How to Effectively Negotiate Your Salary (Part One)

Until we arrive in that blissful future where everyone works for a company with a transparent compensation structure, you’re going to have to negotiate your salary.

For many people, asking your potential future boss for more money is a nauseating prospect. Women in particular have good reasons for that “icky” feeling. Turns out, society’s notion of being an “ideal woman” is incompatible with the self-advocacy and assertiveness intrinsic to negotiating for yourself. (Women are actually great negotiators—when they’re negotiating on behalf of someone else.) And yet, women in particular must negotiate their salaries if we are to have any hope of closing the persistent gender (and race) wage gap.

At recruitHER, we support job seekers from underrepresented groups in tech, and we frequently coach our candidates through the salary negotiation process. In this series of blog posts, we’ll share the fundamental steps to making sure you’re paid what you’re worth.

In this first post, we discuss the three key pieces of information you need to establish before you even begin the process of negotiating with an employer.


It just takes a little bit of prep! You got this.

You have the power!

Successful negotiation is 90% preparation.

Here’s the good news: you can do the lion’s share of the work required to negotiate your salary before ever having to talk to the person across the table!

Negotiating well is primarily a matter of knowing three things:

  1. What is a particular job worth? (market research on salary ranges)
  2. What are you worth doing that job? (your unique skills, experience, and abilities — your percentile within the market rate)
  3. What is the absolute minimum compensation you need to accept the job? (your minimum acceptable salary)

Let’s take a look at these key numbers one at a time.

1: Research the Market Range

To determine what a particular job is worth, research the range of salaries that people are being paid to do similar work in the area where the job is located. Thanks to the beauty of the internet, there are lots of places you can go to find out what other people are being paid for similar jobs: Salary.com, PayScale.com, WAGE Project.org, Glassdoor, Indeed.com, Comparably, and AngelList are great places to start. Also look for local information such as the Built In Austin 2016 Tech Salary Guide.

Make sure to consult multiple sources so that you reduce the risk of working off of skewed data. If the job you want isn’t listed*, try to determine the market rate for a couple of positions that are related or similar and extrapolate from there.

Don’t forget to look at location-specific data! For example: Salary.com shows the median pay for a “Software Engineer III” job in the U.S. is $96,119. But if you’re living in San Francisco, the location-specific median is actually $117,371. Huge difference! So make sure that you know the range based on jobs in the *particular area* where you’ll be working and living. Looking to change jobs or move for your career? Try the CNN Money Cost of Living Calculator to see how far your current salary goes when you’re living someplace else.

2: Determine Your Worth

Remember: You’re looking for the pay range. You want to know the scale of what people are paid for doing a particular job from the low end all the way up to the high end. Once you know the market rate range, you can begin to figure out what percentile of that range fits your background and experience.

Determine what you’re aiming for as a salary—your slightly stretch ask that you’re expecting to have to negotiate for and would be super happy to accept. In all likelihood, you’ll land slightly lower than this mark at the end of your negotiations, so be sure to aim suitably high (talking especially to women here, who tend to ask for less than their male peers), but not outrageously so. You want to appear confident of your worth, not out-of-touch with reality.

Examine your years of experience and the skill set you bring to the role. How can you argue that you’re worth more?

  • Did you run a meetup group and teach a bunch of newbies how to program in Python? Maybe you’ve never actually worked a job coding Python before, but that uncompensated work you did for the meetup still counts as years of experience.
  • Do you have any special certifications? That PMP certificate is definitely worth more compensation for the project manager job you’re applying to!
  • Did you increase revenues by 20% in your last marketing gig? If you’ve produced any especially impressive deliverables at your past jobs, make sure to highlight them as reasons that you’re highly effective, and therefore more valuable, and therefore worth a higher percentile in the range.

Generally speaking, for larger companies, you’ll want to aim for something around the 75th percentile when negotiating your salary. For start-ups and smaller companies, you’re frequently going to end up trading away some base salary in exchange for equity in the company, so asking for the 75th percentile might be a stretch in those cases. (On the other hand, if you’re employee #4 and the startup just closed their A Round, you likely have a better chance at negotiating for the upper end of the market rate.)

The fact of the matter is that not everyone is going to be paid at the 75th percentile and up. The whole nature of a market rate is that someone gets paid the 2nd percentile for a particular job and someone gets paid the 98th percentile—for the same job. Also remember that these ranges include the pay rate you’ll be making after you get a raise but remain doing the same job, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have room to move your salary towards the upper end of the range over time. (For more on this, ask your friendly local HR person about salary bands and what happens when you’re at the top of your band.)

Once you’ve figured out the salary you’re aiming for as your goal, you want to figure out what the bottom of your personal salary range is.

3: Establish Your Minimum Acceptable Salary

Part of any effective negotiation strategy is knowing when to walk away. When you’re unemployed, it can be incredibly distressing to consider turning down a job offer, even if the pay rate is low. But if you accept a salary that’s less than the bare minimum you need to live your life, you’re going to be just as unhappy (if not more so) working that job as you are unemployed.

How do you determine what your minimum acceptable salary is? First, you need a budget. I know, now you’re feeling like I just flipped the tables on you. You were reading this blog post to find out how to make more money, not how to count every penny! Budgeting is so tedious and boring! Well, my friend: Yes, it kinda is. But it’s also amazingly satisfying to know exactly how much money you need to live each month and to be reassured that you’re bringing in more than that in your paycheck. So open up a spreadsheet and start inputting your monthly bills and expenses and take a good hard look at that bottom line.

(I’ll wait.)

Okay, great! Now you know exactly how much money you’re spending each month on housing, utilities, phone, internet, groceries, eating out, and fun money. You’re a superstar, so you also plugged in some minimal goals for what you want to put into your emergency fund and retirement savings accounts. Excellent.

The annual total of this budget is now your absolute minimum acceptable salary. You know that if the employer isn’t willing to offer you at least this much money, you’re going to turn down the position. Because nobody wants to live in the red, and you deserve to be paid what you’re worth.


Next up in Salary Negotiation How-To:

  • When should I start actually negotiating?
  • Should I disclose my salary history?
  • What about benefits? What else can I ask for?
  • What do I do if they refuse to increase their offer?

Part Two is now posted.

Get the full scoop on how to manage that salary negotiation conversation in one hour chock-full of crucial info: register for our webinar!

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..and if you’re eager for more right now, you can watch the recording of co-founder Gina Helfrich’s AMA with Austin Digital Jobs.


*recruitHER co-founder Ashley Doyal has created a #talentalkpay initiative to collect accurate and anonymous data on the compensation of HR, recruiting and people ops professionals (who are often absent from other salary databases). Fill out your info or check what others are making here. Please RT & spread the word so we can increase the sample size for better data!