Soft Skills

11 minute read

How to Negotiate Salary in Every Situation (and Get it Right)

Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

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You did it. You landed an offer for the job you wanted, and everything seems perfect.

The responsibilities are in line with what you want to be doing. Your potential new team seems great. The company culture is exactly what you were looking for.

There’s only one problem with that dream-worthy job offer you have in your hand: The salary is a little lower than what you expected.

You know there’s room to negotiate for higher pay, but you’re nervous about approaching that conversation in a way that captures your professionalism and enthusiasm—but still makes your expectations clear.

It’s perfectly normal to be nervous about negotiating your salary for a new job. Here’s the good news: We have all of the need-to-know advice on how to negotiate salary right here.

If you’re looking for advice on how you can negotiate a higher salary at your existing job, don’t miss our post on how to ask your boss for a raise. It’s packed with everything you need to know to get a well-deserved pay bump in your current position.

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Will negotiating salary destroy your chances of getting the job?

The main thing that holds people back from negotiating at all is the fear of the potential fallout.

Will you look greedy? Will that employer think you aren’t worth it and move on to someone else? Will you lose out on that job altogether?

Those are perfectly justifiable concerns—and they’re likely why only 39% of employees actually negotiate salary when they’re offered a job.

But, here’s the thing: Salary negotiations might seem earth-shattering to you, but they really aren’t that out of the norm. According to a Career Builder survey:

52% of employers say they initially offer a lower salary than they’re willing to pay—so that they have room to negotiate with the candidate.

Negotiating the salary shouldn’t sabotage your chances of actually landing the job—provided you’re realistic, of course.

If the company offers you $35,000 and your expectation is $125,000, it’s better to accept the fact that you aren’t on the same page and start your hunt for an opportunity that’s more in line with your requirements. Attempting to negotiate when you’re so far apart financially will only be frustrating, rather than fruitful.

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How to negotiate the salary offer for a new job

With that confidence boost out of the way, you have another question booming in the back of your brain: How do you negotiate? When these conversations can be awkward at best, how can you approach them in a way that’s polite and still direct?

Let’s start by covering some general do’s and don’ts in regards to negotiating before we dig into a few specific circumstances when you might need to have this conversation.

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1. Be armed with data and reasoning

You know you need more money—but that can’t be all you know. Preparation is key for any successful negotiation, so you better be prepared with justifications that make it clear why you deserve a higher salary.

Do you bring way more experience to the table than what they were requesting? Does market data show that their initial offer is slightly below average? Do you need something slightly higher in order to warrant a move from your current position?

Be ready to explain not only what you need but why you need it. That will lead to a far more productive discussion.

2. Know what you need

Speaking of being prepared and knowing what you need, it’s important that you have some sort of number in mind. Know that when you approach a negotiation, the employer is going to ask you what you want. Spitting out, “Uhhh… more money!” isn’t going to get you too far.

Do you need $3,000 more than what they’re offering? $5,000 more? Is there a specific range that you feel you need to fall between?

In addition to the cold, hard cash, take some time to reflect on if there’s anything else you’re willing to negotiate. For example, if they can only come up $3,000 instead of the full $5,000, would a couple extra vacation days help close that gap? Or, maybe one work-from-home day per week would make you feel that offer is more worth it?

The point is, be clear on exactly what you want—that’s information that both you and the employer are going to need in order to walk away from that conversation with a mutually-beneficial result.


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3. Remember that you’re on the same side

Walking into a negotiation can often feel like stepping onto a battlefield. It’s you against that employer—only one of you will walk out with what you want.

It feels like that, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Remind yourself that you and that employer are actually on the same side.

You both are after the very same end result: You filling that empty position. So, approach this discussion as a collaboration rather than a competition and you’ll both be far more receptive to negotiating.

4. Ask a question, rather than make a demand

Being presented with an offer that’s lower than what you expected can feel like a punch to the gut. But, while your first reaction might be to retort with something like, “No, I need more money than that!” that’s really not a great way to start the conversation.

Instead of beginning with a firm demand, kick things off with a question like, “Is there any room to negotiate the salary?”

If there is, the employer will probably respond with something like, “There is a bit of wiggle room. What did you have in mind?”

From there, you can enter into the salary negotiations—with the confidence that you started in as polite and professional of a way as possible.

5. Know when to walk away

As mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s obvious that you and an employer will never reach an agreement that makes you both happy.

Have an absolute base number in mind. If you’ve been negotiating and still aren’t getting even anywhere near your very bottom number, it’s best to walk away and continue your search—rather than continuing in a conversation that will clearly never reach a positive conclusion.

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When and where to negotiate: 3 common circumstances

You’re prepped and ready with the tips you need to negotiate. Now, for the final question: When and where do you negotiate?

Is it better to have that conversation in-person? What if you traveled for the interview—is it copacetic to have that discussion via email or over the phone? Which is better?

We’ll cover each of those three situations in detail.

Situation #1: How to negotiate salary during the interview or in-person

First and foremost: Know that you aren’t in a position to negotiate when you’re only in the interview stage and haven’t actually been offered the job. Negotiation shouldn’t happen until you officially have the offer.

With that out of the way, let’s say that you’ve wrapped up the final interview and they made you an offer on the spot.

This is a good time to negotiate, as you’re both fresh on all that you bring to the table. Plus, in-person is always best when approaching a serious conversation like this one.

Before you jump in and ask if there’s room to negotiate, be sure to be gracious and thank them for the opportunity. You’ve just been offered a job! That’s awesome, and you don’t want to totally overlook the good news.

Next, make the ask: “Is there any room to negotiate the salary?”

From there, you can begin the conversation with that employer.

One of the many benefits of negotiating in-person is that you’ll get real-time feedback when you make a request. While this does make the conversation slightly more nerve-wracking, it also means it’s far more productive and efficient.

Additionally, you have the luxury of observing that employer’s body language to see how your negotiation tactics are being received. Remember, this is a two-way street—the employer is also picking up your nonverbal cues.

So, sit with your shoulders back, hold your chin up, and maintain eye contact. The more confident you can seem, the more you’ll prove you’re worthy of the extra dollars you’re requesting.

Do you know that your own body language could use some work? We have a course that can help you portray yourself as cool, calm, and collected!

Situation #2: How to negotiate salary over the phone

Sometimes an in-person negotiation isn’t an option. In those cases, the phone is your next best bet.

While you’ll miss out on some body language, a lot of the benefits of an in-person discussion (real-time feedback, tone of voice, etc.) still apply to phone conversations.

Because of that, negotiating over the phone really isn’t much different than negotiating in-person. You should still express your gratitude, kick things off with a question, and try your best to maintain your confidence level throughout the conversation.

Also, if any other questions pop into your brain while engaging in that discussion, don’t be afraid to pause and ask them. It can feel awkward when you’re in the middle of such a serious conversation, but it’s important that you get the answers and information you need.

In the end, that effort to get the necessary details will contribute to a far better discussion anyway.

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Situation #3: How to negotiate salary over email

I get it—many people turn to email for salary negotiations because it’s way less anxiety-inducing than having that conversation live. The time spent biting your nails and waiting for a reply is nothing compared to having to tell that employer in real-time that you need more money.

However, in most cases, it’s best to avoid negotiating over email. It’s far too impersonal and, since there are no nonverbal cues, it’s way too easy for things to get lost in translation.

With that said, you can use email as a starting point for a negotiation. When the formal offer lands in your inbox, reply with a message like this one:

Hello [Name],

Thanks so much for this offer—I’m really excited about the opportunity!

I do have a couple of questions regarding the information included in this offer letter and was wondering if we could connect sometime this week to chat.

Let me know what works with your schedule!

All the best,

[Your Name]

A short message like that one sets the tone that you probably aren’t going to accept the offer outright—but, it still doesn’t mean that you’re negotiating over email.

Once you get a meeting set up (whether it’s an in-person discussion or a phone chat), you can approach the conversation with the same tips and strategies that were outlined above.

Move forward as a negotiation master

I know that negotiating a job offer is enough to make your palms sweaty, your knees shaky, and your mouth dry.

But, take comfort in the fact that the vast majority of employers actually anticipate that you’ll negotiate the salary. Then, put this advice to work and you’ll approach that conversation in a way that’s poised and professional—and ultimately reminds them of what a worthy candidate you are.

If you are looking to boost your earning potential by adding credentials on your resume, then check out GoSkills online courses for free today!

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Want to learn more?

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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. When she escapes her computer, she enjoys reading, hiking, golfing, and dishing out tips for prospective freelancers on her website.

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