Professional researching how to negotiate a better salary

You’re good at your job, you’ve proven that. Or, your great creds and experience have just landed you an exciting new job. (Congratulations, by the way.) If only the money were better. So why is it that even the most confident among us feel so hesitant and tongue-tied when it comes to asking for a higher salary? Because we don’t know how to go about it. Negotiation is a skill that has to be learned.

You Can Do This!

It turns out that job seekers are getting braver when it comes to money. A recently-released survey from Robert Half notes that, in 2019, 55% of candidates attempted to negotiate their salary when they were hired for their last job, compared to 39% in 2018. Even more revealing (and good news for job seekers) is the fact that 70% of hiring managers expect candidates to negotiate after receiving an offer.

In a tight employment marketplace where retaining good employees is paramount, we can safely assume managers and executives are equally attuned to the need to increase rewards for existing talent. That would be you. Chances are good they’d rather entertain the prospect of raising your salary rather than see you take your talent elsewhere.

So take heart! Whether your goal is to increase your current salary or boost an offer accompanying a new job, it’s perfectly OK to be proactive about achieving the result you want.

First, Prepare your Case

Asking for “more money” won’t get you anywhere. The successful, professional way to negotiate a better salary is to know what you want to earn and be prepared to back that number up with facts that prove it is a reasonable request. That shows you’re serious.

Research what others in your industry, type of position, and in your area earning. That way, you’ll have objective figures to compare to your current salary or offer. If you can, find out what the average relevant salary (or range) is at your company. One great resource is Robert Half’s Salary Guide. You can use their Salary Calculator to adjust whatever figures you find to fit your locale.

Then pull together evidence of your current and potential value as an employee. What have you accomplished so far in your career? Consider peripheral skills you bring to the table as well as those that directly pertain to your job description. A well-rounded, versatile employee has greater value because then can contribute in more ways to the company’s growth and success – the ultimate point of any position.

Focus on your current and future value to the company, not what you earned in the past. That’s old news. (In many states, employers are no longer allowed to ask job seekers about current/past salary.)

Decide What You Want

Your financial research will tell you if, or how far, your current salary or offer is from average. But that doesn’t mean you have to shoot for average. If you’re worth more, use the evidence you present to explain why. But know your goal number before you start to negotiate. And don’t hesitate to aim high. If your case is solid, you just might get a yes without having to negotiate.

(There’s actually a school of thought that says you should ask for an outlandish salary, in a semi-humorous way, because anything you agree to later will seem like a good deal to the employer. On the other hand, this could backfire by making you appear ingenuous.)

Consider more than money. None of us would turn down an increase in salary itself, but there are other ways to boost your total compensation, and some of them could be quite important for you. Would you be happier with your current salary (or a modest increase) if you could work from home a few days a week? Or get more paid time off? Or take a sabbatical? Or have the company cover more of your personal/professional development expenses?

Generally speaking, it is easier for companies to say yes to increased benefits because the cost is lower. When your salary goes up, so do employment taxes.

Be Businesslike

Too many people think negotiation should be an adversarial activity. If you approach your request for better salary in this way, you are sure to lose. So think of this as a sales presentation (which it is). Be nice, explain your case, and listen to what your employer has to say.

Paring It Down to the Core

JPMorgan Chase’s Kelly Coffey suggests you don’t need to engage in all that “hardball” negotiation. Instead, she says, you should say just two things:

  • “I would like to make $X.”
  • “What would it take for me to get there?”

As CEO of Chase’s U.S. Private Bank, Ms. Coffee knows a thing or two about getting ahead in business. She advocates this two-sentence approach for three reasons:

1. It is open-ended.

Asking “what would it take” is the kind of question that starts a conversation – in this case a conversation about how to achieve your salary goal. If you state you want more money (or ask if you can have more), the other person can only say yes or no. A yes might get you a raise but nothing like you have in mind. But the easiest answer is no. End of “conversation.”

2. It underscores your confidence and honesty.

These are two traits employers value. Making the ask shows self-confidence, and honesty in stating a desired salary amount indicates you’re serious. Coffey admits that negotiation experts usually advise against being the first to name a number – what if your employer had been willing to go even higher? However, she believes her approach gives the conversation immediate substance.

And it’s not as if you pulled that number out of a hat. You’ve done your homework and you’re prepared to back it up with facts.

3. It shows your future commitment

Coffey’s approach highlights a third important personal trait – humility. No matter how deserving you may be or how long overdue a raise may seem, acknowledging that an increase is something to be earned demonstrates that you get it. It’s not only about what the company can do for you, it’s about what you have done and will continue to do for the company. Showing that you understand the “other side’s” point of view can be very disarming. And any negotiation expert will tell you that successful outcomes depend on that kind of common ground.

In Summary

If you want a better salary and you think you’re worth it, prove it. Negotiate from a position of strength by marshaling factual data to justify your request – financial data and your own performance data. But show your humble side, too. You understand the employer-employee relationship when it comes to salary, and you want this relationship to continue well into the future. You’re a keeper, and that makes you worth more.

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