how to negotiate your salary during a job interview

How to Negotiate your Salary during a Job Interview (with scripts you can use)

Salary negotiation is the hardest part of a job interview and strikes fear into many an interviewee’s heart.

While there is no hard and fast rule to negotiating your salary during your job interview, this guide will give you a working framework and help you avoid making mistakes that might cost you a higher salary or worse, a job.

Important note: Not all jobs have the leeway for salary negotiation. For example, government positions, entry-level jobs, and jobs in certain industries, where the pay is ‘set’. In such cases, this article doesn’t apply to you. Instead, read How to Ace your Job Interview: The Complete Guide to land your dream job.

For the rest of you, let’s dive right in and get you the salary you deserve.

For the sake of clarity, I have divided this article into a few parts:

  1. Why you always need to negotiate your salary and benefits
  2. How to negotiate your salary during the job interview
  3. How to handle difficult salary negotiation scenarios

Why you always need to negotiate your salary and benefits

Some people are so afraid of negotiating their salary that they just accept the first number offered. This is a mistake since most employers expect some negotiation and usually offer a salary figure lower than what they can ultimately give.

These are some reasons why you always need to negotiate your salary and benefits:

  1. The first offer is never the final offer. Most employers start their first offer on the lower end, expecting that you will negotiate on base pay and other incentives.
  2. People who negotiate their starting salary receive more (ask and you shall receive) and due to the magic of compounding, your gains grow exponentially over time.
  3. Once you have accepted the job offer, it is too late to discuss a salary increase and it might be awhile yet before you can discuss a raise.
  4. The worst-case scenario is they say no. No one has ever lost a job offer when they negotiate their salary ‘the right way’ – which we will discuss in this article.

How to negotiate your salary during the job interview

There are two main phases to this question:

  1. The preparation phase – as with preparing for an interview, most of your work is in the preparation. How well you prepare for your salary negotiation will decide how successful you are in getting the salary you want.
  2. Negotiation phase – it’s what you say and also how you say it.

The preparation phase

Research the market value of the job

What is ‘market value’? In a nutshell, this is the average salary range that most companies are paying for a particular job position in a specific industry.

Websites like Glassdoor and Indeed Salaries are a good place to start for Americans. For people in other countries, you can use websites like Payscale or local salary websites to give you an estimate of what salary to expect for the role you are interviewing for.

However, these websites are very general. Better local sources are job recruiters who are familiar with the local job market and specific companies.

Another good source is to ask your network. If you have any friends working in similar positions in the industry, ask them how much they earn. You don’t need exact figures, just ranges. Ask as many people as you can so you get a feel for the average salary offered.

Know your value

Use websites and your network as a guide but at the end of the day, you are a unique individual with a specific skill set.

What are you worth?

When you are clear about the benefits you can bring to the company, you will know how much bargaining power you have.

Weak labor markets and unemployment leave some people with fewer options and therefore less leverage. But if you have an ‘in-demand skill’, you will have higher bargaining power and might even be able to command a higher salary than ‘market value’.

What salary range should you aim for?

Aim for the top 80-100% of the expected salary range based on your research, not based on what you are happy to accept. This is because employers tend to come back on the lower end of the range so if you aim higher, you’ll have wiggle room to still end up with a salary you are pleased with.

Have a winning mindset

You need to have confidence in your worth. When you are in a job interview, especially when it comes time to discuss salary expectations, think less like a job-seeker (which puts the ball in your interviewer’s court) and more like a professional looking to see if a company would suit your next career move.

Practice, practice, practice

Just as with any other high-impact conversation, planning and practicing what you are going to say and how you intend to say it will make or break your negotiation.

Practice with a family member or friend if you can and get their feedback. If this isn’t possible, practice in front of a mirror or record yourself.

The negotiation phase

Hopefully with all the preparation you have done, you will be able to navigate the negotiation phase successfully. There are many ways to handle salary negotiation and each case will be different depending on your situation.

However, these are some basic ‘rules’ that you can use as a guide to help you.

When is the right time during the job interview to negotiate your salary?

In a multi-level interview process where you get short-listed through a few interview sessions, the best time would be between your first and second interview. This is when you know your foot is in the door but you’re not so far in that you’ve invested too much time and effort obtaining a position you would never accept due to its low financial compensation.

In a single interview, the best time to bring up your salary is towards the end of the interview, when you have shown your interviewers what you can bring to the table.

That is if your interviewer doesn’t bring it up first – which is more often the case.

The angle to use when negotiating your salary

You need to present a solid case – talk specifically about your skills and experience. Outline your accomplishments, especially those that have made your previous company money.

Don’t use ‘I want’ phrases. In other words, it’s not about your needs – the interviewer doesn’t care what you want.

Instead, focus on what you can do for the company. Use the briefcase technique to lift your talk and impress the interviewer. If you don’t know what the briefcase technique is, go to Ramit Sethi’s website to learn more.

What kind of ‘tone’ should you aim for when negotiating your salary?

Aim for likability. People are going to work with you only if they like you. There will inevitably be tensions during a negotiation but if you approach the discussion with an ‘I want both of us to win’ attitude, the interviewer will be much more willing to discuss.

Don’t think of salary negotiation as a battle; you trying to get as much as you possibly can, versus your potential employer trying to get you for as little as they possibly can.

Rather, think of salary negotiation (or any negotiation for that matter) as a collaborative process and look for a win-win situation for both parties.

Keep the conversation positive. Don’t threaten the interviewer with other real or perceived job offers. Don’t use ultimatums.

Also choose your battles wisely. Definitely discuss what is important to you but focus on the biggest issues, like monetary compensation. Don’t try to negotiate every little thing in your job offer.

Open it up to the floor

A negotiation is a discussion. After you have made your case and expressed your salary expectation, ask your interviewer’s opinion. By doing so, you are flattering your interviewer and encouraging him or her to be on your side.

If your interviewer had a negative reaction to your expected salary spiel, don’t panic. Instead, keep the conversation flowing so you can continue negotiations.

Examples of what you can say in response to a negative reaction:

“You look surprised. Did you have a different figure in mind?”

Or

“That is my opinion. I would really like to hear what you think.”

Or

“What is the company budget for this position?”

Or

“I am sure we can come to a mutual agreement that we will both be happy with. I am very open to discussing options. What do you have in mind?”

When they speak, listen carefully to understand where they are coming from and what their underlying priorities are. This will give you an idea how to respond and come to a consensus that both parties are happy with.

Considering your job offer

A lot of it is about the money. But it’s not all about the money.

Don’t just focus on the monetary compensation. Focus on the value of the entire job package; responsibilities, location, flexibility, opportunities for growth and promotion, perks, and other factors.

Also consider the interviewer’s constraints. They might be bound by budgets and salary caps. Some companies have strict guidelines for salary scale and won’t be able to give you a higher salary than everyone else in a similar position. But most companies can be flexible on non-monetary benefits like start dates, flex time, more vacation time and signing bonuses.

If they have said it is their final offer, you will need to decide if the whole job package is something you are willing to accept. This is where prior research comes in. You should already have a pretty good estimate of how much you are worth.

Regardless, ask for time to consider the offer.

There are many factors you need to consider before accepting a job offer and this shouldn’t be rushed. Say you will get back to them via email within a day or two. This gives you the chance to sleep on it, discuss it with your partner and negotiate via email later.

Other benefits of negotiating via email are that you will be able to plan and clearly document your case, avoiding any miscommunication as to what you were offered and what you are requesting.

If a company balks at paying you an additional few thousand dollars a year and turns you down because you respectfully tried to negotiate your salary, it’s not the money. There are other factors at play here.

Be willing to walk away

Most companies are open to discussion and willing to pay employees a reasonable salary. However, some companies might come back with a final offer so low that you have to turn it down.

Walking away from a job offer is never easy but you need to hold fast to what you know you are worth. If you accept a job for a much lower pay, you will only be frustrated and won’t stay long in the position anyway.

What not to say during salary negotiations

As important as it is to know what to say to successfully negotiate your salary, it is even more important to know what not to say.

Do not say these words:

  1. I am currently making $xx,000. Telling them your current salary takes away your bargaining power. No matter how much they love you, most companies will not offer you more than 5-10% above your current salary.
  2. Sorry – never apologize for negotiating your salary. Being financially stable to support your lifestyle and family is of utmost importance.
  3. No – Avoid using negative words to respond. If you hear something you don’t like, say ‘I would be more comfortable with…’ instead.
  4. Yes. Don’t say yes immediately to the first offer. Always counter-offer to see how much you can improve on it.
  5. I want – focus on the company needs instead and how you can help meet those needs.

Prof Deepak Malholtra is a Harvard professor and negotiation adviser who wrote the book ‘Negotiating the Impossible’. In this video, he gives salary negotiation advice to students at the Harvard Business School. It’s quite a long one but worth watching for additional tips.

 

How to handle difficult salary negotiation scenarios

How to answer the question: What salary are you expecting?

Don’t be the first one to put a number out there. Push back by counter-asking what their expectations are.

Here are some examples of what you can say:

“I have an idea of my salary expectations. Would you be open to sharing your salary budget for this position?”

Or

“I’m looking for a competitive job offer but I would like to know more about the specifics of this position first.”

Or

“I would like to learn more about what this role involves as well the salary and benefits you are offering for this position first before talking about my salary expectations.”

Or

“My first priority is finding the right fit. However, I am open to negotiations, depending on what your budget for the position is.”

Most interviewers are willing to share this information if asked directly. But what if they don’t?

If you are pushed into a corner and have no choice, answer the question “What salary are you expecting?” by giving them your expected salary range rather than a specific number.

Examples of what you can say:

“I have done some research and I understand that a salary between $xx,000 and $xx,000 is the average range for this role.”

Or

“My research indicates that $xx,000 to $xx,000 is a reasonable salary for this position.”

Or

“Based on my experience and my research on the current market, between $xx,000 to $xx,000 is a competitive range.”

Using the phrase ‘based on my research’ shows you have done your homework and know your value.

Important note: The $xx,000 to $xx,000 value is the upper range of your expected salary that you came up with earlier during your research, not actually the average salary for the position.

How to answer the question: What is your current salary?

This is a difficult one, especially if you are on a much lower salary than what you are hoping to negotiate for. As tempting as it is, don’t lie. Try to deflect or redirect this question.

The moment you tell your interviewers your current salary, you lose all your negotiating leverage. Most employers will not hire you at more than 10% over your last salary.

Here are some examples of what you can say instead:

“I’m not sure that the salary I am on now has any bearing on this job. More importantly, I am looking for a position that can compensate me fairly for my skills and experience.”

Or

“I am not comfortable disclosing my current salary. I think it is a separate issue to discussing my salary for this position. I would appreciate it if we can focus on the current position instead.”

Most interviewers will respect the fact that you don’t want to disclose the specifics of your current salary.

Some interviewers can be more aggressive and really push for you to answer this question specifically. Frankly, when this happens it can feel a bit like you’re being bullied. Maybe you should rethink if you want to be working for someone like that.

In any case, don’t lie. Just say:

“I am currently on a $xx,000 package and am looking for a position that pays in the range of $xx,000 to $xx,000. Based on my skills and experience, my research shows that is the market value currently.”

Or

“I am currently on a $xx,000 package but want to explore a slightly higher starting salary in the range of $xx,000 to $xx,000. My market research shows that this range is the industry average and I know I can contribute significantly to the future of your company with my skills and experience.”

How to bring up the subject of salary?

If you get towards the end of your interview and the subject of salary still hasn’t come up, you might want to bring it up.

Here is an example of what you can say:

“Thank you for the opportunity to attend this interview. I am really interested in this position. If I’m the candidate you decide to hire, I’m sure we would be able to reach an agreement on my salary as I’m open to negotiations. Can you give me an idea of what your budgeted salary range is?”

The goal is to bring the subject up in a way where your interviewer can respond in a conversational manner.

How to respond to ‘This is all we can offer’

If you ask for a higher salary, and your interviewer says “no” or “this is all we can offer”, it doesn’t mean the conversation is over. ‘No’ is just part of the process.

Use some of these examples to keep the conversation going:

“I understand where you are coming from. I really think my skills are well-suited for this position and are worth $xx,000. Can we explore a salary figure closer to that?”

Or

“I understand and I want to work with you to come to a mutual agreement. I would like to explore whether $xx,000 is possible, given what I am bringing to your company.”

Or

“I understand and want to work with you on this. I have done some comprehensive research and found that the average salary for this position is around $xx,000 to $xx,000. Is there any way we can make up the difference there?”

Or

“Given my expertise and experience, I am looking for a salary in the range of $xx,000 to $xx,000. However, I am open to discussing other alternative benefits like stock options or performance-based bonuses.”

Or

“Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I am very excited about joining your team. Based on my research, this role at other companies is in the range of about $xx,000 to $xx,000. With the value that I’ll be providing, is there anything we can do to bring me closer to the $xx,000 mark?”

Or

“Based on my research, I’ve seen the salary range for this type of position is usually between $xx,000 and $xx,000. I feel I’m able to offer unique value to your company. I would be more comfortable if we could settle on $xx,000 (or whatever higher amount). I feel my qualifications and experience reflect this salary. If you can offer me that amount, I am on board.”

If you can specifically spell out what it would take for you to accept an offer, the interviewer would be more willing to give it to you just to close the negotiations.

Important note: The $xx,000 to $xx,000 value is the upper range of your expected salary that you came up with earlier during your research, not actually the average salary for the position.

Over to you

The more you go through interviews and the more you practice negotiating your salary, the better you become.

Now that you know how to negotiate your salary confidently, go for gold when negotiating your salary at your next job interview.

If you found this article helpful, share it with your network so that everyone can communicate better to succeed in life.

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