What Are Employers Thinking During a Salary Negotiation? Here's the Inside Scoop

An executive looks contemplative as he ponders a salary negotiation

You just got the call you've been waiting for. A hiring manager is on the other end of the line, offering you the finance job you've been interviewing for. You're thrilled, but a little bit nervous, because you know it's time for the salary negotiation.

Even if the first offer the company gives you is right in line with what you were expecting, you should try to negotiate a better package. After all, this is your best chance to get more money and better benefits; after you're on board, raises can be trickier to manage. And if you don't ask, you'll never know what the company might have been willing to give you.

Still, you might be anxious about asking for more, especially if you really want the job. One way to manage your nerves is to look at this part of the recruitment process from the hiring manager's perspective. Here's what she's probably thinking as the two of you are going through a salary negotiation:

"I think this is a good offer." She's done her research – likely with the help of the company's HR group – and knows what other similar companies in the region are paying people with your level of skill and experience. She's also looked at the salaries of comparable employees in her department. She's carefully considered the number she's presenting you, and she's hoping you'll weigh it in a similarly deliberate way, rather than rejecting it out of hand.

"I wonder what the candidate will counter with." Hiring managers are not insulted when you counter the first salary offer. In fact, they're usually anticipating it. So if the offer you get is less than you were hoping for, simply ask the hiring manager if you can think about it for a couple of days. If she agrees, come up with a reasonable counter based on salary data for the position in your region, considering the special skills and experience you bring to the table.

"I hope the candidate doesn't ask me to go beyond the company's ceiling." Many businesses come up with a salary range for an open position before the recruitment process even begins. If your counter is more than the highest end of that range, the hiring manager likely may not be able to meet it, no matter how much she wants you for the job.

"I might be able to make the benefits package better." Even if she can't give you the salary you're looking for, she might be able to sweeten the deal in other ways. Maybe she can provide more vacation or personal time or negotiate a flexible work arrangement, or even a signing bonus. So when the pay comes up short, think creatively and propose other benefits that would make the job worth accepting.

"I hope this one doesn't get away." Remember, she picked you out of all the candidates who applied, and she's excited to have you join the company. She's hoping you can start helping her team toward its goals soon. The only thing that could get in the way is the salary negotiation, so she wants it to go well.

Maintain your professionalism throughout the salary negotiation. The hiring manager is still assessing your character and your interest in the job, and if she feels like she's working too hard to persuade you to come onboard, she may decide that you two just can't come to terms. But if you remain open to compromise throughout the process, there's a strong chance the salary negotiation will have a happy ending.