When and How to Negotiate Salary With an Employer

By Robert Half on January 13, 2020 at 12:30pm

No matter how exciting the opportunity, salary is a major factor in accepting or declining a job offer. Being compensated fairly for your skills and experience has a direct impact on job satisfaction. As such, understanding the nuances of when and how to negotiate salary — during an interview or after getting the job offer — is incredibly important.

After all, there’s a fine line between success and failure: If you try to discuss salary too early, for example, it can signal you’re more interested in the paycheck than the job. Or if you quote a desired salary figure without doing the proper research, you might leave money on the table or price yourself out of consideration.

So how do you talk money with a potential employer? Ask any hiring professional worth their salt how to negotiate salary during an interview, and they’ll tell you this: When the topic of compensation comes up, you need to be diplomatic and be prepared. Here are some general do’s and don’ts: 

  • Do your research. Have a good understanding of what’s a fair starting salary for the job and the company you’re considering. 
  • Don’t rush the money talk. Good timing is critical.
  • Do think outside the paycheck. More time off or alternative work options might be on the table if a higher salary isn’t.  
  • Don’t volunteer a salary figure or range. You don’t want to be evasive if asked, but it’s generally best to try to get the employer to give a number first. 
  • Do be honest. A deceptive job applicant is a rejected job applicant.
  • Don’t assume you have to accept the first offer. Negotiating in good faith is always acceptable. Ask for what you want.

Ready to get into the nitty-gritty? Following are more detailed tips on when and how to discuss salary in the hiring process.

1. You need timing and tact 

Mentioning salary in your cover letter or during the initial phone evaluation is an absolute no-no. Don’t bring it up during your first interview, either. Use these opportunities instead to show your suitability for the role and find out if the job is right for you, and to let the employer get to know you. 

By the second interview, it’s usually acceptable to ask about compensation, but tact is key. Express your interest in the job and the strengths you would bring to it before asking for the salary range. Make the employer feel confident you’re there for more than just the paycheck. If the employer brings up money first, provide a range that leaves room for negotiation. Showing that you're flexible is the key toward negotiating a compensation package that’s viable for your employer and reflects your ambitions. Just be sure you fully understand the job requirements before answering questions about your preferred salary.

2. Hold your cards fairly close 

As a general rule, it’s best to get the employer to offer a figure first. Knowing their starting point can give you some leverage during salary negotiations. But sometimes you can’t avoid going first. Some companies’ online job application forms will ask for your required salary, generally to ensure that candidates’ expectations line up with the organization’s budget. In such a case, offer a range (not an exact figure) that would be acceptable to you. The same rule if it comes up during your first interview: Either give a salary range, or smile, defer and turn the question around: “I’d rather not talk in detail about money this early in the process. I’d like to first learn more about the job and the company. But may I ask what salary range you’re considering for the position?”   

3. Get your figures right 

At the beginning of the process, do your homework and find out the latest salary ranges for your city, industry and job title. The Robert Half Salary Guides will help you determine average national salaries for your position and industry. To localize these figures for your market, use the Robert Half salary calculator. Check out Glassdoor, too, to see if anyone at the firm you’re considering has shared their salaries. (Just keep in mind that, unlike the salary guides, figures posted anonymously are unverified.) 

4. Try to negotiate 

You’ve been offered the job, but the salary doesn’t meet your expectations? It’s perfectly acceptable to request additional compensation. Employers often expect to negotiate and may start at the lower end of their salary range, leaving room to move. If you don’t ask for more, you won’t get more. 

5. Present a strong case

In any negotiation, you need to give solid reasons for your position. Talk specifically about your skills, experience and prior successes, especially those that have had a measurable effect on a company’s bottom line. 

6. Never bluff 

Never mislead a prospective employer about your current compensation or other higher-paying job offers in an effort to get more money. The truth will eventually come out. Instead, emphasize the value you can bring to the organization when discussing salary during an interview, and be honest about your situation.

7. Think beyond the pay packet 

Be sure to look at the full picture when you evaluate the compensation package. An interesting job with a lower starting salary could have a generous benefits package or opportunities to learn and grow with the company. You want to fully understand the whole picture, including health insurance, retirement plans and vacation days. Employers restricted by a smaller hiring budget might even sweeten the perks to close the deal.

8. Get it in writing 

Before accepting a job offer, make sure that you get an offer in writing stating the salary. Never formally accept a job offer — or resign from your current position — without having the starting salary documented.

Knowing how to negotiate salary during an interview is like knowing how to dance. You don’t want to start too early or too late, and you don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. Being prepared with salary research and a strong ability to communicate your most relevant strengths will help you find the right partner. 

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