Salary Negotiation, Part 1

Recently, the Career Center’s own Anne Nowak gave a seminar about negotiating your salary with your employer. In case you missed it, we’d like to present some of the takeaways here. Today;s post will focus on salary negotiation when you start a new job. (There will be a follow-up posts discussing other aspects of this seminar.)

Why should you negotiate?

While the answer to the question, Why should you negotiate your salary? might seem obvious, there are reasons beyond the immediate payday. For example, consider two employees: Chris and Fraser. Both were hired on the same day, by the same company. Both were initially offered $100,000 a year in salary. Chris decided that was a good deal and took it, no questions asked. But Fraser asked, “What can you do for me?” and was able to negotiate a 7.4% higher salary, for a total of $107,400 the first year. Afterwards, both men stay at the company for 35 years and receive identical 5% raises each year. When it’s time to retire, the men compare their portfolios and Chris is caught by surprise – if he wants to end up with as much wealth as Fraser, he’ll need to work 8 more years! Fraser’s simple, ten-second question saved him 8 years down the line. Negotiating your salary can do the same for you.

The big 4 rules of negotiation

  1. Ask. 84% of employers in the private sector (the number is lower in the public sector) expect you to negotiate. Accepting a salary offer without questions is the same as paying sticker price for a car – you’re only doing the other party a favor. You may be worried that your offer could be rescinded if you ask for more compensation, but let’s look at facts: if you have an offer, the company wants you to work for them. Hiring people is a lot of work – they’ve already published the job vacancy, read dozens of interviews, interviewed multiple people, maybe even multiple times, and they’ve arrived at their decision: you. They think you’re a great fit and they want you to come work for them. So it won’t hurt to ask for something extra. (Of course, we can’t guarantee they won’t rescind their offer – there’s always a risk, but it’s small.)
  2. Be Prepared. Use websites that compile salary information, such as,,, and (Also, if you have any friends in the industry, or even better, at the companies you’re applying to, ask them how much they make. If they don’t want to tell you, don’t push it – even though you’re usually well within your rights to discuss your salary.)  Take note: pay range will change depending on the job level, your qualifications and experience, and your geographical location. For example, companies in California tend to pay more than those in Louisiana to offset the higher cost of living. You’re also better positioned at the negotiating table if you have more education, certifications, or experience than the job posting calls for. Take note, too, of wider economic trends affecting your industry – you might have more leeway to negotiate in a fast-growing industry, as opposed to one that’s shrinking.  Use that information to your advantage!
    You should also think about your own goals: how much do you want to make? How much do you need to make, for your housing, transportation, groceries, and life expenses? If your dream job can’t offer you enough to live on, you can’t accept that job offer – and it’s better to know before you work there for six months and fall into debt.
  3. Whoever says a number first loses. Negotiating a salary is similar to negotiating anything else: information is ammunition, and you want to keep your cards close to your chest. If you’re asked about what your desired salary would be early on in the application cycle, such as on the application, leave it blank if you can. If it’s a required question, then answer it, but be aware that HR can use desired salary to screen applicants out of the consideration pool. Don’t bring up salary or compensation during your interview. If the interviewer does, try to deflect the question by saying something like, “I’d like to discuss salary after we’ve both determined I’m a good fit for the position.” If you’re a finalist for the position, you can ask them what range of salaries they have in mind, or what their budget for the position is. You’re just trying to get them to say a number first.
    Of course, there’s a small exception: if you’re extremely prepared in your salary negotiation, and you have a very good estimate, you can try “anchoring” the negotiation with a salary. Anchoring is a phenomenon that retailers use in sales: the first value we hear for an item tends to “anchor” its worth in our minds, regardless of its actual value. That’s why you’ll see “Was $1999, now $1300” in stores – they’re tricking us into thinking $1300 is a good deal, even though they were never going to charge $1999 for it. You can do the same in salary negotiations, but again, only if you’re prepared. You’ll need to know a lot about the job you’re about to begin, the industry, and your skills’ worth.
  4. Always make a counter-offer. Once you’ve successfully gotten them to say a number first, you say a bigger number. Make sure to back up your counter with your experience and expertise, and your research on salaries in your area and industry. They might accept your number, which is great! However, they might not be able to move on salary. If not, try asking them about other perks, such as bonuses (such as a sign-on bonus or year-end bonuses), benefits (like better healthcare or retirement), vacation packages, car or technology allowances, or an earlier performance and salary review. They’ll probably be able to give you something more if you just ask.


Remember, 84% of private companies expect salary negotiation for new hires. At the same time, they’re trying to save money. They’re not going to volunteer giving you more money or benefits – you have to ask. The same goes for companies you’ve been working for: if you think you’re worth more than they’re paying you, and you’ve got the receipts to back it up, ask. The vast majority of the time, the worst that’ll happen is they’ll say “No.”

Stay tuned for further posts on salary negotiation.

Written by Case Duckworth