How to Negotiate a Higher Salary

Last updated: Jul 10, 2020

PayScale is a software and data company that “helps employers manage employee compensation and employees understand their worth in the job market,” and it has this to say about negotiating for a higher salary: For people with a master’s degree or better, not making the push for better pay means leaving up to $1.5 million in earnings on the table over the course of a lifetime. Not a bad payoff for having the difficult conversations. Fairness, self-worth, and overall economic benefits such as juicing the gross domestic product are other reasons why you should have the tough talks, but for now we’ll stick with the how, as in how to negotiate a higher salary.

A male employee negotiating a higher salary with his male boss.

It’s About What You Want and Deserve

There’s a common fear that arguing for a higher salary can hurt you. PayScale concurs that arguing is a mistake. The exchange should be a constructive conversation with “a negotiating partner, not an adversary.” The exchange, however, is not your starting point. Research is where you begin.

 

Regardless of whether you’re wrangling for a pay increase in your current role, negotiating for a salary in a new role with the same employer, or establishing wages, earnings, and benefits for a new job, your starting point should be research on how much you deserve.

 

Querying co-workers with the same job and responsibilities about pay typically is taboo, though not overtly actionable (even if there are formal company rules). Fortunately, there are many good resources/tools to calculate a target figure.

 

Know How to Ask for It

Once you have your data, you need a game plan, and low-balling isn’t a good one. Ask for what your research and work history show you are worth, not what you think will be an easy sell.

 

Let the facts guide you, not what you think the state of the economy dictates or what your time with the company or data on a target employer indicate you should request. Remember, too, that you are starting a negotiation, not making an ultimatum. Your opening pitch is just that, the opening. Be flexible, but stick to your game plan.

 

Have a Script, and Stick to It

Knowing what you want is important; of equal significance is how you ask for it. Glassdoor shares 11 phrases and words it considers must-use. Here are four of the phrases:

 

“Based on my research.” This is all about showing your negotiating partner(s) that you’ve done your homework.

 

“Similarly situated employees.” This is an especially effective phrase if you are vying for a raise or promotion and have learned, either from co-workers or through research, that you are being underpaid relative to others in-house or comparable employers. It’s always better to cite research than to turn it into a “but so-and-so makes” situation.

 

“I would be more comfortable if.” This is a way to gently and collaboratively present an exact number, or even an exact number with qualifiers, perhaps perks you might be willing to accept in lieu of your target number.

 

“If you can do that, then I’m onboard.” This is your way of giving both sides an out. There’s been give and take, and you want to dangle the deal-maker. Here’s Glassdoor’s example: “I understand you can’t come all the way up to $60,000. It would be great to add an additional week of paid vacation along with the $55,000 you suggested. If you can do that, I’m onboard.”

 

So, you’re being courteous. You’re being precise in your language, firm but not pushy. And you’re ready for whatever the interview presents. Or are you?

 

PayScale shares some scenarios you should be ready to face.

What you plan to say if the offer doesn’t work, including a rebuttal that, if applicable, features a higher competing offer you’ve received from elsewhere.
  • What you do or say if there’s been an offer that is in your range but doesn’t appear to be their ceiling. Press for more?
  • What you want in benefits, and how much you are willing to shave off the target salary if the benefits being offered exceed your expectations.

 

You can’t anticipate everything, but you can try. Script a response for everything you expect.

 

Some Do’s and Don’ts

You have a strategy: Research. Know what you want and what you’ll settle for. Have a script.

 

Now for some tactics, the flourishes and details a strategy comprises. Here are some do’s and don’ts from The Balance Careers and The Muse.

  • Don’t get personal with your script. Don’t say you need more money because you really need it to meet bills. It’s far too personal and could indicate a lack of responsibility.
  • Don’t offer salary information from your last job. It’s not relevant, and it gives your interviewer an edge.
  • Don’t compromise your integrity.
  • Don’t focus on the past, beyond listing your accomplishments. Instead, express how what you have done is a portent of what you can and will do.
  • Don’t wait for them to get specific about money. Comfortably work your number into the conversation.
  • Don’t just say how much you want to make, say how your market value justifies the number you want.
  • Do pick the brains of recruiters. They can tell you whether you’re marketable and your value on the market.
  • Do go high with your salary number, and be specific – to the dollar.
  • Do compile a list of your selling points, and hammer them home.
  • Do exude confidence, and open your presentation with questions.
  • Do listen – very carefully – and ask for advice when it fits the conversation.
  • Do be willing to make a counteroffer, but avoid anything that smacks of a threat.

 

A female employee negotiating her pay with her managers.

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