4 Pointers on Negotiating Your Starting Salary

by Emily Guy Birken · 11 comments

Whether you’re just leaving college to start your career, or you’re finally landing a dream job after years of working, you might find yourself dreading the following question:

So, what are your salary requirements?

If you field this question without having done any preparation for it, you may find yourself panicking as you try to figure out what’s an appropriate amount that won’t price you out of their range but also won’t pay you less than you are worth. Here are four pointers for dealing with that initial salary negotiation that even the most negotiation-averse job hunter can handle.

1. Do your homework. Long before you get to the salary question (and possibly before you even land that interview), get a good idea of both what you are worth based on your experience and education, and what is the average salary in your field. If you’re hoping for a starting salary of six figures but most new workers in your field bring home $30,000 per year, it’s good to know this information long before you are sitting face-to-face with your prospective employer.

2. Don’t name a figure first. In some ways, a salary negotiation is like a game of chicken. The first person to name a salary figure gives a great deal of information to the other party, and for the applicant, that is information that you can’t really afford to give up. It’s much better to know the range that is available than it is to let them know what you’re willing to accept.

If your interviewer (or the application) asks for your salary requirements, you can respond that you are looking for a competitive salary within the field. In some cases, that will not be an acceptable answer, in which case you should offer a range yourself, making it clear that your salary requirements are dependent on other factors, like bonuses, benefits, educational and professional development opportunities and profit sharing.

David’s Note: You can ask them what the salary range they are comfortable with, but sometimes, your interviewer will press you to give an exact figure. In this case, you should give them an honest answer, though leaving it open ended is always a good idea. One way is to tell them what someone in your position is worth by citing an average if you are comfortable taking that kind of number as your salary. If you are afraid of leaving money on the table by hedging when you really just want the job no matter what the salary is, your demeanor will show this fact in the interview anyway.

Do your homework and figure out what you believe you are worth before the interview. It is up to you to show your employer that you are worth the money you believe is fair. After all, that’s exactly the reason why they asked to meet with you.

3. Take your time. You do not have to accept an offer on the spot—nor should you. It’s very easy to fall into the thinking that you must act now to secure the job offer, but that’s simply not the case. When your prospective employer has given you the offer, thank him for the opportunity and make it clear that you’re very interested in the position, but that you need some time to think it over. This will give you the chance to do a little extra homework (if necessary) and will let the employer know that you are looking for a good fit—not just a job.

4. Ask for more. If the offer seems a little low to you, don’t be afraid to ask if there is any wiggle room in the salary. Be polite and respectful, but remember that some aspect of the offer is probably open for negotiation. Even if your employer cannot be flexible on salary, there are other ways to earn more—through benefits or vacation days, for example. As difficult as it can be to ask for more, you have to remember that only you have your best interests at heart in this negotiation. You need to be prepared to go after what’s best for you and your family.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

SarahGrace June 17, 2011 at 6:13 am

Good article but wondering where is the best place to do salary research for a position? Thanks!

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Emily Guy Birken June 17, 2011 at 7:31 am

@SarahGrace, that’s a great question. I just typed in salary calculator to Google and found a host of resources that will help you figure out both your worth and the average compensation in your field. I didn’t include a specific website in my article because salary can vary widely depending on a number of factors, and the best way to know what is reasonable is to visit many different calculator websites.

Another great way to get the straight story about a field–including non-salary questions you may have–is to set up an informational interview with someone in the field. This is a good strategy for several reasons. First, it gets you an insider’s view of the field you’re interested in, which no website can really give you. Second, it is a low key way to let potential employers know about you. This is a particularly good tool for individuals just starting their careers.

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Cooper June 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

This is good information. I think it’s an “employers market” now days, meaning that it might be tough to negotiate a higher salary when there are so many people that are desperate for a job. I’m self employed though so what do I know. :)

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Icarus June 20, 2011 at 8:24 am

It’s an okay article but I’d like specific examples of what you could/should say instead of vague “don’t name a figure first.”

I’ve been asked what I am currently making and what I expect to make at the next one. Why is what I’m currently making relevant?

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Emily Guy Birken June 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

@Icarus, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get into as many specifics as I’d like in a 500 word article. As for your question, it can be important for an employer to know what you are currently making so they can know if you are already out of their reach financially. It’s important to be honest about your current salary, but you can still be open-ended as to your salary requirements. For example, you could say “I currently make $35,000, but I am looking for both additional challenges and the opportunity to earn more.”

I hope this is helpful!

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Icarus June 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

Very helpful. After posting my comment I realized you probably had space constraints.

Follow-up question: What about the opposite? Is there a good way to say “well Iwas making $85K but am willing to take a slight paycut for the right opportunity?”

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Emily Guy Birken June 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm

@Icarus, I actually think your phrasing for the second situation is spot-on.

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Jen June 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I actually just went through negotiations last week with my new employer. It was essential to negotiate, actually, as he completely low-balled me! In a field where standard _minimum_ starting salaries run between $30k-$45k (and that’s for entry-level, 0-1 years experience) and he offered $22.5k.

I was in a little bit of shock when that number smacked me in the face, but no. 1 rule for any situation is “Don’t take it personally.” I asked to call him back the next day, to talk it over with my husband (that’s always a good card to play: more time, I have a significant other!) and came back the next day with a counter offer: start at $30k, with an option to move up to $40k in a year if I meet expectations we mutually agree on. He called his CPA, and I imagine did a little of his own research. To my surprise, he accepted my counter-offer with nearly no more negotiation!

Always, always, always ask for what you want!

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Michelle Mendoza July 26, 2011 at 9:39 am

Great information! Asking about salary demands is always the hardest question for anyone getting interviewed to handle. Don’t let the company bully you to a lower salary then you are worth though.

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marge September 27, 2012 at 9:38 am

Great advice. Do research & Buy time. Through my 20years of experience you have to Negotiate & promote yourself to qualify the salary you requested.

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vijaykumar December 20, 2012 at 3:57 am

Generally salary is considered on what earlier company is offering the payment to the the candidate. In many organizations all power of fix salary is given to recruitment department and the department fix the salary with minimum payments. In such cases there are chances to leave the candidate in short period,
There generally salary may be fixed by the parent dept.depend on ability and his talent.

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