Negotiate Your Salary, Please: You Owe It To Yourself

Luxe is the author of the personal finance site The Luxe Strategist

Today she shares why you should always negotiate your salary, along with practical advice for doing so.


*This advice is for negotiation job offers only, not for asking for a raise or a promotion.*

I’m a pretty flexible person.

If you want to spend half your income on rent, then I’m cool with that.

If you have an entire closet filled with fast fashion, that’s A-OK in my book.

But there’s one thing I’m a stickler for and won’t stop harping on people about: negotiating for more money when you get a job offer.

Why so serious, Luxe?

Because a 10-minute conversation asking for more money can yield thousands of dollars. Besides investing, is there any easier way to get exponential results with very little effort?

To get big results with money, ideally you’d be working all three avenues: earning more money, reducing your spending, and then investing whatever’s left over. Your salary has an overwhelming influence on your financial life.

It’s hard to get any traction if you’re making 30k for eight years in a row, right? For that reason, negotiating your starting salary shouldn’t be an option; you owe it to yourself to ask for more.

How many of us have complained about our salaries? And yet, how come more than half of us don’t negotiate our initial job offers? Why bother to negotiate when we’re just happy to get ANY job offer, right? Tell me if this sounds familiar:

HR Person: We’re happy to offer you the position of X at Y salary!
You: Yes, I accept! What’s the start date?

If that’s how you roll, then you could be leaving serious money on the table.

That was me, too, at first. And then I ended up making $2,000 less than my co-worker, even though we had the same.exact.job. I never wanted to experience that self-esteem blow again.

So I started getting a little bit bolder.

You Don’t Have to Be a Born Negotiator

Before you get the wrong idea, I don’t have voodoo magic skills that you don’t. Actually, I have quite a few “disadvantages” when it comes to asking for more money:

  • I’m an INFP on the Myers-Briggs scale. This is the personality type that on average makes the LEAST amount of money. Props to Bitches Get Riches for pointing me to that stat.
  • I’m extremely soft spoken. Guys, I couldn’t have a bulldog personality no matter how hard I tried.
  • I hate doing presentations at work. I’m always afraid that clients are going to ask me questions I won’t have answers for. Being caught off guard is my kryptonite.

And yet, 99% of the time I’ve asked for more money I’ve gotten it.

So how does this extra money really affect you? Like your investments, your salary compounds, too. If you wonder how my net worth got to be in the six figures, it’s not because I’m just skipping lattes every day and buying toilet paper from Amazon. (Although let’s be real, that stuff helps, too.)

One big reason is because I’ve almost always asked for more money when I’ve changed jobs. These seemingly small amounts add up over time.

Real Negotiation Results

I’m not a self-proclaimed expert at negotiation, but I’ve gotten some real results:

Real Negotiation Results
INITIAL OFFER WHAT I ASKED FOR WHAT I RECEIVED THE DIFFERENCE
$25/hr $30/hr $27/hr $3900
$63k $70k $67k $4000
$56k $63k $63k $7000
$75k $85k $80k $5000

And at my last job when they offered 12 vacation days, I asked for 20 days, and I got 18. Those extra days of vacation are allowing me to go to far-flung places like New Zealand. A place that would have been impossible to properly tour with only a two-week visit.

Outside of the vacation days, that’s a cool extra $19,900. Let’s imagine we invested that and never touched it for 40 years.

After growing 6% annually in the stock market, that would have turned into over $200,000. Not bad for a few hours of work, right?

Chart from investor.gov

So yeah, I’m never going back to letting some HR person take control of my starting salary ever again.

Three Truths About Your Salary

I realize that some of you may have never realized that negotiating for more money is even a THING. There’s an invisible game at work and if you’re not negotiating, here are some stark money truths when it comes to companies and salaries:

You can have the same job as your coworker and have very different salaries.

I used to think that everybody on the same level got paid the same. Man, that was naive of me.

Mini story: I was sitting in my boss’ office one day when a piece of paper on her desk caught my eye–it had my name on it with my salary written underneath. Then next to my name were my two coworkers and their salaries. Compare these two salaries:

My coworker: 55k
Me: 73k

My coworker and I were in the same department and had the same exact job title. And yet, I made 18k more.

People who get hired after you might make more money than you.

At one job, there was a colleague who loved to complain how a new person in his department was making more than he was. In his eyes, the new person was less experienced and didn’t “deserve” more.

There are various reasons new people get paid more than you: market demand, different experience, etc. But what incentive do companies have to pay existing workers more?

My coworker had been working at the company for 9 years, and never asked for a raise, ever. He just expected management to notice his work and hand over raises.

The truth is, the longer you stay at a job, the more likely your salary will stagnate. This is a fact of life. When it comes to your salary, in many cases, it’s not about what you deserve; it’s about what you ask for.

You can’t rely on companies to look out for you.

It’s a mistake to assume that companies are offering you fair compensation. An HR person’s job is to get a good deal on the best talent. That means that the only person you can rely on to look out for yourself is YOU.

Why Negotiation Is Not Negotiable

In case my examples weren’t enough, here are six more reasons why it’s so important.

It sets a baseline for future raises.

Most people will decide a “good” salary bump is whatever amount is more than what they’re making now. Imagine if you settled for $40k instead of $45k. All your future raises would be lower because of that initial offer you accepted.

Waiting to negotiate until they’re actually in a job is WAY harder.

It’s much, much harder to rally for a promotion or raise once you’re in a job. Since you’re already locked into the job, your employer now has no incentive to give you a raise.

You have to fight for it by painstakingly documenting your successes, schmoozing with decision makers, and going above and beyond your job duties. Oh, and if you’re a mediocre worker then forget it.

Contrast that to when you’re in the job offer phase: no one at the company has ever worked with you before, and yet they really want you to accept the job. You could be a crappy worker and no one would know. So all you have to do is just ask.

You can’t bank on annual raises.

What if your company institutes pay freezes, like some of my jobs have? Having negotiated my initial salary came in handy in these exact scenarios. And while the company may promise you a raise for next year, there’s no guarantee that’s happening again in the future.

Young women earn 90 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Everybody should negotiate, but it’s especially crucial for women and minorities. Do your part to close the wage gap by advocating for yourself.

Companies EXPECT you to negotiate.

It’s part of the hiring process and companies will never offer you their best package the first time around. There will almost always be more money in the budget than they’re letting on.

Negotiating makes you look good.

If I were a hiring manager and a candidate didn’t negotiate, I’d question whether they’d act in the company’s best interests when dealing with vendors. If they don’t advocate for themselves, will they advocate for the company?

Excuses Why People Don’t Negotiate

If you’ve never negotiated before, I get it, it seems scary as hell. I’ve heard all the excuses before.

“The Salary I Was Offered Is Already Higher Than What I’m Getting Now.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through this same exact scenario. It’s like my own personal Groundhog Day hell.

Scenario: Friend or roommate gets a new job.

Friend: Yay, I got a new job!
Me: Congrats! You negotiated, right?
Friend: No, the salary was already more than what I’m making now.

This logic seems harmless for the short-term: what’s an extra $2,000? But the trick with money is you have to consider the long-term consequences, too.

So if you don’t negotiate, you’re not just out $2,000 as a one-time loss. If you stay at the job for three years, you’re missing out on the extra $2,000 EVERY YEAR you work there, so now it has added up to $6,000 in lost wages.

My roommate also still had school loan debt. Imagine what an extra $2,000 could have done to fast-track paying that down.

“I Don’t Want to Seem Too Greedy.”

Negotiating for your salary is not greedy; it’s part of doing business and standing up for yourself. If you’re afraid of looking greedy then you’re most likely going to be making less money than your coworkers. What would you do with an extra couple thousand dollars a year?

“I’m Afraid of Losing the Offer.”

This is a totally valid concern. If you’ve gotten this far in the process of getting a job, you don’t want to do anything to ruin your chances.

But if you ask politely and are reasonable, it’s rare for this to sabotage you.And if a company does rescind its offer, do you really want to be working a place that frowns upon you standing up for yourself?

“I Don’t Have the Personality for It.”

You know what? I don’t either. And neither do my friends. And yet, we all ask for more money every time. You don’t need to have a dominating personality. In fact, I think a softer personality actually helps. That’s because negotiations are a conversation, not a war.

They’re about reaching a compromise, not one side overruling the other. It’s asking, not demanding.

You Have More Leverage Than You Think

Negotiating your initial offer is the easiest way to make more money. Here’s why: It’s one of the few times you have leverage over your company.

When you get a job offer, you have to remember: this company has vetted hundreds of resumes, spent weeks interviewing, and narrowing down the candidates down until there’s just one person left.

You.

They chose you over everybody else. They basically have a huge, corporate crush on you.
Because they’ve invested time in you, they don’t want to start over from scratch finding a new candidate.

You also don’t even have to give the company a reason to give you more money. Often times just asking if they can give you more yields the results.

Mistakes People Make When Negotiating (I’ve Done Them All)

I’ve made plenty of mistakes when it comes to my career, but here’s the silver lining: I’ve made these mistakes so you don’t have to! Here are some of the most common missteps I’ve observed.

Saying yes on the spot.

Many people do this because they’re so afraid of losing the opportunity. Feel the fear, and then go and negotiate anyway. For the reasons I gave above, there’s a very high chance you’ll succeed.

Not knowing “your number.”

One time I went into a negotiation without having done any research or asking myself what my minimum salary was. The HR person asked me what salary I wanted to make. I hadn’t thought about it and so I blurted out a number that was a little higher than what I was making.

A bump is a bump, right? Well, guess what they ended up offering me? The exact salary that I told them. Later I realized if I had done my research I could have asked for more. When it comes to salary, it pays to be thoughtful.

Revealing your salary first.

If you tell the HR person your current salary, guess what? You’re on your way to getting underpaid again. Now they know they can just tack on a few extra thousand dollars to your current salary to make it just appealing enough to jump ship.

Talking too much or overexplaining.

You don’t have to justify why you need more money. At least at first. The less talking you do, the more you’ll have the upper hand. Make a statement and then wait for the other person to respond.

Asking for EXACTLY what you want.

This one is super important. A high school teacher once said, “The art of negotiation is asking for MORE than what you want.” It’s stuck with me ever since.

This means that if you want 60k, you ask for 65k or more. It’s a bargaining tactic and leaves both parties feeling like there was a compromise.

The Key to a Successful Salary Negotiation

Many articles give you good tips for the actual negotiation. I know because I’ve read lots of them before I went into an interview. Then I’d go into the negotiation and somehow still bomb. I realized that I didn’t just need tips, I needed more of a framework–the how and the what, and the when.

The key to combatting all the mistakes above? Preparing ahead of time and knowing exactly what you want. I know it sounds so obvious, but it’s not something that many people intuitively think to do.

Step-By-Step Guide of What to Say and Do

This guide outlines how I’ve gone about negotiating my salary, and what has worked well for me.

STEP 1: Before the first interview, prepare your desired salary range ahead of time.

In your initial interview, you might not be asked about your desired salary range, but it’s good to have it in your back pocket.

Otherwise, it’s too easy to be caught off-guard and blurt out random numbers (that’s happened to me). Have the numbers you’d be happy with ready to go.

Find the lowest salary you’d be happy with. Then increase that number by at least 5k, then add 15k to get the top of the range. So if the number is 45k, tell them your range is 50k-65k.

You should never be the first to give them a number, but if you get pressured into it, because yeah, that happens, then this is the number you will provide.

TIP: Do NOT base this number off your current salary. You could be underpaid and not know it. The number you come up with should be based off of the actual job you’re interviewing for. To find that out, consult the following:

You want to consult a couple references to make sure your ask is reasonable. For what it’s worth, I find the Glassdoor one to be the most accurate.

The important part is to go into it with researched numbers already in mind. Just in case.

STEP 2: The day before the interview, prepare your answers for the following questions.

Again, you might not be asked for any of them. For example, no one’s ever asked me what my current salary is. But you don’t want to be caught by surprise in case the questions come up. Being caught by surprise rarely leads to good things in negotiation.

What are you making right now?
Since this is opportunity is different from my current job, I’m expecting to be paid what’s fair for this specific job and my experience.

Yes, you’ll see you dodged the question. Hopefully, the interviewer will move on. If you feel trapped, give them that number you prepared before.

Tell them I’m looking for “X range”. Try not to give them an exact number at this point. Otherwise, you run the risk of them offering you that number and not a penny more.

What salary range are you looking for?
It depends on the specifics of what the job entails. What’s the budget you have in mind?*

*I’ve asked this and flipping the question around on them has worked really well for me! Each time, the HR person hasn’t batted an eye and just told me the range.

Now print the questions and answers out or write them down on a piece of paper. I prefer writing them down because the act of writing helps me remember them better.

Mentally visualize yourself answering the questions. Picture yourself in the room, sitting in the chair, facing the interviewer, being confident and smiling a lot. Imagine it going swimmingly. Visualizing success is super important!

STEP 3: Play it cool when you receive the job offer.

You killed the interviews, and you just a missed call from HR. Holy crap, it means you got the job! Remember that job offer scenario before where you accepted right away? Yeah, that’s not happening anymore. Now you’re cool, calm and collected. Not over eager.

Job: We’re pleased to offer you the job at X salary!
You: Wow, I’m so excited for this opportunity and am so appreciative for the offer. So I can make sure I’m thoroughly evaluating everything, can I have a day to look everything over?
Job: Sure, let’s chat again tomorrow at 4pm.
You: OK, great. I’ll look for an e-mail from you with the info on the health insurance, vacation days, etc.

You hang up. And then you can go like this:
Love Actually GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Next it’s time to get serious.

STEP 4: Come up with your counter offer.

Remember, we don’t care if the salary they offer is more than what we’d be happy with. We ask for more no matter what.

Your next step is to come up with specifics. It will be easier for them to say yes to you if you give them a specific number to work with.

Sit down and come up with two plans. Here’s a starter list of things you can negotiate:

  • Salary
  • Vacation Days
  • Telecommuting
  • Bonuses
  • Stock Options
  • Signing Bonuses
  • Moving Costs
  • Company Car
  • Company Cell Phone

Plan A: What You Really Want to Ask For.

Based on your initial research, you should have a sense whether or not the offer seems within the market range. When you make your ask, ALWAYS start by expressing your enthusiasm about the job.

Scenario 1: If the number is BELOW your researched number, then ask for the top end of your range.

“Thank you so much for the offer! The team really seems like a great fit and I’m looking forward to making an impact. However, after doing some research, the market rate for similar jobs is more like X. Can we work to get to that number?”

Scenario 2: If the number is WITHIN your researched number, then ask for at least 10% more.

“Thank you so much for the offer! The team really seems like a great fit and I’m looking forward to making an impact. However, to make the jump from my current company I was hoping more for X. Can we work to get to that number?”

Note, you do not need to explain WHY you need that amount. Just ask.

Scenario 3: If the number is ABOVE your researched number, then still ask for at least 10% more.

“Thank you so much for the offer! The team really seems like a great fit and I’m looking forward to making an impact. However, to make the jump from my current company I was hoping more for X. Can we work to get to that number?”

Remember, you always want to ask for more than what you actually want. That way you can settle on your real number and it feels like a compromise.

Plan B: What You’ll Accept If They Say No to Plan A.

Have a minimum offer in mind in case they say no to your initial plan. What’s the minimum salary or vacation days you’ll accept? If they say no to 20 days, will you be OK with 15 days instead of 10 they offered?

These are starting points and you can adjust as you see fit.

STEP 5: Get the final offer in writing.

Make sure to get the offer in writing, and don’t make the mistake of giving notice to your current job until you have that offer letter in hand. The new job could promise you a work-from-home day but unless it’s there in writing it’s not official.

Risks When Negotiating Salary

For the most part, you’ll find that simply asking for more money in the job offer phase will work. However, there are a few exceptions.

  1. I’ve found limited opportunities for places that have strict pay grades, like universities, government employees, etc.
  2. If it’s your very first job, you might not have any leverage for asking for more, especially if you don’t have great internships under your belt. In this case, you may need to put in a year or so and then jump ship to a new job to get success.

However, in both cases, I would still ask, because it never hurts to try.

Final Takeaways

Your first time negotiating might seem scary, but, it’s totally in your best interest to try. Remember: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s that simple. And those “measly extra earnings” you dismiss will compound over time.

If you’re polite, then the worst that will happen is they say no. Then you accept, learn from it, and keep practicing. And when you keep practicing, you start winning.

No one’s looking out for you more than you. So please, don’t sell yourself short. Future You is counting on you.


Republished with the permission of The Luxe Strategist.

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