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How to Negotiate Salary for Beginners (With Examples)

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Negotiating salary, especially when it’s your first job offer, can be daunting and even nerve-racking. Yet most companies expect you to negotiate; if you don’t, you might leave money on the table. Don’t know how to negotiate salary? We’ll show you how, from where to find salary information to what to say in a conversation with a recruiter. This guide will cover:

Figuring Out What Salary You Deserve

Knowing what salary to ask for starts with research. This ensures you come to every conversation prepared with an idea of what the company might offer, the market rate for your role, and your salary expectation. When researching, be sure to:

  • Look for a salary range in the job description. Due to the rise in pay transparency laws, many companies must include salary ranges in their job descriptions. While some have large ranges (so large that it feels like it defeats the purpose of the law), you should get a better understanding of what they might offer you — or, at least, the very minimum.
  • Look at publicly available salary information. Sites like Glassdoor, Payscale, Salary.com, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics gather salary information from people who have worked in various professional roles. You might need to get creative if you’re applying for a more unconventional job title. Look at the salary ranges for titles synonymous with what you’re looking for and people at your level in similar industries and companies.
  • Get specific. Suppose you’re applying for an entry-level accounting role at a startup in New York. In that case, your salary will likely differ from that of an accountant with ten years of experience working for a large corporation in Minnesota. Filter for salary information not just based on your experience but also your location, industry, and type of company.

When to Negotiate Salary

According to Elisa Pineda, senior recruiter at Forage, it’s old-school career advice to wait to negotiate your salary until the offer is on the table. Instead, you should start your negotiations early, even during initial conversations with the recruiter.

>>MORE: What Is a Recruiter (and How to Talk to One)?

The recruiter should bring up salary in your first conversation. If they don’t, it’s okay for you to bring it up (especially since you’ve already done your research). You can ask them:

In hopes of aligning our expectations, I’m curious about the salary range for this role. Can you provide the current range you’re offering?

>>MORE: How to answer if the recruiter asks you, “What are your salary expectations?

“If you’ve built rapport with your recruiter (which you absolutely should!) you can always ask something like, ‘where do you think I fall within the salary band?’, or ‘I was hoping to get closer to the top of the band, do you think that’s doable for someone with my skills and experience?,'” Daniela Herrera, director of recruitment operations and ED&I at R/GA, says. “If the company you’re interested in is transparent with its offers, the recruiter might be able to give you some insight and advice before getting to the interview round.”

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Talking about salary early on ensures no one is surprised or disappointed later in the interview process, and no one wastes anyone else’s time. Just as you hope the recruiter will be transparent with their salary range, be transparent with your expectations. If you won’t accept an offer below a specific number, the first conversation with the recruiter is a good time to let them know.

How Much to Negotiate Your Salary

Negotiating your salary offer is about balance. While you should negotiate, be reasonable and realistic with how much you’re asking for.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the the top of the salary band is reserved for those that have been performing at that role for a while now, especially when you’re trying to apply for your first job and aiming for the highest salary possible,” Herrera says.

So, how much should you ask for? A “reasonable” counteroffer usually means $5,000-10,000 or 5-10% more than the company offers. This is where thorough research comes into play. Unless the company offers much lower than market rates, you don’t want to ask for much higher than the top of the company’s range. It’s unlikely the company can go much beyond its top number. 

“There are no firm guidelines around counteroffers,” Lisa Dupras, career coach at Elev8 Consulting, says. “The rule of thumb is to have the request be reasonable and have some information to back it up. Many companies have internal guidelines around how high their offers can go. Many companies also build in room to negotiate as they expect counteroffers. They rely on candidates to research and ask for a reasonable salary. If the request is low the company won’t usually offer more money.”

Can You Over-Negotiate?

Unfortunately, you can over-negotiate salary, which can lead to the employer rescinding your offer.

“If I already told the candidate the max range and had an open line of communication with them all along, and they continue to negotiate, I will have to rescind the offer,” Pineda says. “If a company cannot pay more and we already let you know that, we are not a right fit and we can cut our losses now.”

Why would a company rescind an offer for over-negotiating? From the company’s perspective, if you’re negotiating for higher than they’ve already told you they can offer, they assume you’re unsatisfied with the lower salary. So if you join the company at that lower salary, they’ll “spend all this time training you up only for you to ‘jump ship,’ look for other opportunities, or worse, destroy morale and team dynamics due to your unhappiness,” Pineda says.

What to Say When Negotiating Salary

You’ve researched, learned the recruiter’s salary range, and determined how much you want to ask for. Now, it’s time to figure out how to ask for it.

Your responses should be gracious, clear, and backed with research.

If the Salary Is Much Lower Than You Expected

Even if the salary is much lower than you expected, it’s worth asking if there’s room for negotiation. For example, you can say something like:

Thank you so much for your transparency. Based on the market rate for this type of role, this is much lower than my expectations. However, I’m interested in this role and excited about the idea of working for this company. Is there any flexibility on pay?

If the recruiter says there’s not much flexibility and you know you won’t accept an offer that low, it’s okay to take yourself out of the interview process and avoid wasting anyone’s time.

>>MORE: How to Decline a Job Offer (With Examples)

If the Salary Is on the Lower End of Your Range

If the salary is within your strike zone but not precisely what you’re looking for, you can ask for a specific number or percentage increase. Be sure to include your reasoning for the increase, whether that’s market research or particular skills you bring to the table.

Thank you so much for letting me know about the $60,000 salary for this role. I’m really excited about this opportunity. However, given that my coding skills are more advanced than what you’re looking for in the job description, and my experience working directly with clients, I’d like to ask for a $70,000 starting rate.

If the Salary Is at the Top of Your Range

Congratulations! The job might be a good salary fit for you. Consider whether you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t negotiate. Even if this offer is at the top of your range, is it comparable with the market rate? Is it at the higher end of the company’s salary range? While you want to ensure you’re getting the money you deserve, you want to avoid over-negotiating. 

If you think you’re leaving money on the table, use a similar script if the salary were on the lower end of your range. Again, back up your ask with data and examples of why you deserve more money.

If you’re happy with the salary and don’t think you should ask for more, you’re one step closer to accepting the offer! You don’t need to negotiate just for the sake of negotiating. Instead, be transparent with the recruiter and tell them you’re aligned with the salary.

Thank you! The range aligns with my experience and the market rate for this type of role.

>>MORE: How to Accept a Job Offer (With Examples)

How to Negotiate a Salary Offer: The Bottom Line

When negotiating salary, doing salary research and early transparency are key. Before you even speak with anyone from the company, you should know a reasonable salary for you based on experience, market data, industry, location, and type of company. Then, during your first conversations with the company, be transparent and clear about this expectation — and ready to ask for what you deserve if it aligns with the company’s range. 

“Negotiations do come down to a science in some ways,” Pineda says. “You can and should push, but also ask the right questions, or you could be negotiating yourself out of an opportunity.”

Looking for a way to practice your job search and workforce skills? Check out Forage’s personal development virtual experience programs.

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