Negotiating job offers

How to negotiate salary: 9 tips from a pro salary negotiator

by Josh Doody

Negotiating salary is stressful, and you will only get a handfull of chances try. But there are things you can do to ensure a successful salary negotiation without endangering your job offer or leaving anything on the table.

1. Make them go first

Your salary negotiation could literally begin with your very first conversation with someone at the company. That first call is often called the “pre-screen” or “pre-interview”, and you’ll usually talk with an internal recruiter at the company.

This question might sound familiar because it’s become a standard part of the recruiting process:

“Before we go any further, would you mind telling me your salary expectations?”

And you do mind!

While it’s tempting to try to figure out the best number to say, your best move is to say nothing at all. Don’t share your salary expectations (or your current salary if it’s legal for them to ask for that where you are).

This lesson from Salary Negotiation Mastery walks you through exactly how to avoid sharing your salary expectations:

And here’s a script you can use to reply when they ask for either your salary expectations or your current salary:

“I’m not comfortable sharing my current salary. I would prefer to focus on the value I can add to this company rather than what I’m paid at my current job. I don’t have a specific number in mind for a desired salary, and you know better than I do what value my skillset and experience could bring to your company. I want this move to be a big step forward for me in terms of both responsibility and compensation.”

2. Ask for time so you can plan your salary negotiation

As soon as you actually get a job offer, ask for time to consider it so you can plan your salary negotiation. This seems so simple, but there are a lot of good reasons for this tactic.

First, you need time to determine your best salary negotiation strategy based on their offer, your minimum acceptable salary, and other factors. This takes time and you don’t want to rush it.

Second, the job offer itself will often be made over the phone, but the best way to negotiate salary is over email. That’s because when you counter offer over email, you’ll be able to clearly articulate your case, make a specific counter offer, and avoid any sort of miscommunication as to what you were offered and what you’re requesting.

So when they make you an offer—whether it’s over a phone call or in email–it’s best to just thank them for the offer, ask for some time to consider it, and ask if they can send a brief summary of the numbers so you can be sure you didn’t mishear anything.

The offer itself could be a formal offer, or even a “soft offer” that sounds like, “We’re going to make you an offer. I’m thinking of taking these numbers to the Comp team, but before I do that, what do you think of those numbers?”

Regardless of what form the offer takes—verbal or written—here’s a short script you can use to reply to your job offer to buy some time as you build your strategy to negotiate salary:

"Thanks for the offer—I appreciate it! If you don't mind, I would like to take a few days to think it over before I respond. And would you mind emailing a summary of the numbers you mentioned? I don't need anything formal—bullet points will be fine."

And here’s the same sentiment in an email template:

You've changed jobs before and felt like you were leaving money on the table. You never have to feel that way again.

In this free 5-email series, I will show you how to conquer that feeling for good.

      3. Know what you really want

      Before you get your job offer, set your minimum acceptable salary (AKA, your “walk-alway number”). This is a crucial step in your salary negotiation because it sets you up for a win-win result: Either the company meets or exceeds this number, and you start your job knowing you’re paid enough to justify the work you will be doing, or they do not meet your number and you walk away knowing you made the right decision because they could not pay you enough to do the job.

      By avoiding sharing your salary history or salary expectations like we discussed earlier, you’ll give yourself the best opportunity to negotiate the highest salary possible. And by setting your minimum acceptable salary before you get your job offer, you’ll give yourself an objective way to evaluate the final result of your salary negotiation so you can make the best decision about whether to accept the job.

      It’s also important to consider what the most important components of this job offer are for you. Most of the time, it will be base salary. Sometimes it’s equity. But sometimes it could be whether you’re able to work remotely, and how often you have to go into the office. Or it might be your bonus structure.

      Just make sure you know what you really want from this particular job offer before you begin negotiating salary so that you can be sure you get improvements in things that matter to you (and avoid negotiating for things that don’t matter as much).

      4. Be aggressive

      A very common salary negotiation mistake is asking for too little. Someone gets an offer for $150,000 total compensation and the counter with $153,000 total compensation or something like that. That sort of counter is not aggressive enough, and is a great way to experience all the stress of negotiating salary with almost none of the payoff.

      So how aggressive should you be when negotiating salary?

      A good rule of thumb is to counter offer between 10% and 20% above the offer amount. Ten percent is pretty conservative, but is still enough to figure out if the offer itself left any room to maneuver in case you counter offered. Twenty percent is a pretty strong counter offer that you might consider if you’re in a strong negotiating position, and that will most likely push the envelope on their budget.

      5. Choose a specific number for your counter offer, but don’t get cute

      You might be tempted to negotiate salary by counter offering a range rather than a specific number. After all, companies often post salary ranges for various positions, right?

      The issue is that if you counter offer on a range, then the company will most likely latch onto the lower number in the range. If you say “I would be more comfortable with something between $160,000 and $170,000.”, then you have pretty much just counter offered at $160,000 because you gave them an easy out.

      If you’re thinking of countering a range, just pick the top number and go with that.

      It’s also fine to just counter on a round number. There’s really no benefit to countering $161,255. Just say $161,000. That makes the math easier for everyone.

      You've changed jobs before and felt like you were leaving money on the table. You never have to feel that way again.

      In this free 5-email series, I will show you how to conquer that feeling for good.

          6. Send your counter offer over email

          Recruiters are essentially professional salary negotiators. They extend offers every day, and their job is to close those deals. They’ve probably gone through more salary negotiations in the past month than you will in your entire career. They’re pretty good at it.

          So you don’t want to find yourself negotiating salary on a phone call with a professional negotiator who will have the upper hand.

          Instead, send your counter offer over email. Not only will you avoid negotiating salary in real-time against a professional negotiator, but you’ll have a chance to clearly articulate your case and carefully construct your request so that whoever sees it—the recruiter, the finance team, or anyone else in the approval chain—gets your counter offer in your own carefully-written words.

          When in doubt, use the salary negotiation email template to send your counter offer.

          But there are several unique situations that might call for a slightly modified version of the salary negotiation email template, so you might want to consult this article—look specifically at the table of contents up top—to find the right template for you:

          7. Be ready for a quick response

          Negotiating salary is stressful, and you’ll almost certainly want to relax and regroup once you have sent your counter offer email. But it’s important that you immediately start thinking through your next steps because your recruiter may pick up the phone can try calling you within just a few minutes of receiving your counter offer (or they might also just email you, which is much lower-stress).

          There are a few things they might say when they call you:

          1. Immediate decision

          They might say “We can do that!” Or “There’s no way we can budge.” Or “We can’t do that, but here’s what we can do. What do you think?”

          For this sort of response, you can say something like “Ok, thanks for considering this and getting back to me. Do you mind if I think this over for a day and get back to you? I just want to be absolutely sure I make the right decision.”

          For the first answer (“We can do that!”), I think it’s also ok to just say, “Great! That works for me—what’s next?” If you’re happy with the numbers, there’s no reason to extend the discussion.

          2. Request for information

          Most of the time, the first “Immediate decision” is what happens. Occasionally, they might say something like, “Can you help me understand where you got this number? It’s quite a bit higher than we were budgeting for and I’m not sure we can do that. But if you can give me some data, I might be able to make something work.”

          In this case, less is more, meaning you don’t want to get into a detailed discussion about “Market data” or your salary history and things like that. Instead, you want to answer their question with just enough information that they can talk to whomever is in charge of approving a potential increase to see about moving that process along.

          In this case, you might say something like this:

          “Thanks for taking the time to talk and considering my request—I appreciate that. A couple things influenced my request. First, based on what I’ve seen for this type of role, the offer seemed to have quite a bit of room to improve for this role and I feel the value I’m bringing to this team is better aligned with compensation at the upper end of pay for this role. And as I mentioned in my last email, I also believe my unique skillset will make me uniquely valuable to the team. Again thanks for working with me on this—I look forward to seeing what’s possible with respect to improving the compensation for this role as I make my final decision.”

          That’s pretty straightforward, reiterates the value you bring, and doesn’t open a lot of doors for counterargument.

          3. Something unexpected

          This is difficult to anticipate, but pretty easy to plan for. If they throw you a curveball and their response doesn’t look something like the first two options, you can just ask for some time to think things over and get back to them. The response is identical to “Immediate decision” above:

          “Ok, thanks for considering this and getting back to me. Do you mind if I think this over for a day and get back to you? I just want to be absolutely sure I make the right decision.”

          So you really only need two responses ready, and both are very short and straightforward.

          The general rule of thumb for this sort of phone call—when they call to talk about your counter offer—is to listen to what they have to say, get any information you might need, then get off the phone to consider their response.

          8. Don’t give up too early

          Your initial counter offer is probably 80% of the work to negotiate salary. But there’s still 20% left to do!

          Once they’ve responded and you have bought some more time to think things through, then consider how you can improve the job offer given everything you know.

          Perhaps they opened the door to a larger salary, and there could be another salary improvement available if you ask.

          Or maybe the salary seems capped, but you could get a sign-on bonus added on.

          There’s usually still value in another “ask” or two, so don’t give up too early. Think strategically about what you want and find another ask or two to make sure you get the best possible job offer before you decide whether to accept or decline it.

          9. You don’t have to say ‘yes’

          Did you notice how I said “…before you decide whether to accept or decline…” your job offer?

          This is crucial: You do not have to accept a job offer, even if your salary negotiation succeeded in improving it! Your goal when negotiating salary is to determine absolute best version of the job offer so that you can decide whether that’s good enough for you.

          If they didn’t meet your minimum acceptable salary, or if you have better alternatives, or if you just don’t have a good feeling about this particular job, you can decline the offer. This is your ultimate leverage in the negotiation!

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          You've changed jobs before and felt like you were leaving money on the table. You never have to feel that way again.

          In this free 5-email series, I will show you how to conquer that feeling for good.

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              I'm Josh Doody, a professional salary negotiation coach who helps High Earners negotiate their job offers. On average, High Earners improve their first-year compensation by $47,273 with my help.

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