Career Q&A: How to Navigate Tricky Salary Negotiations

By Robert Half February 8, 2017 at 4:00pm

Salary negotiations can be quite intimidating for job seekers and current employees. To help ease the stress, here are answers to some of your burning questions.

When’s the right time to bring up money if you’re a finalist for a job? For employees, what’s the most polite and professional way to ask for more moolah? Do you even know what your current salary should be?

If any of these questions make you anxious, you’re not alone. Many of your fellow creative professionals share the same concerns, and we’re here to shed some light on the salary negotiation process.

Following are a handful of questions we received during our Let’s Talk Salaries webinar as well as advice to help you navigate compensation-related discussions. Whether you’re interviewing for a job or asking your employer for a raise, the key is to diligently prepare for the conversation and then present your case with data and confidence.

Q: At what point should I start talking about salary in the interview process? Is it a bad idea to be the first person to bring it up?

The hiring manager should generally be the first to address pay. That way, you can avoid coming across as presumptuous or requesting a figure that’s much higher (or lower) than the employer’s range. If the hiring manager asks you what you’re looking for, explain that you’d like a fair compensation package based on the position, and your skills and experience. If pressed for more details, give a range so there’s some leeway to negotiate. (Use our Salary Guide to help determine that range.) If the employer hasn’t brought up pay after a second or third interview, it’s acceptable to mention it.

Q: Do potential employers have a right to know my previous salary? Are they entitled to ask my former employer for the actual number?

While you shouldn’t feel obligated to disclose your salary history, know that a prospective employer may ask. Hiring managers have an offer in mind based on their budget, and they want to make sure it’s in line with your expectations.

If you’re highly interested in the job and decide to share your compensation history, honesty is the best policy. Stretching numbers even slightly can come back to haunt you. It is possible – but unlikely – that a potential employer will call the human resources department at your last company to ask about your salary. If you feel you were underpaid, make it clear that you’re looking for an improved compensation package. Steer the conversation towards your expected range, rather than your previous one.

Q: Where can I find the salary range for a particular city?

You’re right that location matters. You wouldn’t make a very convincing argument if you live in a small town in the Midwest but request a big city salary. Use our Salary Calculator to quickly determine the average starting salary for your role in your city.

Q: When considering a job in a new city, is it appropriate to ask what the salary range is before traveling for an interview?

Again, as the job candidate, you usually don’t want to be the first person to bring up compensation during the hiring process. However, if an interview requires you to fly across the country, it’s wise to ask for more details. That could include specifics on job responsibilities and expectations, compensation, benefits, and more. The hiring manager will appreciate that you are seriously considering the opportunity, without wasting anyone’s time or travel expenses.

Q: Salary history seems difficult to address as a freelancer. How should I approach the conversation if I’m trying to obtain a full-time position?

Salary history can be tricky to explain if you’re a freelancer, but you can still make a convincing case. Use third-party research, like the aforementioned Salary Guide, to find regional data for the full-time position you’re seeking. If appropriate, bolster your pitch by explaining why you believe your skills and experience make you deserving of the higher-end of the range. Highlight how you’ve used your creative abilities to help clients boost the bottom line, using qualitative data when possible.

Q: What’s the best thing to say if I feel an offer is too low but want the position and need to start working?

It isn’t uncommon to interview for a job, only to later find out that the salary is insufficient. Start the negotiation by stressing that you’re very interested in the role and give some examples of how you could bring value to the company. Then you could say something like, “I’ve done some research for similar positions in the area, and the average salary for someone with my career experience and skills at a similarly sized company is in this range. Would you consider increasing the salary for this position?”

If the employer doesn’t budge or only comes up slightly and you can’t make it work, you may have to politely bow out. But try not to be discouraged. Finding the right fit can take time. It’s rarely a good idea to accept a job offer when you have significant concerns and reservations about anything – particularly money.

Q: I’d like to ask for a raise. What’s the best way to approach my manager?

Tact, timing and diplomacy matter here. Steer clear of salary negotiations during the most hectic – or financially unstable – times of year for your department or company.

In general, you don’t want to seem demanding or aggressive. It would be off-putting to send your manager an email that says, “I need to meet with you about raising my salary.” Instead, you could write, “I’d like to meet with you at your convenience to discuss my career and compensation. When might be a good time?”

When you meet with your manager, begin the conversation by saying that you’d like to take your career a step further. Talk about your recent accomplishments and contributions to the company before presenting your salary research. Be confident, not cocky, and never issue ultimatums.

Q: What should I do if I ask for a higher salary and my request is denied?

Remember to be patient. It’s likely that your manager can’t give a definite answer right away; he or she may have to consult senior management or human resources. If the answer is no, ask if you can revisit the salary conversation in a few months.

If your requests continually get rejected, consider other non-monetary perks you can negotiate. Would greater flexibility in your schedule, the ability to work from home, additional vacation time, more interesting projects or professional development make you happy? Think about alternative forms of compensation that your employer might be open to.

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