Five Steps for Successful Salary Negotiation

salary negotiationSelena Dehne, JIST Publishing

People wallow a lot in the world of work. You don't have to look far to hear people grumbling that they don't get paid as well as they should or that their employer skimps on benefits like vacation time, a 401(k) or bonuses.

Too often, people have these frustrations because they accepted their initial job offer and didn't attempt to negotiate a better one. Although negotiating can be a very rewarding part of the job search process, many people don't bother doing it because they think the first offer is acceptable, don't want to rock the boat or assume revisions to an offer are unrealistic given the state of economy.

According to Gail Geary, author of 'Your Next Career,' job seekers who shy away from negotiations miss out on a rare and great opportunity to improve how they'll be compensated for their work.

"I strongly encourage all of my career clients to negotiate offers," Geary says. "Ninety-nine percent of my clients are successful in their efforts because they understand the right steps in the negotiation and know what to say and what to do."

Below Geary explains the five steps you can take to achieve success:

Step 1: Discover what you are worth.

"When you enter the job market or are seeking a contract or self-employment opportunity, research the value of the position in the city where the opportunity is located," Geary says.

A number of print and Web resources can help you do this. Some information and reports are free, but you may have to purchase other, more extensive reports. Geary suggests looking at a minimum of three sources and deciding whether the free or customized report is more appropriate, given your experience and job targets.

"Make sure you take into account whether you are in an entry-level, mid-range or senior-level position. In higher-level positions, I would opt for the most complete report and pay for it," she says.

Step 2: Delay revealing your salary expectations.

Pressing candidates to reveal their salary expectations is a fundamental strategy that recruiters and hiring managers use to screen candidates out of consideration.

When asked about your bottom line or whether you'd be willing to accept a lower salary, you'll probably feel pressured to respond with a definite answer. Don't! According to Geary, it's best to delay this type of discussion until after you've been given a job offer. Until then, she offers the following advice:

"The way to handle the salary question when it first comes up is to say, 'I am flexible with my salary and I'm expecting to earn fair market value for the position.' Then ask them, 'What is the salary range for this position?' If pushed to answer the salary question, respond with your research, saying, 'I have researched this position through two major salary research sites, and for my mid-level position the range is $78,000 to $85,000. Is this what you have in mind?'"

Step 3: Handle external recruiters and applications.

Employers often pay recruiters a percentage of the hired applicant's first-year salary. Therefore, recruiters want to know that the salary you expect coincides with what the employer will pay. When speaking with recruiters about salary, Geary suggests you refer to your researched salary range first.

When filling out applications that ask for salary history or requirements, Geary suggests you fill in the blank with the phrase "discuss in person." On applications that do not allow this tactic, Geary recommends you answer the question truthfully based on the value of your last salary and bonus or your salary expectations.

Step 4: Wait 24 to 48 hours before accepting or negotiating the offer.

You should do several things when given an offer. Accepting it or declining it in a matter of seconds is not one of them. Instead, Geary suggests that you:

  • Request a written offer.
  • Thank the employer for the offer.
  • Ask questions to understand the benefits, including medical insurance, vacation time, tuition reimbursement, 401(k) and so on.
  • Request up to 48 hours to evaluate the offer and discuss it with your family.
  • Create a chart outlining the written offer and the offer you desire. The difference between the offer and what you desire will be your points of negotiation.

After you've made your decision, Geary suggests you schedule an in-person appointment to respond to the written offer.

Step 5: Negotiate the offer.

If you're still interested in the job, but would like to enhance the offer, there are several steps to take during the negotiation process. To begin, Geary suggests you express your gratitude for the offer and your excitement to work for the employer and go over all of the features of the position that appeal to you. Then indicate that there are a few concessions you'd like to be made in other areas before you can join the organization.

"Begin with your No. 1 priority, salary, and consider this scenario: You indicate that your expectations were for a base salary in the neighborhood of $90,000 based on your research of the fair market value for the position. The hiring manager indicates he is authorized to offer up to $85,000. You indicate that you will accept $87,000. The hiring manager leaves the room to make a call and comes back with a revised offer of $87,000."

Next, bring up other issues of concern, such as bonus and vacation time. Some of these benefits may be negotiable, others not. You'll have to assess whether revising them is important enough to push for.

When you are content with the revised offer, Geary suggests you shake hands with the hiring manager and ask for the new offer in writing.

Geary adds that negotiations may take more than one meeting. "Be patient and pleasant throughout. Know when to persist and when to turn down the offer if it is below your minimum requirements. Before negotiating the offer, establish your minimum requirements. This will depend on other offers pending, your financial status, how long you've been in the job search, the state of the economy and so on."

Selena Dehne is a career writer for JIST Publishing who shares the latest occupational, career and job search information available with job seekers and career changers. She is also the author of JIST's Job Search and Career Blog ( Follow her on Twitter at

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