5 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before Negotiating Salary

A woman looks at question marks drawn on a chalkboard

Negotiating your salary is a welcome but nerve-racking phase of the job search for even seasoned financial professionals. Job seekers always want to aim high, knowing that the agreed-upon starting salary will influence their pay patterns for years to come. Yet, candidates also worry about their job offer unraveling if they press too hard in negotiating salary.

Preparing for salary negotiations is the best way to ensure you're fairly compensated for your hard work now and in the future. But before you can communicate your salary expectations to a prospective employer, you need to first ask yourself some questions:

1. Can I justify my desired salary? Be prepared with as much information as you can find about the position you're seeking and comparable salaries in your area for someone with your qualifications. You can gather this information from your network, recruiters, professional organizations and other sources, such as the Salary Guide from Robert Half.

Also factor in considerations that may be unique to your situation. For instance, if you have to sacrifice a year-end bonus at your current company to make an employment change, it's reasonable to figure this into your salary request.

2. Can I demonstrate my value? Another way of justifying your requested salary is to clearly communicate the value you can bring to a prospective employer. Be prepared to illustrate past accomplishments in quantitative terms, such as how you've helped previous employers improve business processes or realize cost savings.

Also, don't hesitate to make suggestions about how you can immediately add value in the new role. For instance, if you're applying for an accounting manager position, you might suggest potential operational improvements you could implement if hired.

3. Do I know my priorities? When negotiating salary, keep an open mind about benefits and perks that might compensate for accepting a slightly lower salary. For instance, one financial professional almost made the mistake of turning down a job offer at a small firm because the base salary was about $4,000 less than her goal. However, her first bonus exceeded the amount of base salary she had sacrificed to accept the job. Moreover, the firm's strong growth prospects enhanced both her job security and future earning potential.

4. Do I know what to expect from the employer? Find out everything you can about a prospective employer's policies and compensation practices to help you prepare for negotiating salary. You may be able to learn more about your target employer by networking with people in the accounting and finance field and by perusing websites such as Glassdoor that can help you determine compensation levels for specific jobs at thousands of companies. Although you can't take everything you find online at face value, you may be able to glean some patterns and preferences regarding prospective employers.

5. What's my strategy? Candidates are generally advised to delay discussing compensation for as long as possible. Salary issues can raise stumbling blocks that are more easily overcome later in the hiring process as both candidate and would-be employer become more committed to the idea of working together.

With this in mind, try to avoid discussing specific figures until you're confident an employer wants to hire you. If you're pressed to name a figure, try deflecting the question by asking about the budgeted salary range for the position or citing findings from your research. Either way, you'll have something to use as a discussion point without having to lay your cards on the table too soon.

Always keep the big picture in mind when negotiating salary and be open to accepting reasonable compromises. Even if you aren't offered the starting salary you want, you may be able to reach an agreement for a salary review at the three- or six-month mark. This type of arrangement may ultimately provide you with what you're seeking while giving an employer additional assurance about your abilities before offering a higher salary.