When and How to Negotiate Salary With an Employer

By Robert Half on September 14, 2020 at 8:30pm

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 discuss 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 when negotiating.
  • Do think beyond the paycheck. More paid time off, for example, 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. Even in a challenging job market, 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 negotiate salary during an interview.

1. You need timing and tact 

Mentioning salary in your cover letter or during the initial phone evaluation is a no-no. Don’t bring it up during your first interview, either. Use these opportunities instead to show your suitability for the role and 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 they bring 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 acceptable to both you and the employer. 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, even before your phone evaluation, do your homework and find out the latest salary ranges for your city, industry the job title you’re applying for. The 2021 Robert Half Salary Guides will help you determine average national salaries for the position and industry. To localize these figures for your market, use our 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, even in an uncertain economy, to request additional compensation. In a recent Robert Half survey of 2,800 senior managers across the United States, 86% of respondents said they were as likely or more likely to negotiate salary with new hires than they were a year ago. 

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 invent other 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 evaluate the entire 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 

Congratulations, you got the job offer and the salary you wanted! Now ask for it in writing. Never resign from your current position without having the compensation, job title and responsibilities, and other details documented.

Knowing how to discuss salary during an interview is like knowing how to dance. You don’t want to start too early, 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 put your best foot forward. 

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