For as long as you’re working, you should be striving towards gradual increases in your salary. If you’re offered a new position, given a promotion, or have simply been working at the same company for a long time, it’s important that your salary continues to represent the value you’re bringing to your employer. Keep in mind: the more you work, the more knowledge and expertise you acquire and the more valuable you become. Your salary should reflect your skills, experience, and credentials.
Despite this, many people go most (or all) of their career without once negotiating their salary. According to one study, only 39% of workers in the United States negotiated for higher pay in their last job offer. The remaining 61% accepted the offer made by the employer without question. According to Harvard Law School’s blog, “those who chose to negotiate salary, rather than avoiding negotiation and accepting the offer on the table, increased their starting pay by an average of $5,000.” By accepting an employer’s first offer, you’re likely leaving money on the table.
Negotiating a salary increase requires thorough preparation, and your approach to the conversation will affect the outcome. You must be able to communicate your value to the company and, ideally, prove it using quantifiable results you’ve achieved. With preparation and confidence, there’s no reason you can’t get the salary you deserve.
A salary negotiation is not a situation where you can wing it. It is important to prepare ahead of time. If you aren’t ready to make the best case for yourself before you meet with your boss, you are not likely to get the raise you deserve. Take the time to evaluate your job performance, do the appropriate research, and practice your talking points before the day of the negotiation.
The first step of any negotiation is a good self-evaluation. If you don’t know your value, it will be very difficult for you to demonstrate it to your employer. Consider your qualifications, your responsibilities, and your experience, and decide what these are worth. At this stage, it’s useful to do some competitive research to see what your skills are worth in other positions. During the negotiation, your employer will want concrete reasons for why you deserve a raise, so you need to have answers prepared for any question they may ask. The best way to prepare for this is to have specific examples of achievements, results, or positive outcomes that you’ve produced for the company (or, if you’re considering a job offer, a previous company).
Before beginning a negotiation, you must have a target salary in mind. Employers tend to increase salaries at a rate of around 3%, but they are not likely to offer a raise without first being asked, and simply asking for a raise without naming your price is not enough. Knowing your value to the company is a part of this, but you should also research your industry more broadly to get a sense of what a reasonable salary request is. There are many great tools available online for this kind of research.
The best way to master your strategy is to put it into practice. Before the official negotiation, practice what you plan to say with a friend. Role-playing the negotiation with a trusted friend is a great way to prepare for the real thing.
Your friend should ask you serious questions that are likely to be brought up during salary negotiations, behaving like your employer would. Provide the best answers you can and get feedback from your friend. Do this over and over if necessary.
The person you choose for your practice negotiation should be someone who will give you honest feedback. If you cannot find anyone to assist you, it may also help to simply record yourself giving your prepared answers so that you can analyze your performance yourself. With enough practice the quality of your answers, as well as your confidence, will improve.
Now that you’ve prepared ideas for your negotiation and practiced with a friend, it is time for the real thing. Though discussing salary with your boss can be nerve-wracking, it’s worth it in the long run. Here’s how to ensure you get the most out of your negotiation.
Though you may be confident in your own value, your employer isn’t likely to take your word for it, so you should come to the negotiation with proof of what you bring to the company. Try to think of all the ways you have helped the company succeed, and provide real examples, whether it’s revenue you’ve generated, customer reviews you’ve received, time and money you’ve saved, or successful projects you’ve worked on. Tangible evidence is very difficult to ignore!
When accepting a new position, it is fair to discuss the transition to a new workplace when negotiating your salary. Does the job require traveling? Will you have to relocate? How much will it cost you to commute to your workplace? These are all ways a new job can impact your expenses, and most companies will be willing to help offset these costs for the right candidate.
It’s important to approach the negotiation in the spirit of collaboration. The outcome should be beneficial for both parties, after all: you end up with a better salary, and your boss ends up with a happier, more loyal employee. By keeping this in mind throughout the negotiation you can ensure that the conversation stays polite and doesn’t become an argument. Make your case enthusiastically and confidently, but be sure to remain respectful and calm.
If your company can’t--or won’t--raise your pay, you may want to consider negotiating for improved perks or benefits instead. While salary is important, you may benefit just as much from more vacation days, a shorter work week, or better health coverage.
Particularly in early stage companies, cash can be a limited resource. If you already know this about the company you’re working for (or applying to), you should consider alternate or delayed forms of compensation. For example, can you get a four-day workweek for the same salary? Can you agree to the lower starting wage with the provision of a guaranteed increase after a certain milestone? Can you take an increase in stock options in lieu of the salary you were hoping for? If you see a lot of opportunity and are willing to take a bit of a risk, then you should consider getting creative in your compensation negotiations.
What options are available to you will depend on your specific employer, so be sure to do as much research as possible into what benefits may (or may not) be on offer. You can look online, talk to other employees, and consult with other people in your industry.
Even after your best efforts, an employer may refuse to increase the salary on offer. This may be due to poor negotiation, but it may be due to factors out of your hands. Either way, don’t be afraid to refuse the offer if the employer won’t pay you what you’re worth. Walking away from the offer only proves that you are not afraid to demand what you deserve.
Even after a tough negotiation, be sure to thank your employer for taking the time to consider your request. Whether you get all, some, or none of the additional compensation you were looking for, you will have learned something through the process. A simple “thank you” can go a long way.
In addition to asking around your network, there are several tools available online that can help you find out what other people in your field are being paid. PayScale, for example, allows you to search for salaries by company, job title, industry, and more. Glassdoor, another useful tool, focuses on company reviews and includes salary reports, benefit reviews, and company reviews from employees. Other useful online tools for salary research include Paysa, Salary.com, and Monster.
Just as with job interviews, there are some things that employers are not allowed to ask you. This varies from country to country and state to state, so it is important to do your research and know what the laws are in your location. In New York, for example, it is illegal to ask candidates for their salary history. In Wisconsin, however, it is perfectly legal. In California, not only are employers prohibited from asking for pay history, they are also required to provide pay scale data to prospective employees if requested.
Knowing your rights is an important piece of the salary negotiation equation. To find out what the law says in your area, see this List of Salary History Bans. And, to get an idea of what questions you can and can’t be asked in an interview, we recommend this post by Payscale on Questions Employers Can Legally Ask.
Now that you have the tools to get you through your next salary negotiation, it’s just up to you to take the next step! And remember, the worst possible outcome is that your employer says no and you will have gained a little bit of confidence to help take you through your next negotiation. Good luck!
Ben is the backbone of our customer success team.
Join more than 3.1 million members managing their professional profile with VisualCV.
With these 14 tips you'll be ready to ace your next phone interview.
How to ask for a job introduction
This guide will prepare you to change careers past 30. It's never too late for a great career!