How to tactfully negotiate your salary (without leaving anything on the table)
How to negotiate salary over email, in person, or over the phone
by Josh Doody
Where are you in the salary negotiation cycle?
Salary negotiation is a cycle that repeats throughout your career. You interview for a new position, negotiate a job offer, leave your old position, start your new job, ask for a raise or two, seek out new opportunities and begin interviewing and negotiating all over again.
You might do this dozens of times throughout your career, but the salary negotiation process will always be the same. All that changes is where you currently are in the salary negotiation cycle.
Use this salary negotiation guide to jump right to your current stage in the salary negotiation cycle or read it straight through and learn all the valuable strategies and tactics to get paid what you’re worth by negotiating starting salary.
Quick overview: How to negotiate your starting salary
Before we jump into the detailed process, let’s start with a very broad overview of how to negotiate your salary.
Salary negotiation starts early in the interview process, when you’ll often be asked for your current salary or expected salary. Rule #1 of salary negotiation is this: Do not disclose your salary history or salary requirements. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s your first opportunity to negotiate a much higher salary.
Once they make an offer, you’ll counter offer by sending a carefully written email that includes a strong case to support your counter offer. Typically, your counter offer will be 10–20% more than their offer, and you’ll focus on your base salary at first.
After you send your counter, you’ll prepare a script ahead of the “Final Discussion”, which is typically a 3–5 minute conversation over the phone where the recruiter or hiring manager responds to your counter offer and you hash out all the final details of your offer. This is your last chance to improve your compensation package before you decide whether to accept their offer.
Get a detailed counter offer email template to respond to your job offer.
Finally, once you complete your negotiation and set a start date for your new role, you’ll want to give your notice and wrap things up at your current company. This is an important step because you can bolster your reputation while building your network before you leave your current role.
That’s a high-level overview of the salary negotiation process. The rest of this guide is a step-by-step deep-dive to help you get the best results possible when negotiating your salary.
Just in case you’re not quite ready to negotiate your salary—maybe you’re skeptical that negotiating salary actually works, or you’re concerned about coming off as too aggressive or rubbing someone the wrong way—let’s start with why you should negotiate your salary.
And why not have a little fun with it?
10 reasons you should not negotiate your salary
Most of those reasons come from a place of fear, which is totally understandable! That’s why it’s called Fearless Salary Negotiation. This guide will who you how to replace that fear and skepticism with confidence.
Now let’s get into how to negotiate your salary.
Your salary negotiation will begin before you get a job offer. There are two things you need to do to get ready for your job offer and make sure you’re ready to negotiate the best salary possible.
If you’re expecting to negotiate a job offer soon (but haven’t gotten your job offer quite yet), there are two things you can do now to ensure a successful salary negotiation later on. In fact, you may already be negotiating your salary if you’ve been asked for your current salary or salary expectations!
How to answer the “What’s your current or expected salary?” interview question
The salary negotiation could literally begin with your very first conversation with someone at the company you’re considering. That first call is often called the “pre-screen” or “pre-interview”, and you’ll often talk with an internal recruiter at the company.
This is usually a short conversation—5–10 minutes at most—where the recruiter will explore whether it’s worth while to schedule further interviews with you for the position you’re pursuing.
And there’s an awkward moment that comes up in almost every one of these calls. You’ve probably been asked “What’s your current or expected salary?” in an interview before. That’s what you’re looking out for.
Set your minimum acceptable salary before you get an offer
There’s one more thing you need to do before you get your job offer: Set 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 compensation expectations, you’ll give yourself the most opportunity to negotiate the highest salary possible. 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 negotiation so you can make the best decision about whether to accept the job.
Finally have a job offer? Here’s how to negotiate your salary in person, on the phone, and over email.
Ask for time to consider the job offer
First things first, ask for time to consider the offer. This seems so simple, but there are a lot of good reasons to do this.
First, you need time to determine your best 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, your best bet is to reply to any job offer with an 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.
Choose your salary negotiation strategy based on their offer and your minimum acceptable salary
Remember when you set your minimum acceptable salary before they made you an offer? This is why: Now that you have the offer, you can compare your minimum to it and determine if you can negotiate with a standard, straightforward counter offer, or if you need to use more advanced tactics to try to get them to improve the offer so you can negotiate it normally.
When you get a lowball job offer
If your offer is more than 20% below your minimum acceptable salary, you’ll need a different strategy to save the negotiation. As it stands, their offer is very far away from your minimum, which means you can’t and won’t accept the offer as-is.
Before you continue with your salary negotiation, you need to see if you can get a new offer that can be negotiated up to your minimum. You’ll start with the “lowball technique”, get the best result possible, and then move on to calculating your counter offer.
When your offer is not a lowball offer
This is much easier: Just continue with the standard salary negotiation process outlined in this guide.
Calculate your counter offer
Now you have your job offer, you have your minimum acceptable salary, and you need to counter offer. But first, you need to determine how much to counter offer.
This process is pretty straight forward.
When your offer is at least 20% below your minimum acceptable salary
If you received a lowball offer and were not able to get it improved, your counter offer will be your minimum acceptable salary.
When your offer can be negotiated using standard techniques
If your offer is not a lowball offer, then your counter offer will be 10–20% above their offer. Ten percent means that you don’t have any particular reason to believe they’re compelled to hire you. Twenty percent means you have reason to believe that they want you specifically in this role and they’re willing to work to make that happen.
You can use the Fearless Salary Negotiation counter offer calculator to determine the appropriate counter offer for your specific situation.
Send a salary negotiation email with your counter offer and your case
Once you’ve determined your counter offer, it’s time to formally begin your starting salary negotiation by counter offering.
When in doubt, use the baseline 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:
Once you’ve sent your counter offer, you should immediately begin preparing for your Final Discussion. This is what most people think of when they think of “salary negotiation”. You’ll usually have this discussion over the phone—usually this call will just last a few minutes—where the recruiter or hiring manager will respond to your counter offer, and you’ll have your final opportunity to maximize your base salary and other non-salary benefits that are important to you.
What non-salary benefits do you care most about?
Most of the time, your goal will be to maximize your starting salary. But you may also want to negotiate for other non-salary benefits like vacation time, signing bonus, relocation stipend, or additional equity, and now is the time to choose your top three non-salary benefits to focus on.
Should you negotiate for more equity or more base salary?
Equity is a special case of a non-salary benefit where it might be particularly valuable or totally worthless. A good rule of thumb is that if you can put a value on the equity right now, then it might be worth negotiating. If you cannot put a value on it right now, then it’s probably better to negotiate for other things with a known value.
Writing your salary negotiation script for the Final Discussion
Once you have identified your top three non-salary benefits, you have everything you need to plan for your Final Discussion.
Here are all the inputs you need to write your salary negotiation script:
- Their offer amount
- Your counter offer amount
- Your minimum acceptable salary
- Your top three non-salary benefits
With those items ready to go, you can write the script you’ll use for negotiating your salary on your final call with the recruiter or hiring manager. This is a crucial step for your salary negotiation for two reasons:
- Although most of the heavy lifting for your negotiation was finished when you counter offered, there’s still room to negotiate and improve your offer.
- The Final Discussion happens very quickly, and you’re likely to miss an opportunity to improve your offer if you don’t have a script to guide you through the discussion.
Practice, practice, practice!
Run your script a few times before your Final Discussion. If you can find someone to play the role of recruiter, have them respond to your counter offer so you can use your script to negotiate with them. Even just going through the script a few times will give you a feel for how this conversation will go, making you much more comfortable when it’s time for the real thing.
The Final Discussion
With your script in hand, you’re ready for your Final Discussion. The recruiter or hiring manager will call you and respond to your counter offer. Because you have your script prepared and you’ve practiced it, you’re ready to go. This call will only last a few minutes, and it’ll be over before you know it!
Once you’ve finalized your compensation package and set your start date, you’ll need to wrap things up at your current company. It’s easy to gloss over this step because you’re so excited for your new opportunity, but make sure you tie up all loose ends and leave on the best possible terms!
Tendering your resignation
Once you know your start date for your new role, you should put in your notice at your current job. It’s standard to give two weeks notice, but you might consider offering to stick around longer if you need more time to wrap everything up and transition all of your work to someone else before you go.
Expand your professional network before you leave your current job
On your last day at your current job, you have a great opportunity to leave on good terms and expand your professional network. This is crucial because you may get great future jobs from your professional network. To make sure people know how to find you when they have a great opportunity for you, let them know how to get in touch.
When you’re ready to start searching again, use this interview preparation guide
It’s never too early to start thinking ahead to your next opportunity. The more prepared you are for your interviews, the better you’ll take advantage of doors that open in your career.
Check out this interview preparation guide to learn more about how to use positioning to stand out as the candidate for the job next time you interview!