How to Negotiate Your Salary Without Alienating an Employer

A dollar sign dangles from a job candidate's hand

As an accounting and finance professional, you're no doubt comfortable talking numbers. But knowing how to negotiate your salary with a potential employer is another matter.

It can be intimidating. If you handle things the wrong way, you may end up alienating the hiring manager and ruining any chance of working for the company.

The answer is not holding back, though. You owe it to yourself to negotiate while the hiring process is still in motion because the amount you agree on now will be the basis of all your future raises and adjustments.

Here are a few tips on how to negotiate your salary with a potential employer:

Do your research
As you plan out how to negotiate your salary, familiarize yourself with the current compensation trends in accounting and finance by studying reliable sources such as Robert Half's 2017 Salary Guide. In particular, note the average salary for the type of position you're targeting at companies of similar size. 

What you learn may prompt you to propose a salary higher than what's in the initial offer you receive. If so, prepare a clear explanation as to why you think you deserve more in terms of your experience and skills. Perhaps you have language proficiency, for example, or in-demand technical skills that are particularly valuable to the company.

Practice the pitch
Plan what you're going to say during salary negotiations, and practice it in front of a friend or family member. Better yet, find a mentor or an experienced colleague who will give you advice about how to negotiate your salary. If you're working with a staffing agency, your recruiter will certainly have some pointers and may even be able to negotiate on your behalf.

Let the employer go first
In a salary negotiation, the hiring manager should generally be the first one to disclose a number. You don't want to shoot yourself in the foot by asking for a salary that's way out of the employer's range. If the hiring manager asks you what you're looking for, try to sidestep the question by saying you're expecting a fair pay package for the job and your particular skills and experience. If you're really pressed, propose a range so you leave wiggle room to negotiate.

Stick to business reasons
A key part of knowing how to negotiate your salary is understanding you must focus on what you bring to the table, not on what you need. You may require a higher salary to pay your mortgage or child care costs, for example, but personal reasons won't interest an employer, especially if they are the only reasons you give for wanting to negotiate. Employers are much more likely to give you the amount you're looking for if you explain why you're worth it to them.

Be willing to compromise
An effective salary negotiation is not a fight. There's no winner or loser if you do it right; there are only two parties satisfied with the outcome. So remain flexible while negotiating. If you don't get the salary you're looking for, consider negotiating for a better benefits package, for example. You may be able to get more vacation days, a flexible work schedule, a chance for higher variable pay or even a signing bonus.

Once you're onboard, avoid asking for a raise until after you've been at the job long enough to demonstrate your value. You may want to wait until you've had a performance review or other formal feedback from your supervisor. That will be a good time to explain your accomplishments or update your manager about any accounting and financial certifications you've earned, courses you've taken or industry conferences you've attended.