How to Negotiate Your Salary Like a Boss

Knowing how to negotiate your salary is a key skill if you want to avoid being underpaid and undervalued. There’s nothing to it, all it takes is a little bit of courage and above everything else, being unfailingly polite. While it may seem intimidating at first, negotiating your salary is all part of the process that goes into interviewing for, and accepting, a new job.

So how does it work?

For most North American companies, negotiation starts as early as the first email or interview with your recruiter/hiring manager/HR drone. It is likely that from the job posting there is already a set range of some sort. From [the lowest you’re willing to accept but still grumble about] to [OMG that’s fartload of money]. You can further refine this with your interviewer, and make sure that at least some sort of range is agreed upon. Never, ever, accept a job offer without knowing what kind of income you’re looking at.

With some luck, you’ll have aced your interviews and got an offer letter. This means that they are willing to hire you and are willing to put it in writing. Note that they can still rescind the offer at any point. 

Once you have an offer letter, you may notice a line on that letter confirming your salary. This is not set in stone, so if you see something you don’t like, don’t immediately storm out of the office, defecate on their rugs, and bumrush their front door with your pants tied up around your ankles. If the offer is less than desired, you’re going to have to do this hard way and negotiate.

There are several options for this. The most direct, simple, and only one that matters is through e-mail. If your hiring company still uses a phone for their primary point of contact (or even worse, in-person appointments), tell them to drag their a** into the modern age and at least get on email (don’t actually do this, employers hate being told they’re doing something wrong).

First off, before writing an email along the lines of “omgblurgh I need moar $$$,” do your market research. Find out what the average salary is for your position, in your specific location and factor for experience and industry. Once you have enough ammunition, you are ready to come to the bargaining table.

Writing the email is simple enough. There are plenty of templates for salary negotiation, but the main thing is to be polite, assertive, and reasonable.

Here’s one of mine:

Hi [Anonymous HR Drone #2],

I’m very excited to have received an offer letter for the [professional donut eater] position. I am eager to begin, however, the listed salary is a bit lower than desired. After some market research based on my experience and expertise, I believe a salary of $[large amounts of money] is more in line with what I’m thinking. Could we make this happen?

Thanks,

Some helpful tips:

Don’t aim too high

It’s okay to have a high sense of self-worth, but don’t get greedy. You won’t be able to get a $20k bump to an initial offer of $40k. My hard and fast rule is that anything within 10% of the offer is very reasonable, 15% is pushing it, and anything over 20% is practically a Hail Mary. Of course, this will differ according to your own unique circumstances, so use your best judgement.

Know the job and know the company

If you have an offer letter in hand, then odds are you’ll already have done at least some research on the company and the position you’ve applied for. Is business good or is the company in decline? Is your position solid or is it likely to get downsized within six months? Knowing this is better than all the salary data in the world, and will help you decide on a number to ask… if you decide to ask at all.

Know the market

Anyone can go on Google and run a search for the average annual salary of your job. However, that means very little since you are not looking for the average salary, you are looking for a number that suits you. Go spend 10 minutes of research on payscale.com, glassdoor.com, etc. Search for your location, industry, age, heck, even within the company itself. Doing so will pay dividends.

Set your minimum acceptable amount

Everybody has a number. For you, you’re trying to get your employer’s highest acceptable number. They’re trying to get your lowest. Be sure to settle on what you’re willing to settle for long beforehand.

Don’t second guess yourself

Negotiations are fairly standard and unless you’re applying for a unpaid internship, no one will think the worse of you for it. Hell, sometimes you can even negotiate for that unpaid internship.

In very, very rare occasions, an employer may rescind the offer. This however, is usually on them: bad recruitment policies, inept HR, whatever. In this event, take it as a life lesson… you’re probably better off not working there anyways.

Also be aware that counteroffers take time to be considered. During this time you’ll probably be a bit jittery, that’s fine, but realize it takes a few days. A week is too long, and you should as for a status update by then.