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
- When (and When Not) to Negotiate Salary
- How to Negotiate Salary (Examples)
- How to Negotiate a Salary Offer: The Bottom Line
Figuring Out What Salary You Deserve
The first part of knowing how to negotiate salary starts with research. You need to understand how much you can reasonably ask for before you ask for it! 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.
Start With the Job Description
You might be able to get a sense of what the company is thinking about for a salary range before you have a conversation with them. 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.
Yet you shouldn’t assume you’ll get the top of the range, either.
“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,” says Daniela Herrera, director of recruitment operations and ED&I at R/GA.
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. Regardless of what role you’re looking for, you need to look beyond the average for the role and filter for a few different things:
- Experience level: Filter for how many years of experience you have (don’t worry if this is your first role — some sites have filters for 0-1 years of experience!).
- Location: Companies in New York pay different salaries than those in Minnesota. Filter for the location of the company you’re interested in. Or, if you’re applying for remote jobs, filter for the state you’re living in.
- Type of company: Startups may pay differently than large corporations. While you can’t necessarily filter for the type of company you’re applying for, do research on the titles you’re looking for and how the salary average changes between companies.
>>MORE: The Best Cities for High-Paying Entry-Level Jobs
Factor in Your Credentials
There are other factors that can influence your salary beyond your years of professional work experience, including:
- Education: Do you have a relevant bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree?
- Skills: Do you have specialized or technical skills?
- Certifications or licenses: Are you certified in your industry? Have you completed extra courses in the field? Do you have a specific license?
Depending on the role, these factors can be a valuable addition to your negotiation.
When (and When Not) to Negotiate Salary
There’s no perfect time to negotiate salary, but depending on your conversations with the recruiter and what you’re looking for, you can aim to negotiate at an optimal time.
When to Negotiate Salary
During the Initial Interview
According to Elisa Pineda, recruiter and talent acquisition expert, it’s old-school career advice to wait to negotiate your salary until the offer is on the table. 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: Should You Ask About Salary in an Interview?
“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?’” Herrera 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.”
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. The first conversation with the recruiter is a good time to let them know if you won’t accept an offer below a specific number,
If the Offer Is 5-10% Lower Than What You’re Looking For
If you wait to negotiate until you get the offer, a “reasonable” counteroffer usually means $5,000-10,000, or 5-10% more than the company offers. When an offer is around that range but lower than what you’re looking for, this is a good time to negotiate.
However, Lisa Dupras, career coach at Elev8 Consulting, advises that there are no “firm guidelines around counteroffers.”
“The rule of thumb is to have the request be reasonable and have some information to back it up,” Dupras says. “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.”
So while the 5-10% metric isn’t a hard rule, it’s a good time to negotiate if the salary is close to what you’re looking for, and within a reasonable range for what you’ve researched is right for your experience level and role.
When to Avoid Negotiating Salary
If You’re Looking for Much Higher Than the Salary Band
It’s important to be realistic when negotiating salary. While you should ask for what you want, if that number ends up being much higher than the company’s salary band or offer, it might not be worth negotiating for — because there’s a chance you might lose the offer entirely.
“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.
Negotiating your salary offer is about balance. While you should negotiate, be reasonable and realistic with how much you’re asking for.
If the Employer Has Made It Clear the Salary Is Non-Negotiable
While many employers do expect candidates to negotiate salary, some employers — in industries like government, for example — have strict salary bands and they cannot offer you more money.
If the employer has made this clear, or you’ve asked if the salary is negotiable and they’ve said no, this is not a time to negotiate.
If You’re Happy With the Salary Offer
Just because you can negotiate doesn’t mean you have to. If the offer is generous enough — and, of course, in-line with what you’ve researched — you do not have to negotiate it. Yet before you decide not to negotiate, take into account the full package of the offer. How much will you take home after taxes? Are you happy with the benefits? The work-life balance? If you’re satisfied with all of the above, you can happily accept the offer without negotiation.
How to Negotiate Salary (Examples)
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 negotiate your salary offer. Your negotiation should be:
- Friendly: Even though you’re countering what the recruiter has mentioned or offered you, you should still negotiate in a friendly manner. Think of it not that you’re working against the recruiter, but rather with them for a mutual beneficial offer.
- Backed with research: A company won’t usually give you money for the sake of money. They want to know why raising your offer is worth it. When you’re entry-level, you might not have as many previous experiences to come armed with, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have unique skills and value that can truly help the company. Show how hiring you will make a positive difference.
- Confident: Negotiating is scary, but you should be confident when making your argument — as long as you’re not over-negotiating, you have every right to ask the company to budge on salary. Practice what you’re going to say before you negotiate (whether that’s in a mock Zoom interview or with a friend) so you feel prepared when the time comes.
- Gracious: Even if the offer isn’t what you’re looking for, you should still show you’re grateful for it before you start negotiating. This means saying the words “thank you” before you dive in — the recruiter will be grateful for your gratitude!
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Negotiating Salary Examples
If the Salary Is Much Lower Than You Expected
If the salary is significantly lower than you were hoping for, you need to do two things: first, make it clear why the offer doesn’t meet your expectations and second, ask if there’s room for negotiation. For example, if you’re in the initial interview and the recruiter shares a salary range much lower than you exected, you could say:
Thank you so much for your transparency. Based on the research I’ve done comparing salaries for this type of role, location, and company size, this is much lower than my expectations. However, I’m very 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)
What about if you’ve already gone through the interview process and received a much lower offer than you expected? Again, you should share your research and why you deserve a higher salary. You can also ask if the salary range you’re looking for is doable for the company at this time. For example:
Thank you so much for the offer. I’m really excited about the idea of working for Company X and think my programming experience in a collaborative environment can bring value to the team. Is there any flexibility on pay? Transparently, this range is much lower than I expected compared to market rates for roles at this level, in this location, and company size. I’m looking for something closer to $55,000 — is this achievable?
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, show your gratitude and 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. For example:
Thank you so much for the offer — I’m really excited about this opportunity. However, given that my design 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 also 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)
If the Recruiter Says No
Unfortunately, not every negotiation will go your way — at least initially. If the recruiter responds in a negative way, there’s no need to sweat. Instead, respond confidently and be prepared to restate your case. For example:
Thank you for letting me know that there’s not much flexibility; however, based on the market rate for the role this range is much lower than I expected. I’m still interested in the role and would love to make this work — is there enough flexibility to raise the offer to $65,000?
If there’s no budging on the budget, but you’re still interested in the offer, you can ask to negotiate other parts of the offer. For example:
Are there other negotiables within the offer, such as benefits or remote work? I’m still very interested in the role and would love to make this work.
Of course, if you’re still getting a negative response and you know you won’t take the current offer, you can walk away. While it can be frustrating to turn a job down, you just might save yourself time and long-term stress of being underpaid. Over half (54%) of Gen Z employees say they would quit their job due to an unsatisfactory salary, according to a survey from TalentLMS and BambooHR.
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.”
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Typically, you can negotiate about 5-10% above a salary offer.
You can negotiate salary without losing an offer by ensuring you’re not over-negotiating beyond a range the recruiter has told you about and that your ask aligns with the market rate for the role.
Typically, employers expect you to negotiate salary; however, if you’re happy with the salary offer and it’s in-line with the market rate for the role, you don’t have to negotiate.
About 73% of employers in the U.S. expect a salary negotiation on a first job offer. Your recruiter will likely be prepared to negotiate with you — as long as you’re not over-negotiating and asking for a number much higher than the range they’ve given you.