Many employers expect that you will want to negotiate your salary offer. Sometimes this means the dollar amount, but it can also include other aspects of the job, such as vacation time, start date, or benefits. Negotiating in a respectful way can help demonstrate your professionalism. Negotiation is an important skill to develop and successful negotiation can help you feel valued at work. This guide will help you navigate the salary negotiation process.
Negotiation can be stressful and intimidating, but it allows us to have conversations with employers that establish professional norms. Early in your job search, and certainly before you begin any negotiations with an employer, take some time to reflect on your salary needs and priorities. Consider your “bottom line,” or the minimum salary offer that you are willing to accept. Take into account factors such as cost of living where you want to live and the standard of living you want. Prioritize your list by importance, and remember that money does not have to be the first thing on your list. Maybe healthcare benefits, location, or a flexible schedule are more important to you than salary.
Next, do some homework. Research salary norms for certain industries and geographical locations can be a great next step, and help you put your priorities in the proper context. Use the following resources to help you prepare:
- Network with alums or others in the industry. Don't ask them to tell you their salary, but you could ask a question such as “What could someone in (the position you are applying for) expect to start out making?” Use Hoya Gateway and Georgetown's Alumni Career Network to find Georgetown alumni in your industry.
- Glassdoor has self-reported salaries from employees from many employers, jobs, and locations, which can help you identify an appropriate salary range for your position. You get unlimited access to Glassdoor's content if you follow the link on our website.
- Salary.com provides free salary information and allows you to search salary by industry, or income level.
- NACE's salary calculator allows you to estimate salaries based on location, position, education level and years of experience.
- The OPM General Schedule provides information for federal government salaries.
When to Negotiate
Deciding when to negotiate is also an important part of the process. Conduct your salary research early in your job search so that you feel prepared for the discussion when it arises. However, it is in your best interest to discuss salary once the employer has made you an offer – this is when you have the most leverage. Employers invest a lot of time and energy in a hiring process; once they have decided that you are the best person for the job, you have an advantage and can use it in a respectful and professional way to reach your desired outcome.
What if the employer asks about salary requirements before or during the interview? It’s okay to let them know that you would rather wait to discuss salary. Consider using a response similar to the one below, or check out the last page of this handout for additional examples:
“I would like to find out more about the position before deciding my salary requirements. This sounds like an excellent opportunity and I am sure that if everything else falls into place, salary won’t be an issue.”
If you have tried to postpone the discussion and the employer insists that you offer your salary requirements prior to receiving an offer, you will need to be prepared for the discussion. When offering a number it is best to provide a range that you feel comfortable with and is based on what you know is realistic for the position and industry. Typically, this range is about $5-7K, for example, $45,000 to $50,000.
The Negotiation Process
All negotiation should happen live, either in person or over the phone. This will allow you to pick up on nonverbal behavioral cues from the person you are speaking with and minimize misunderstandings. Remember, you are working towards a mutual agreement that satisfies you and your employer. Many employers will offer a salary figure that is at the lower end of the position’s pay scale, allowing room for you to negotiate.
Be sure to consider the complete package. Almost everything is negotiable. It’s not always about money. Think about other factors that might help you feel valued and improve your work experience:
- Start date
- Evaluation and review timing
- Parking or commuting expenses
- Vacation and sick days
- Child care, health care, and retirement benefits
As you present your requests, frame them in a way that highlights joint goals for you and the employer. Emphasize your skills and abilities and the match between what you bring and what the organization needs:
“Based on my prior experience and familiarity with this (specific skill/program/etc.) and the requirements of this role to (perform task/reach a goal), I believe that an additional $X would be fair.”
Before the negotiation begins, be sure that you have a bottom line in mind. Negotiations can happen quickly so you will feel more assured if you know what is an acceptable offer for you. If you are unsure whether to accept an offer or would like assistance to prepare for a negotiation, consider discussing it with someone from the Career Center.
- Do your research and know what your priorities and deal breakers are before you begin negotiation.
- All negotiations should happen live in person or over the phone. This allows you to pick up on tone and body language cues.
- It’s important to manage emotional responses in order to negotiate effectively — strong emotions prevent memory and recall.
- Don't be afraid of silence and use it well. A slow yes is better than a quick no, so give the other person and yourself time to think.
- Try to avoid bringing up a number first, but if you have to, leave wiggle room by offering a range.
- “Think I, talk we” – know what you want but frame it in a way that acknowledges the employer’s perspective and benefits your relationship with them.
- Avoid negative framing (“You probably won’t agree to this but…”) – this sets up the other person to react defensively to your request.
- Get it in writing — initial offers as well as final negotiated offer.
What You Can Say
These are just ideas to help get you started. Adjust the phrasing to fit your personal style and the specific thing you are negotiating.
Avoiding the direct salary question:
- “I’d like to learn more about the position and the responsibilities before I give you a firm answer about salary.”
- “It’s too early in the process for me to estimate salary.”
- “What is the salary range for this position or similar positions with this workload at this organization?"
Starting the negotiation process:
- “Can you give me some background on how you put this offer together?”
- “Do you have any flexibility on the salary number?”
- “On the salary figure, is that the maximum you can offer?”
- “Based on the requirements of this job and my specific skill set, I would consider a salary between $X and $Y.”
- “Based on my research of similar positions in this area, I was thinking of $X.”
- “In order for me to be most effective, I would need these resources…”
- “Based on my prior experience and familiarity with this role, I believe that an additional $X would be fair.”
- “Since this position would require additional time/more work in order to meet company goals, I think that these resources… would be important for me to have.”
- “I’m sure that I could contribute more to company goal if I had…”
Your offer is too high or you get stuck:
- “I can see that what I’ve said has surprised/upset/frustrated you and that wasn’t my intention. Can you help me understand your reaction?”
- “It looks like I’ve taken you by surprise. Do you mind if I give some more background information?”
- “I know we haven’t figured this out yet but let’s keep talking. I’m sure we can find something that will work for both of us.”
- “It seems like we’re headed in the wrong direction. What can we do to get back on track?”
- “I can see you’re not pleased with my offer. What do you think would be fair?”
- “We are really far apart. Perhaps we can meet somewhere in the middle?”
There's a lot of information and advice out there about salary negotiation. The process can feel overwhelming and we can feel unsuccessful if we do not get what we want. However, it is important to remember that successful negotiation does not mean the you walk away with everything on your list. You will be successful when you negotiate in a professional manner, and you are sure that nothing was left on the table. Salary is a key piece of any job offer, but it is just as important to decide if this is the right position for you overall:
“Ultimately, your satisfaction hinges less on getting the negotiation right and more on getting the job right. Experience and research demonstrate that the industry and function in which you choose to work, your career trajectory, and the day-to-day influences on you (such as bosses and coworkers) can be vastly more important to satisfaction than the particulars of an offer. These guidelines should help you negotiate effectively and get the offer you deserve, but they should come into play only after a thoughtful, holistic job hunt designed to ensure that the path you’re choosing will lead you where you want to go.” - Eli Malhotra, Harvard Business Review