How to Negotiate Your Salary

Negotiating salary tips from a Bay Area career management specialist.

As a marketplace paradigm, the bazaar has never met with much enthusiasm in the United States. Few people relish the prospect of a protracted negotiation, a distaste that may help explain our aversion to car dealers’ showrooms. 

Negotiating a salary is a prime example of an activity that makes many of us uneasy. It’s almost as unpleasant as creating the perfect executive resume for your career. It is not just a negotiation; it is a negotiation over what we are worth. The subject is money and that makes many of us uncomfortable. If we could only afford it, we would emulate professional athletes and bring in a third-party intermediary, an agent, to do the dirty work.

Alas, we generally have to go it alone. We rarely do this kind of negotiating and we may dread it, especially when rate of pay is taken to reflect individual worth more generally. With these kinds of complications, it can pay, literally, to prepare thoroughly for the task and to consider some guidelines in advance.


If you are already employed, salary issues may be addressed as part of a regular performance review and timing may be predetermined. If you are applying for a job and have gotten far enough so that the issue is in the air or on the table, the question does not have a universally correct answer.

Two approaches are possible. If you are a strong candidate and know your worth, you may not want to waste time looking at jobs that simply fail to match that worth or your needs. In that case, salary should be addressed early. If your position is not that strong or if the job market itself is weak, focus first on selling yourself as the right person for the job. Focus on the specifics of the company, the position and the ways in which you will benefit the business. Ideally, your best negotiating posture comes once you know they want you.


In all negotiations, information is power. The more you know about the company, the industry and the salaries that are typical for your job, the better you will be able to convince an employer that you are worth what you ask for. Again, be as specific as possible. Look at salary ranges for people in your field with similar experience and skills. Narrow that range so that you are comparing apples to apples by including companies of similar size and in the same region.

As in all stages of the application process, learn as much as you can about this individual business. Is their budget already stretched thin? Is there an urgent need to fill the position? Is the company growing? Have they been hiring lately?

If you are just out of school, the school’s career center can help you with your fact-finding mission, but the Internet is filled with information about salaries by industry, experience and location. If you are not finding what you need, consider a career counselor, whose information is likely to be current and who can help with other aspects of the job search at the same time.


Armed with all this information, you are ready to get down to business.

- Avoid discussing what you need. Your employer’s needs are the ones that count.

- Focus on the ways in which you meet those needs and the ways in which you deserve the pay you want.

- Put your compensation in context, bringing your research into the discussion and explaining how you fit into the bigger picture.

- Go second if at all possible. It is not always fatal to be the first person to put a number on the table, but there are advantages to hearing from the other side first.

- Do not negotiate against yourself. If you put a number on the table and you are asked to do better, resist. Ask what the employer had in mind before whittling away at the number that made sense to you in light of your investigation.

- Try to get an idea of what your prospective boss is making. If you cannot find specifics, make an industry-wide educated guess. A number 10 percent below that sets the realistic upper limit of what you can ask for and expect.

Finally, pure salary is not the only bargaining chip in play. Consider negotiating for the future, with a clear idea of the timing of future salary increases and the basis on which salary decisions will be made going forward.

Working conditions and benefits can be part of the overall picture, too, and, if your salary expectations are not quite being met, look at hours, vacation time, health insurance, maternity leave and all of the other variables that can be part of the overall negotiation. 

Not all of these options will put more money in your pocket now, but they can have a profound effect on your happiness in that new job.


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