7 Tips for Negotiating — How I Doubled My Salary in Two Years

Negotiating your salary is the biggest opportunity to control your compensation. Raises tend to hover around 2–3% of your base salary, whereas negotiating at the beginning will generally yield a 10–30% pay increase. Though it might be uncomfortable, in the end you risk very little, as offers are generally extended with wiggle room for negotiation. If you don’t negotiate, you are losing money.

Number one rule*: ALWAYS NEGOTIATE.

Put off talking salary in the early stages

Do not be defined by a number early on. You want them to want you. That is at the offer stage, so try to avoid talking numbers too early in the process.

Here are some things you could say to stave off the early, “What is your target salary?” questions:

  • I need to know more about the responsibilities of the role before I feel comfortable talking salary.
  • It’s a personal policy not to discuss salary until we are at the offer stage.
  • I’m confident that we can work something out that is fair.

Do your research to know your worth

Use tools like Glassdoor to get an idea of the range of salary in your area for the position you are seeking. Hunt around. Do not anchor yourself to what you currently make — keep an open mind. Decide an appropriate range for the job you are looking for, and have some numbers in mind for yourself — crystallize this range in your mind.

Talk to friends and peers about salary. There is a pay transparency movement happening that I fully support. If you can talk about it with trusted friends, do it! A couple friends shared what they were making at their new jobs when they left our company, and it gave me a starting point for the market when I was job hunting. I can attribute my biggest pay bumps due to not only knowing my own worth but also knowing the “worth” of my peers.

Aim high. In most cases we undervalue the work that we do. Take some time to list out your accomplishments, short term and long term. What projects have you directly worked on? Which ones have you influenced peripherally? Take your number, tack on extra, and own it.

Remember that you are not the only one negotiating

The company has invested time into you — screening you, contacting you, setting up meetings, taking time out of their employee’s days to interview you. Maybe this negotiation is about a raise and the company has already invested in training you and ramping you up to be productive.

It is a time consuming process to find and hire a worthy candidate. If you reject their offer, they are going to have to go through the whole process again. This is a collaboration, you have similar goals. They want to hire you and you want to be hired!

Ask for their number before revealing yours

If they are pushing you to name a number for your salary expectations, turn the question on them. Whomever names a number first loses. Here are some things you could say:

  • I am very interested in this position and would really like to know more before talking money.
  • I have a good idea of the market rate and I’m sure we can work something out that will work for both of us.
  • Do you have a range in mind for this position?

The last question is my personal favorite. In the few times I was asked about my expected salary range I asked them about their range and surprisingly a couple companies offered up some numbers. Each time, the range they gave started 10–15k higher than I would have said if I had blurted out my number first. This will not always work, many companies are cagey for the same reason you should be cagey: he/she who talks first loses.

IT IS TIME TO NEGOTIATE

So, you’ve researched the salary range, you have made it through to the offer stage (congratulations!) and it is time to talk numbers. Make sure everyone is on the same page that you are now talking about money.

First off, you’ve got this. It might feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable is the price to pay for a potentially huge jump in salary. You might want to just name a number and get it over with. Don’t rush. You did your research, you know your worth, now it is time to have the conversation.

Here’s a script for what you can say:

  • I am excited about the opportunity and I know we can agree on a starting salary.
  • Based on: the market / what I’ve been earning / the standard of living in this city / other opportunities I’m looking at / and goals I’ve set for myself
  • I would expect to be at the __________ to __________ range within the next year (where low range is actually around your upper range)

What you might hear (and what it means):

  1. “No problem, we can do that.” You do not want to hear this, it means you undersold yourself.
  2. “That’s more than what we budgeted for. We were planning to start you at _________.” You do want to hear this; it means you are still negotiating.
  3. “That’s more than we were planning on paying.” No worries, you are still negotiating. Make sure you get what number they are thinking before you go any further.

What you will not hear: “What are you freaking crazy?! No way are we going to do that! Consider our offer rescinded!” This would be an extremely rare case, and near impossible if you have done your research. I have agonized over a couple of days between negotiations wondering if the company would ditch me after negotiating — it has never happened. Almost every offer given has wiggle room built in specifically for negotiating. Looking back, I’m glad I endured those uncomfortable days for the comfortable financial cushion later on!

Negotiating is about more than salary

Benefits range far past your base compensation.

  • Insurance
  • Retirement, 401K
  • Bonuses
  • Stock
  • Relocation expenses
  • Time off
  • Education: conferences, college tuition, trade shows or outplacement services.
  • Transportation: car allowance, bus pass, frequent flyer miles
  • Non traditional arrangements such as home offices and flex time

The last time I negotiated for a raise, my friend asked if I had also negotiated the bonus amount, because when she had been at the company for 2 years, they had bumped her from a 7% bonus to a 10% bonus. I had not considered negotiating the bonus in the conversations about my salary and I regretted it. Each company has unique benefits and it would be worth sitting down and add the relative monetary value to the offer for when you are comparing jobs.

Practice!

It’s okay if the first couple negotiations don’t go well, practice practice practice!

You will get better!

I recently applied for a gamut of jobs. Negotiating over and over made the offers creep higher and higher. I sat through phone screens, did multiple take-home technical assignments. I was not in a rush to get a new job. I had good coworkers, a boss that cheered me on, and management promotions in the mix. However, it is better to job search when you are not desperate and practice negotiating when you can easily say no.

Accept or Reject The Offer With Grace

Do not burn any bridges. Express your excitement for an offer whether or not you are planning to take it. In one case I rejected an offer and they asked if they could tailor a role just for me. I made sure to let them know how grateful I was for the offer and opportunity, even though I turned it down in the end.

The preparation will pay off. For my last interview, the process was rigorous. It included a phone screen, a take home exam, an online programming test, and a full day of interviews which consisted of hours writing out solutions on a whiteboard. I may not have even bothered with it at all as I wasn’t really in a rush to leave my current company and the entire process was tedious. However, I knew it had several perks to my previous position so I decided to see it through. When offer time came, the company named the number first, which was the first time that happened to me out of the previous nine negotiations. It was also double my current salary, blowing all the other offers out of the water.

However, I followed my own rule: always negotiate. I asked if the number was negotiable. They asked what I was thinking, and I named a number. I fretted for the next couple of days, but reminded myself of the 7 tips. I knew the company had already invested a lot in interviewing me. Three days later I received an email from my future manager saying, “I approved your negotiated rate (good job!)”

Although not every hiring manager will congratulate you on negotiating, many do respect your negotiations, as long as you have followed this advice.

To recap:

#1 Rule:

Always negotiate

The 7 Tips:

  1. Put off talking salary in the early stages
  2. Do your research to know your worth
  3. Remember that you are not the only one negotiating
  4. Ask for their number before revealing yours
  5. Negotiating is about more than salary
  6. Practice!
  7. Accept or Reject Offers with Grace

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to check out more articles like this at my blog.

* (except in a few rare circumstances, like it is a fixed rate or they explicitly say, “if you negotiate we will not hire you” in which case, you don’t want to work for them anyway!)