I have a confession to make: Salary negotiation used to scare me so badly that I never did it. Yep, me, a career counselor. I would tell people, in a vague sort of way, that they should do it, but I didn’t understand how, so I never did it myself, and I suspect I didn’t give particularly helpful advice.
So let’s start with the definition I wish I’d had years ago: a salary negotiation is simply a discussion. It’s not an argument, and you don’t need to go into it with a take-no-prisoners attitude. You also don’t need to go into it thinking that they’re doing you a great honor by deigning to hire you because once you’re at the negotiation stage, they’ve determined that they want you, above all others.
But where do you start? You start by knowing what you’re worth, so aren’t you glad you did all that work from Monday and Tuesday? You already know what you need to live on, and you know what people are making for this job in your part of the country, so you’re already ahead.
Next, wait for them to make a specific offer. If they just say they’d like to offer you the job, tell then that you’ll need the details like salary, benefits, bonuses, etc., in order to make your decision. Don’t worry, you won’t say this in a jerk way. You can start by saying you’re excited about the position, but you really do need to know those details! Once you do, it’s time for the negotiation to start.
It’s not that scary. Okay, it’s a little scary—but you’re a grown-ass adult, so you’ve faced scarier things in life.
Start with something like, “Great, thank you for clarifying that. Now, according to my research, someone with my level of experience and education is actually making between X and Y, so I wonder, is there any room for negotiation?” You can say this even if what they offer you is more than you were expecting, so have notes in front of you that include the highest pay ranges of the job title. If they say no and the offer is less than you wanted, ask for time to make your decision. You can tell them something like, “I was anticipating more in the range of Y, so I’ll need a little time to make my decision. Is there room to negotiate the benefits?” This does two things: it buys you time for actual decision-making while reminding them that you are awesome and to be snapped up immediately, and it opens up the discussion of benefits. These can have a huge off-setting value, so don’t over look them! For instance, you may be able to work from home several times a week (or all the time, these days), or you may get more vacation time. Maybe they’ll agree to match your retirement contributions, or give you a free gym membership. If those things feel like enough to make up for a slightly lower salary, then three cheers! If not, ask for at least 24 hours to make your decision.
Even if you get the best offer of your life, don’t say yes just yet! You still want to be sure you get everything in writing, especially if they seem to be offering you the moon. If you find you’ve made a verbal commitment (it happens!), try to add something like, “Of course, I still need the offer in writing.” You need everything written down because it’s too easy for employers to overlook what was agreed on in a conversation, and you’ve worked freaking hard to get offered that extra pay and those added benefits. So, get it in writing, and read it over before you formally agree to anything. The written offer should include things like when and how you will be evaluated for bonuses, what you will get paid for training, vacation and sick time, and so forth. You’re free to ask for clarification if you need it. Then make sure you hang on to that document! It won’t offer you complete protection in the even that something comes up, but it will make your arguments more compelling.
Finally, once you’ve worked your way through this salary negotiation, celebrate! This process can be so intimidating, but it’s so worth it. You are awesome, and you should be paid like someone who is awesome.