Career Services

career services

Salary Negotiation

What is salary negotiation?

Negotiation, by definition, is the process of attempting to reach an agreement through discussion and compromise.  When negotiating salary with an employer, you are discussing the terms of employment in order to reach an agreement about those terms.  It's important to realize you won't always get what you want, but by actively engaging in negotiation you will feel more in control and often make more money in the process. Salary negotiation can be done at different times throughout your working life, but it is especially important during job search.

Negotiation is not merely saying, "I want more money."  You will need to answer several questions for yourself before you'll be ready to enter into the negotiation process.

  • What is the salary range of the job that the employer and/or the industry have established?
  • What is the salary range for individuals with my education, skill set and experience in the geographical region of the position?
  • What is the lowest salary that I will consider? 
  • What is the salary range I would be satisfied with?
  • What special contributions can I make to the organization that potentially make me of more value to the employer?

Salary Negotiation Resources

Some places you might go to get salary information are National Association of Colleges and Employers, your college career services office, people who work in that industry or at that company, libraries, job hunting web sites on the internet, trade associations and trade publications.  

The following is a list of websites you can use to conduct salary research:
Job Star Central Salary Surveys

Salary Negotiation Do's & Don'ts  

  • Know your worth. Make sure you've done your research ahead of time and know the market value for a specific type of position, for someone with your experience, and for the geographic area of the country. 
  • Know your needs. While you don not divulge this information to the employer, you also want to consider what is the least amount of money you need. Do a projected budget for yourself to determine how much money you need to earn.  However, remember that the bottom line for a specific job is what the job and you are worth to the employer, not your living expenses. 
  • Don't bring up salary and benefits before the employer does.  This gives employers the wrong impression.  They may conclude it's all you're really interested in.
  • Try to get the employer make the first offer.  If the employer asks you first, "How much money do you need?" you can respond in a number of ways:
    • "My salary expectations are based on job requirements and responsibilities.  I'd like to hear more about the position."
    • “At this point, money isn’t my main issue at this point.  I expect a competitive salary, but I’m more interested in finding a meaningful and challenging position.
    • "Salary is negotiable.  I'm interested in hearing more about the challenges and expectations of this position before entertaining your best offer."
  • Try to put it back on the employer if possible.  "What salary range do you have in mind?"  "What salary range do you pay positions with similar requirements?"  "Tell me what you have in mind for a salary range."
  • Avoid discussing specific numbers as long as possible, ideally until an offer has been made. Your goal is to delay negotiations until you have been offered the position.  You negotiate from a position of strength if you know the employer wants to hire you.
  • If an employer presses for salary information, give a range rather than a specific amount. You might say something like, "My research indicates a competitive salary would be in the low-to-mid thirties."  Select a range with an upper amount a little higher than you expect to get so there is some negotiating room for the employer.  That makes it more likely this will be a win-win negotiation. 
  • Don't inflate your current earnings in an attempt to be paid more.
  • Don't feel obligated to accept the first offer.  And do negotiate a salary if the first offer is inadequate.
  • Do bring up your strengths, accomplishments, and potential contributions.  Make sure the employer knows why he/she should hire you over someone else.
  • Don't have a self righteous attitude and don't make demands.
  • Don't just focus on salary.  Look at the entire compensation package and the potential for growth.  If you're told the salary is non-negotiable, check if other things might be negotiable.  For example, a signing bonus, shorter time frame for first review/pay raise, or other benefits like personal time off, paid leave, and professional training might be negotiable. 
  • Do get the offer in writing.  

Handling Requests for Salary Requirements/Salary Histories

These requests come in many forms.  For example, when offering an interview, the employer could be doing pre-screening by asking you how much money you would need to make if offered the job.  Another common way of being asked is through the job ad.  The posting may state, "please send salary history," or "please provide salary expectations."  The question also appears on some application forms. These screening questions early in the process can be problematic because they are often used to screen applications out of the application process.  The general rule is that the later the discussion of money, the better it is for the job seeker.   Ideally, you want to delay discussion of salary until after an offer has been made.  

You need to be prepared for these types of requests before you begin your job search (or shortly thereafter).  It's important to realize you have options when asked to give a salary history or salary requirements.  You can say "salary is negotiable" and show them you're flexible.  The risk you run is that you didn't answer the question and they might screen you out.  You can say that you prefer to discuss the salary in the interview and add that it's negotiable, but again you are running the same risk of being screened out.  You could give your salary history, but, if it's too high, you run the risk of being screened out.  Or, if it's too low, you run the risk of the employer knowing your salary and paying you less because of it or assuming your past salary indicates you are not ready for a more demanding position.  Lastly you can ignore the request entirely, but this also runs the risk of being used to screen you out of the interviews.

Some online applications won't let you submit an application without completing the information; many times the software used for online applications will screen out responses that don't fit prescribed salary parameters.  There is no easy answer. Employers seldom ask new graduates to supply a salary history. For more experienced candidates, it is a good idea to be prepared for salary requests in advance.   

Golden rule: Whenever possible, don't volunteer any information about salary expectations or salary history on your resume, in a cover letter, or during a job interview.  It's to your advantage to discuss salary issues after the employer has already decided that he or she really wants you.