.
  • “$X Range in the next 12 months”, this gives you some wiggle room, but also gives an expectation of the level you want to be at in the future.

Now that you have stated your position, things can get awkward.  People are going to start acting funny, maybe playing on their phones, pretending to write something down, looking at you.  From what I have learned the first to speak LOSES.

What Comes Next

From here it will go one of two ways.

1 – “That’s more than we had planned on.” Or some variation.

2 – “No Problem, We Can Work With that.” Or Some Variation

If you get number 2, you undersold yourself.  Whoops. Well, you might be able to save yourself if you haven’t talked about benefits yet, you might be able to get more time off or something like this.

If you get a number 1, that’s good.  Now it’s time to negotiate the nitty gritty.  Don’t name another number.  Wait for them to bring it up.

If it is being put on you to make the next move, transition, say something like “It appears we have a bit of a gap, let’s talk about the benefits part of the package and circle back”


Here is a great place to take a breath and a beat.  Generally speaking, most benefits packages are fixed and apply to all employees.  Premium’s on health insurance, reimbursement for education etc.  Vacation / Sick time, though there can be policies that all employees get a set number of weeks per year and earn more with seniority, you can try and ask for more if so inclined.

This is a very personal choice, what is important to you depending on your lifestyle and be worth your time to negotiate for.  Like a gym membership, club membership, company car or allowance, travel budget, and more.  So make sure to understand what is possible in your industry and career field and know what is important to you for this step.

Overall, however this is also a great an opportunity to step back from the salary table, let heads cool and let them think about your compensation.

When the time is right, and the benefits package has been outlined for you, comment on things you like about the package and redirect to the salary conversation.

“I really like the health insurance plan that you are offering and it is something that aligns nicely for me, I was wanting another week of vacation as we enjoy going away for Presidents Day weekend and Christmas.  Lets talk about the salary a bit more and see if we can put together an agreeable package”

Lets Wrap This Up

This process takes time, give them time and keep the tension, it may feel awkward but it is all part of the process.  Make sure to exemplify your value.

Say something like:

“I know the company is looking to improve their (Sales, Bottom Line, Employee Engagement), I can do XXX which will result in XXX for the company, which I know is worth the higher salary.”

So at some point a deal needs to be reached, between all the back and forth.

Leverage that previous statement, and if you settle for less money, ask when you will be reviewed, what number will be possible then and reaffirm your desire to be at a specific number within 12 months.

Other ways the deal can end up:

  • Splitting the difference between where they are at and where you are at.
  • Trading money for other benefit, equity, stock, vacation, car allowance etc.
  • Walk away, tell them you are going for a more attractive offer from another company. It might make them match it / come to number you asked for. (Make sure you can and do want to walk away, this cuts both direction.)

Myself, I am a big fan of setting up a review 3 months or so down the road and a plan for 12 months.  For many employers you need to show them what you can do for them.  Unless you’re at the top of your career with 20 years of experience at companies and a track record to show, you’re going to have to prove your worth.  This doesn’t mean you have to except a below market number, however it should be part of your consideration and flexibility.

What if I am trying to negotiate my salary at my existing employer?

The number one time to gain a large increase in salary is when starting with a new company.  The second most impactful time is when taking on a new role at a company (promotion).  Lastly, in your existing role by asking for a raise.

If you are getting a promotion, you should follow similar steps to understand the role and responsibilities, do your research and understand what the pay is for someone in those types of jobs.  Also ask for reviews and seeking for performance increases at specific intervals.  Following the same process is key and the same negotiating tactics apply.

If you are just looking for a raise in your current role, this is the most precarious position.  It helps if you have an offer from another company or have been looking for a job and have an opportunity you can take.  Simply put, do your research and understand what your position is paying in your market.  Then approach your superiors.  Let them know that you like the company (hopefully you do), that you see a future there (again hopefully this is true) and you don’t want to have to jump to another company and learn a new culture.  That you feel that you have been doing great work and need more compensation for it.

Most companies will, within reason, give you something.  It costs far more for a company to onboard and train a new person then it does to retain an existing employee.  However, understand this tactic only works once every few years and won’t get you the largest return, like changing companies would, in terms of percentage gained in total salary.  At the same time, it can be risky changing companies and acclimating to a new culture and team.

Make sure to weigh the pro’s and con’s and approach your decision tactfully and with having done proper research.

Stop Talking Already! (Aka Sum it Up)

Yes I have a habit of rambling on.  Hopefully all bases were covered, I will go back and re-read and edit this.  I want to leave you with this.  Remember, like anything else in life, negotiating is an art form and takes practice.  I challenge you to practice in your daily life.  Next time you are buying coffee, ask for a discount.  At home depot buying a bunch of stuff?  Ask for the manager and a discount.  I did that when I bought two Webber grills.  Those things never go on sale and every place sells them at full price.  I was buying two, so I asked for a discount, why not.   I got $20 off each grill, 20%, it was a huge savings, all because I asked.

So don’t take things at face value, and advocate for your position whenever possible!

Until next time