What to Say When Negotiating Salary in a Job Offer

Remember that you’re in your most powerful negotiating position before you’ve been hired.

You may not feel powerful before you’ve officially signed a job offer to accept a position. After all, you aren’t even working at the company yet. But the fact is that you have the greatest negotiating power during that short window of time between being offered a job and formally agreeing to take it.

Think about it: The hiring manager has already tipped their hand by letting you know they want to bring you on board. The team has invested time and resources in the interview process, they have a consensus on hiring you, and they’re eager to seal the deal and put you to work. This is the perfect time to talk about salary.

This is the hard part. In fact, dealing with salary negotiation makes many people so uncomfortable that they end up accepting the first number offered without countering. This is a mistake since employers generally expect some negotiation in the hiring process and have built that into their offer by initially pitching a number that’s lower than they can ultimately go.

So how do you go about negotiating a salary that reflects what you’re worth? Follow these tips to prepare yourself before negotiating a salary during a job offer, then learn how to negotiate salary and learn some examples of exactly what to say during the salary discussion.

10 Tips to Negotiate Salary Offer 

  • Remember that you’re in your most powerful negotiating position when you’re pursuing a new position before you’ve been hired. Take advantage of this extra leverage while you have it.
  • The first step is to arm yourself with some market data on average salaries for your position, keeping in mind that in certain parts of the country, companies pay more than in others.
  • Next, factor in your own level of experience and unique attributes that you bring to the table. It’s possible that as a highly valued candidate, you can command even more than the market average.
  • With this information in hand, set a target salary range. Your target numbers should be realistic for your location, industry, position and skill set.
  • Practice asking for the salary you’d like to receive, so your delivery comes across as confident and in control.
  • Even though you may feel well-practiced and ready to negotiate, let the hiring manager bring up the topic before you do. The employer may see it as poor form – and a sign that you’re more interested in your compensation than solving the company’s problems – if you start talking about salary prematurely.
  • If the employer raises the salary conversation before you have a job offer in hand, try to deflect it by speaking more generally until after you’ve been formally offered the job. You don’t want to get pinned down to a specific number too soon without knowing all of the details of the position.
  • Don’t share your salary history with the hiring team. Sharing too much information about your past salary could pigeonhole you into a lower offer.
  • There’s more to your compensation package than just salary. Remember to ask for benefits as part of your salary discussion. 
  • Finally, build in a small cushion of cash that goes slightly above the actual number you want, so that if they offer less than you ask for, you’ll still be happy with the results.

How to Negotiate Salary

Timing is everything, so be ready to negotiate salary as soon as the hiring manager raises the question of how much you’ll make. You’re in the power seat for salary negotiation prior to your actual hire date.

As a precursor to the actual salary negotiation, you should practice what you’ll say, so that you’ll appear confident and in control. Another step to take before you reach the negotiation table is to do your due diligence. Research and data are key to effectively negotiating your salary. You should come to the salary discussion prepared with research on average salaries for your position, level and location, as well as quantitative evidence of your own unique professional value based on your experience and accomplishments. Based on this information, be sure to identify a target number for the salary you hope to be offered.

Once you’ve done your preparation and are ready to negotiate your salary, don’t take the first offer. You’ve armed yourself with evidence on why you’re worth the money you want, and the employer will expect you to negotiate – so stay strong and use the research you’ve gathered to confidently make your points. As you go through the negotiation, avoid making rookie mistakes like revealing your past salary, or forgetting to include benefits as part of the salary discussion.

Now let’s look at what this type of negotiation might look like in terms of your actual conversation with the hiring manager.

Examples of Exactly What to Say When Negotiating Salary

As part of your informal verbal job offer, the employer has likely shared a suggested starting salary with you. Let’s say the number on the table is $73,000, which you happen to know is a little low for the industry, based on your research. Don’t think of this as the final word on what you’ll make, but as an opener to begin negotiating. Keeping in mind that the employer has likely suggested a deliberate low figure anticipating negotiation, you might say something like:

  • “I’m very excited about the position and know that I’d be the right fit for the team. I’m also excited about your offer, and knowing that I’ll bring a lot of value to the table based on my experience that we discussed during the interviews, I’m wondering if we can explore a slightly higher starting salary of $80,000. My market research showed that as the industry average for this area, and I’m confident that you’ll be very happy with how much I can contribute to the team and department.”

You’ll likely feel nervous in delivering this message, but stay positive and upbeat. Don’t worry that the offer will be rescinded simply because you’re negotiating. The worst that can happen, if you do it fairly, is that the employer will say no. In fact, the hiring manager may push back on you a little during the negotiation. You might hear something like:

  • “I’m glad that you’re interested in the position, and the team is excited about the possibility of working with you as well. However, the position is budgeted at $73,000.”

This is where many candidates would fold, grateful to have any offer. But the negotiation isn’t over yet. You can continue with your pursuit of the salary that you know you’re worth. You might say something like:

  • “I definitely understand budgeting issues, and I want to be as flexible as possible to work with your team. I’m still very excited about joining your group, and would like to explore whether $80,000 is possible given my specific experience and skill set.”

It may be uncomfortable waiting to see what happens next. If the manager puts a final nail in the coffin and says, “I’m sorry, but this is our final offer,” then at least you know that you tried. But it’s possible that you may hear something more along the lines of:

  • “OK, I’m not sure whether this is going to work with our budget, but let me look into it. We’ll get back to you with an answer by tomorrow.”

Stay calm, cool and confident, and reply with something simple like, “Thank you, I really appreciate your help with that.”

Then wait to see what happens next. It’s possible that you’ll find out the next day that the hiring manager went back to human resources and received approval to land somewhere in the middle:

  • “I was able to get approval for a starting salary of $76,000, given how much we all want you on our team.”

At that point, since you built in a cushion of a few thousand dollars more than you expected to get, you will likely feel satisfied with the offer and can accept it, knowing you just made yourself some extra annual pay from your persistence. Remember: A key reason some employees aren’t paid what they’re worth isn’t because they don’t deserve it. It’s because they don’t ask.

Originally published in U.S. News & World Report

By Amanda Martin
Amanda Martin