How to Negotiate a Competitive Salary

Do you feel comfortable negotiating your salary?  Many job seekers are ill at ease with this step and simply opt out.  In order to avoid the salary negotiation, they accept the first offer that the employer makes them.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary.  It is part of the hiring process, and employers expect you to do it.  If you don’t engage in salary negotiation, there is a strong likelihood that you will be paid less than you are worth.  Here are some tips to help you negotiate a competitive salary:

Do Your Research.  Information is power in salary negotiations.  If you are unaware of the market value for your skills, you won’t know where to start.  You need to know what other organizations are paying for comparable positions, and you also need to have some idea of how your target organization pays.  Do they pay at market value, or above or below it?  If you have a sense of what your skills are worth, you are less likely to sell yourself short.  There are many ways to conduct salary research, and sometimes you need to be creative.  There are useful web sites that will provide you with salary information and surveys such as:  You can also get salary information from browsing job advertisements and seeing what other organizations are paying for similar positions.  Many job advertisements will not include salary information, but some will. Talking to people is another way to get salary information.  You can ask people in your network, or you can ask people during information interviews.  When conducting salary research, make sure that the information that you are getting is current, local, and that you are looking at comparable positions.  Remember, that two positions with the same title can differ significantly in level.  Take a closer look at the job descriptions, and get salary information from a variety of organizations.  Conducting salary research can take a lot of time, but it is well worth it.

Don’t discuss salary until you have a job offer in hand.  Timing is key with salary negotiations.  When you are one of ten people who the employer is interviewing, you have very little power.  If it doesn’t work out with you, they can go back to the nine other applicants.  However, once the employer has determined that you are the best candidate, your power increases significantly.  If the employer is asking you about your salary expectations during a preliminary interview, keep in mind that this is not a salary negotiation.  It is actually a question designed to screen applicants out.  At this stage, you want to give as little information as possible.  You can say that you are flexible, or that you would first like to learn more about the position and the level of responsibility.  You can also say that you would be comfortable working at the market level, or that you are familiar with the organization’s reputation, and you are confident that they will offer a fair salary.  Say whatever you can to put the discussion off until you have a job offer.  If the employer forces you to give them a number, it is best to answer with a salary range.  This is where your research will come in handy.

Have a range in mind.  You will be better equipped for a salary negotiation if you come in with a range and not just a figure.  If you are stuck on one partiular amount, then there is no room for negotiation.  You will either be successful in getting your target salary, or you won’t .  If you come in with a range, there is more room for you to be flexible, and a higher liklihood that you will be successful.  The employer will also pick up on your flexibility and may be more willing to meet you halfway. Giving a range also makes it much more likely that you will state a figure that is within the realm of possibility for the employer.  If you give a figure that is far above what the employer is able to pay, they may decide that there is no point in continuing the conversation (particularly if the salary negotiation takes place before a job offer has been made).

Look at the whole picture.  Try not to get too caught up in the salary figure.  Look at the whole package of the job.  What are the benefits?  What type of experience will you be getting?  What training will be available?  Who will you be able to network with?  How fulfilling will this job be for you?  Will be you expected to work on evenings and weekends?  How is the commute?  Are there opportunities for advancement?  Does this organization recognize the importance of a work-life balance?  If you focus too much on the salary figure, you may be ignoring other important aspects of the job and the organization.

Be prepared to justify why you are worth the money.  If you are asking the employer for a higher salary, then you had better be ready to tell them why you are worth it.  Let them know what skills and experience you would be bringing to the position, and how it would add value to the organization.  In a negotiation for money, you need to be able to sell yourself.

Don’t sell yourself short.  After doing the research, you will have a good idea of the salary level that you should be expecting.  If the salary that the employer is offering you is too low, be prepared to walk away.  Be confident that another opportunity will come along, and you will find an organization that is willing to pay you what you are worth.  

After looking for a job, you may be tempted to just grab the first offer that you receive.  While it can be uncomfortable to try to negotiate your salary, you need to go through the process.  All of your future raises will be anchored to the first pay rate that you receive at the organization.  If you start off being underpaid, it can be difficult to escape from that cycle.  You deserve to be paid farily and if you don’t have confidence in the value of your skills and your time, nobody else will either.

(Written By:  Karen Bivand)


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