3 Steps to Negotiate Your Starting Salary Like a Pro

Salary negotiation is often the most stressful part of the hiring process, both for the hiring manager and the candidate. It’s hard for most of us to talk about money with people we don’t know very well. But as a professional, it’s important for you to negotiate for a salary that’s fair, and that you can feel good about. 

The good news is that when you’re working with a recruiting agency, you and the hiring company will have salary expectations before an offer is made. And your recruiter will do the negotiating for you. 

For job seekers who are going it alone, coming prepared is the best way to take the nerves out of your next salary negotiation. All it takes is a solid foundation of research, a bit of preparation and practice, and a friendly yet firm demeanor in the meeting itself. 

Here are my three key steps to win your next salary negotiation!

Step 1: Know Your Worth (Support Your Numbers With Solid Research)

The internet is your friend, and there are multiple sources to determine how much you should be paid. Use exhaustive salary research to understand salary trends in your industry, learn more about your earning capacity, and prepare yourself for a salary negotiation.

But to use this technique properly, you need to follow two rules. First, customize. Your salary research should focus on positions with your level of experience and education, as well as the position you’re up for. Second, you must use real data. When you negotiate, you should be able to cite a source for your salary number that’s backed by facts, and real salaries from real people.

Industry: Salary ranges vary widely, but there are general industry norms you need to know.

Role & Responsibilities: Your responsibilities and title play into your salary.

Experience: The years of experience you have are crucial to your target salary. Know exactly how much time you’ve worked in your role, so you can filter data to fit.

Expertise & Education: If you’re in a high-demand field or have a highly specialized degree, you can probably ask for more money.

Location: Where the job is located may have the biggest effect on your realistic salary range. Cost of living is a huge factor, and the exact same role will have very different salaries in San Francisco and St. Louis.

Base your research in legitimate data, and you can reference your sources during the negotiation to strengthen your argument. Face it, saying “this number is based on U.S. Census data and salaries from similar professionals in this city” is going to go over a lot better than saying “well, $75,000 just feels like the right salary for this job.”

Find reputable sources and more in my salary research guide over at Mac’s List.

Step 2: Be Prepared for Effective Salary Negotiation

Once you have a salary number you want to aim for, flesh out your argument with specifics. It’s essential to make a case for the salary you want and align it with the demands of the position as well as the needs of the company. Once you receive an offer, take some time before you start negotiating the salary. Employers don’t expect you to accept right away. Buy yourself some time.

If you’re sure you want the job, start gathering the information you’ll need to negotiate the starting salary. Review what you’ve learned in the interview process to come in to the salary negotiation with arguments your future employer can warm up to!

Here are a few things you should have in hand coming into the salary negotiation:

Essential Details:

  • The offered salary for the role. If you haven’t received any salary info, you’ll have to base the salary range on your research. But most employers will give you a salary number when they offer you the job.
  • A list of benefits included in the compensation package. If you haven’t received these yet, you should ask the hiring manager to share them.

Your pitch (why they should pay you more):

  • Know the biggest problem this role will address and have a plan to solve it.
  • Be ready to summarize the value you bring, in specific terms that relate to the company’s needs.
  • Outline a plan for what you will deliver in your first 90 days. If you’re asking for more money, come up with more deliverables than what’s listed in the job description.
  • Demonstrate your culture fit. Don’t forget people hire people they like. Prepare to talk about your passion for the company’s mission, and your excitement at the opportunity to contribute and advance what they do. Showcase your personality, and remind them why they want you on the team (and why they should pay you what you want)!

Step 3: Be Positive & Creative to Win the Negotiation

When you walk — or call — into a salary negotiation meeting, it can be nerve-wracking. Just remember, you both want the same thing: to have you join the team and find a middle ground so that everyone’s happy. So try to go in with a positive, friendly attitude. Most situations don’t call for a formal, high pressure negotiation session, so don’t try to play games.

Instead, present your proposal clearly, starting with your enthusiasm to work for the company. Move into the salary research you did, making sure to cite your sources. Then, outline your plans to be a high-value addition to the team. Finally, tell them your desired salary.

As you discuss salary, you’ll likely get a compromise offer from the hiring manager. You’ll be happiest in the end if you decide the lowest figure you’ll take before you walk into the room. There’s also room for creativity. If they can’t match your desired salary, can they add vacation time, transportation benefits, or other perks that would contribute to your total compensation?

Ultimately, it’s important to agree to a salary you can actually live with, and that reflects your skills, experience, and education. With research, preparation, and a positive attitude, you’ll be ready to get the starting salary you deserve.

Contributed by Mac Prichard, the founder and publisher of Mac’s List, where he writes regularly about job hunting, leads classes on job search skills, and hosts the “Find Your Dream Job“ podcast.


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