Few things can stir up anxiety and make you sweat through your shirt like having to negotiate a salary—especially if it’s your dream job and you’re worried about losing the offer quicker than it came.
That’s probably why only 39% of people tried to negotiate the pay of their last job offer.1 Imagine how much money they missed out on simply because they were too afraid to ask!
That doesn’t have to be you. Just because someone offers you a salary doesn’t mean you can’t ask for something different—in fact, you should.
But here’s the thing: If you’re negotiating a salary offer, you have to be prepared. This isn’t something you can or should do off the cuff—this is serious business!
So, whether you’re preparing for an offer you see coming on the horizon, or you’ve already received one and want to go back to the hiring manager to ask for more, there’s an order for how you should do this.
I want your conversation to go off without a hitch, so let’s break down each step:
1. Research what you’re worth.
If you’ve listened to my show for any amount of time, you know I’m a huge fan of knowledge. If you’re asking for a higher salary, then you’ve gotta know your stuff!
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You can’t just walk into a room with guns blazing and ask for some random salary because you “work really hard.” That’s not going to convince anyone they should pay you more—you need cold, hard facts.
Start by doing some research on websites like Monster, CareerBuilder and Glassdoor. You’re looking for the salary range in today’s job market for:
- Your position in your specific city and state
- Someone with your level of experience
If possible, try to find out how much revenue your position typically brings in for an organization. There’s nothing like putting numbers behind your value to really juice up your case.
Another great research method is simply to ask people. Do you have any friends or friends of friends who do similar work and have similar experience? Are there any recruiters or other HR professionals at your church or in your sports league who would be willing to share salary ranges for your position and industry?
I know it might feel awkward to ask for this information, but it’s worth it! No one will be able to give you a clearer understanding of a reasonable salary range than someone who is in the industry today. And I’m willing to bet that people will be more open with this information than you think.
Whatever method you choose, gather up as much research as you can. The only way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to take the time to do your homework. Remember, companies usually have a good idea of what they want to pay for a position. So if you’re going to tell them differently, for heaven’s sake, have the research to back it up.
2. Land on a number.
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to land on a number. Notice I didn’t say land on a range. That’s because you’re not going to ask for a salary range, you’re going to ask for a specific number.
I’m just riffing here, but let’s say you discover in your research that your position can range in salary from $60,000–75,000. Based on your experience, you need to decide what number within that range you’re going to shoot for. (Once you pick that number, aim a little higher when you go in for the ask to leave some wiggle room if the hiring manager wants to go lower.)
Before you speak with the hiring manager, be prepared with these three numbers in mind:
a. Your Ideal Salary
This is the specific number you just came up with that is within the salary range you found in your research. From our example above, let’s say we want to negotiate a salary offer of $67,000 (Yes, you should be that specific!).
If the hiring manager is able to offer you this number (or higher), you know you can immediately accept the offer without regrets.
b. The Lowest Ideal Salary
This number is the lowest salary you can accept based on your budget and your family’s needs. Let’s call it $60,000 in this case.
This number might mean you need to adjust your budget and make some sacrifices, but you’re willing to do that because you really want this job.
Here’s what I want you to keep in mind with this particular number: If you and the hiring manager get to your lowest ideal salary, before you accept the offer, I highly recommend you ask them for a financial growth plan. That sounds like some fancy contract, but it’s not!
It’s a simple conversation where you can say something like, “I’m really excited to work with your team and I’m eager to accept your offer of $60,000 if we can come up with a plan for financial growth in this position. I’d love to know what I can do to be in a higher salary in 12 or 18 months.”
c. Your Deal-Breaker Number
The name of this number says it all—make sure you know what number will cause you to walk away from the job offer. This number could simply be anything under your lowest ideal salary, or it could be a little less.
If they offered you $59,000 with an opportunity for a $2,000 raise after your first year, you’d probably think twice before you walked away, right?
Think of the deal-breaker number as the salary you’re simply not able to live off, no matter how great the opportunity might be.
To continue our example, let’s say your deal-breaker number is $57,000 because maybe, if push comes to shove, you’re willing to consider $58,000 or $59,000 if there are other benefits and perks involved.
Once you’ve landed on these three numbers, you’re ready to step out and boldly make the ask!
3. Make the ask.
I know negotiating a salary offer is intimidating, but it might feel less scary if you think about negotiation as simply asking questions and presenting information.
Most importantly, always approach a negotiation with respect and humility, because no one wants to bargain with an arrogant jerk.
Here’s a sample script of how you can start the conversation: I’m really excited about the potential to join your team. After doing some research, I found that based on my level of experience, the market rate for this position is about $70,000 (Remember, we’re going a little bit higher than our $67,000 goal!). I feel that number reflects well on the value I’ll bring to your organization. What can we do to bring my compensation closer to $70,000?
If the number the hiring manager gives you is way lower than what you found in your research, respectfully ask how they came to that number while showing them what you found in your research.
The conversation can take many twists and turns from here. The important thing to remember is to remain respectful and humble. And even if you have to walk away, be careful not to burn any bridges.
Like I said earlier, negotiating a salary is all about having an informed discussion. It doesn’t have to be awkward or embarrassing, and it shouldn’t put you in jeopardy of losing the opportunity if you take the time to prepare.
Don’t be that buddy from college who loved to pull numbers out of his ear. Get the facts, land on specific numbers, and clearly communicate what you believe your value to be.
All right, folks, I know you can do this. You have what it takes.
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities, and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.