how to negotiate a 50% increase in salary

A reader writes:

When I last moved jobs, I went from being a big fish in a little business to an “experienced professional” non-managerial role in a corporate environment, and I read a lot of your salary negotiation advice to prepare for what I knew would be a way more formal interview process than I’d ever done before. I came out the other end with a seriously impressive jump in salary – 50% increase plus stock options. Thanks for all the great advice!

I wrote some notes down for someone else, and I thought I’d send them in case they’re useful for your readers too.

I had a “salary expectations” chat in a phone interview with an internal recruiter, without them naming a figure. I gave them a target salary based on norms for my area, one I would have been willing to let them talk down on, as this would be my first job in this specialty. When they made an offer, it matched my request plus some really nice benefits, so I didn’t negotiate back and forth at all – I’d set expectations carefully, the company had been happy to meet them, we both won!

Stuff I did in the conversation that seemed to work well:

– When asked about how much my job currently paid, I talked about “they hired me at X, and since then my role has grown to include Y and Z, and my pay has reflected that.” I wasn’t lying, just being very indirect. I’d been being paid very well in contrast to my colleagues, but still well under what you’d expect for the role I was in.

– I used the mention of my role changing as an opportunity to tell the recruiter about the cool stuff I’d done and how it had directly grown the business, with examples: due to X we were able to take on 4 new people in [position], I hired and trained two direct reports, etc.

– Then *without naming specific figures for how much I was being paid now*, I answered the “what are they paying you now” question with “I would have to think hard about leaving for less than [amount].”

– A bit later, I checked in with “How does that fit with the range you had in mind for this position?” I got a really reassuring bit of information back from doing this, which was “it’s at the top of the range, but if we like you that wouldn’t be a problem!”

All in all, this gave me a lot of confidence in how to shape this kind of discussion with a prospective employer around what you can offer and what you’d want in exchange. Thanks, AAM!

This is great. Thanks for sharing this, and congratulations on your new job!

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. jmkenrick

    That’s great info!

    Reading this, I can see how you essentially got to the heart of the issue (how much you think you’re worth/making sure that aligns with their abilities) without getting bogged-down or sidetracked by irrelevant details (how much you’re currently being paid).

    Really appreciate you sharing this. Congrats, and best of luck in your new role!

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Yes, that was excellent. You don’t have to answer the literal question! Sure, sometimes they’ll press, but sometimes they won’t, because you’re giving them the answer they need even if it’s not the one they asked for.

      Reply
      1. Myrin

        Ugh, this is so hard for me! I’m a super literal person (I always joke about how I could never be politician what with being asked X and answering Y instead) and I really have to remind myself sternly how to answer questions that actually ask about more than just what I’m hearing.

        Reply
      2. J

        Current job asked me what my salary was during the phone interview and I was caught off guard. I balked and was able to hold out until I had done some research. I gave a number that was slightly high but they happily accepted.

        Learned my lesson and will
        make sure to know what I want before interviewing in the future. It bugged me a bit that they asked for my salary but everything else went well so I took the job and liked it.

        Reply
    2. OP

      Thank you!

      I’m sure there are some recruiters & interviewers who would shoot this approach down, but I feel like if they did that would be giving out useful information about the employers’ priorities.

      Reply
  2. Ros

    Super great advice.

    One thing that worked for me when I negotiated a 50% raise (my last job) – they were more successful at pinning me down and insisted on knowing ‘no, what EXACTLY are you making now’, which was about 25K less than I was hoping to be making. So I explained that I had started to work for a start-up, and that, in exchange for lower raises, I had negotiated quality of life issues: an extra 5 weeks of vacation per year, I would work from home 3-4 days a week, because I worked from home work covered my cell phone and home internet, etc. So obviously, while I wouldn’t expect to start at a new company with 8 weeks of vacation per year and consistently working from home, that did count in the benefits I would be giving up, and would need to be compensated for in other ways.

    The job offer I got was 24K more than the previous one, so, in my case at least, the argument worked. :)

    Reply
    1. Aglaia761

      I did something similar with my current job (just got the offer last thursday!)

      I was working as a contractor and so was making pretty good money. But of course I had to cover all of my own benefits and expenses. The HR person was awesome, after my phone screen she gave the base salary which was about 10K under what I wanted and then went over the benefits package with me and gave me solid numbers to add to the base.

      Once I got the offer, I found out that they came up 7500 on the base and I still get the the great benefits package.

      Oh and Alison, your interview questions are AWESOME! I really think they helped me get my new job. So thank you so much!

      Reply
  3. AdAgencyChick

    “I would have to think hard about leaving for less than [amount].”

    This is BRILLIANT phrasing. Well done, OP.

    Reply
    1. CM

      This is great. It makes me wonder if it would work to say, “What I’m hoping for is $X, but I wouldn’t consider an offer that was below $Y.” Or is that just as bad as giving a range?

      Reply
      1. Chriama

        I don’t think giving a range is ‘bad’ per se, just that if you give a range and then after learning more about the job it’s off, it sucks if they give you the top of your range and you try to come back and say it’s too low. I think either give an ‘optimistic’ range where the bottom number won’t be a disappointment or give a single rough number. There’s always a qualifier that the number is subject to change as you find out more about the job.

        Reply
    2. Isabel

      Yes! This is the best example I’ve ever read about how to finesse that most dreaded of interview questions.

      Paired with the advice from both this reader and AAM about bringing perks, benefits and quality of life issues into the discussion, I finally feel armed to face this!

      Reply
      1. OP

        OP here! I’m glad – that’s exactly why I wanted to write in. Every other job I’d ever interviewed for had just one interview, paid by the hour, and offered me the job on the spot… So I knew going in that applying to a multinational company it’d be totally different, and I jumped in and binge-read the AAM archives in preparation.

        A+ would definitely recommend reading a year’s worth of posts tagged ‘salary’ and spending the commute in to work thinking up good ways to phrase your work accomplishments. It was a weird way to spend a week, but I ended up coming in to the interview process really well prepared and in control of the process.

        Reply
    3. Nom d' Pixel

      That is what I came here to post. That is a really clever way of answering the question without painting yourself in a corner or seeming adversarial.

      Reply
  4. Hermione

    This is brilliant, especially the “I would have to think hard about leaving for less than…” line.

    Not that it matters, because these notes would be helpful no matter the negotiator, but I read this as from a male’s perspective. If you think it’s relevant here, Alison, I wonder if you find negotiation tactics have to change depending upon the gender of the job seeker? And if so, what would you change/ not change?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      As far as I know, the OP is a woman. I wouldn’t recommend genderizing your negotiating approach.

      My experience has been that if you act as if of course people will treat you reasonably and well (and you don’t modify your behavior in case they might not), you’re more likely to screen out the ones who won’t.

      Reply
      1. Hermione

        Oh interesting! It’s funny that I read it that way. I expected you would say something like this, but I’ve seen reports of studies that have found women being penalized for negotiating, and wondered if you thought there might be additional ways to mitigate those situations or overcome some potentially real gender biases in negotiations?

        Of course, it can also be a blessing to have these sorts of companies show that they’re crazy before an offer is taken, rather than after. I guess I’m talking about the middling cases, wherein women are lowballed or are made to feel as though they are inappropriate or weird for making the same negotiation advances that a male colleague would.

        Reply
        1. Chriama

          The thing is, I don’t know that there’s any way to mitigate that other than *not* negotiating. The best thing you can do is research the salary really well and read stuff like this to figure out how to respond to things that might be said during negotiations.

          But I think once you’ve overcome all the gender biases to be even offerred the job, you have very little to lose by negotiating appropriately — and I would argue that if an appropriate negotiation costs you the offer then it was not the right job for you.

          Reply
        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Oh, it’s definitely a real thing that happens — but it’s far from universal. And there’s danger in assuming you need to modify your behavior to account for it, because it’ll make you less effective, play into those stereotypes, etc.

          Of course, sometimes people are in a situation where they don’t have the luxury of saying “F that noise” and they feel they do need to kowtow to the possibility of that crap in order to get the best outcome for themselves in that particular situation. But then you’re left where Chriama talks about — with just not negotiating.

          Reply
        3. fposte

          The thing is, research indicates women get penalized more for *not* negotiating–the long-term financial hit is pretty significant. I think it’s also worth considering that the best-known “women penalized for negotiating” research isn’t based on real-world outcomes–it’s surveying research subjects on their feeling toward the women they’re seeing in negotiation. When it’s somebody you know, or somebody you need to value, that may have a considerable effect on the theorized penalty.

          But mostly, it’s that you’ll hurt yourself more if you don’t.

          Reply
    2. CrazyCatLady

      I read it from a male’s perspective as well! But I wonder if that’s my own subconscious biases about who successfully negotiates.

      Reply
    3. OP

      I’m a woman :)

      Using this fairly assertive phrasing was a conscious choice – I’ve definitely been more eager to please in past interviews.

      I risked it this time because I genuinely did like the job I had, and knew there’d be things I missed if I moved on. It worked really well: the conversation stayed calm and friendly, and the balance of the conversation felt like it was the recruiter trying to sell the job to me much more than me trying to sell my skills to him. I’m definitely going to try to default to this kind of vocab in the future!

      Reply
      1. Lily Rowan

        I’m also a woman, and also used “I wouldn’t leave for less than $X,” and it also worked — although not to the tune of 50%! But it worked well enough that I think my boss still thinks I took a pay cut for this job. :)

        Reply
        1. OP

          Carefully-chosen-phrasing high five!

          Something that I didn’t fit in to the letter was that the job I was leaving was my first one in the field, and I went from being hired for one specific project to ending up in charge of the whole department (and making a big difference to the company’s bottom line) in about a year.

          The company I was leaving was generous with un-asked-for raises, but I still I ended up with a lot more cool talking points than you’d expect if you looked at my paycheque.

          Reply
        2. TheAssistant

          I used that before on a recruiter, too! She asked if the target salary (she offered this number to me) was below what I was making, and while I said it wasn’t, I’d have a difficult time leaving for anything other than X. I didn’t get an interview, but I’m being really focused with my next job search and believe the kind of organization I want to work for + the responsibilities I will have in that next role are akin to X, so it actually saved us both some time.

          It was also super-empowering to have her negotiate for me with the employer before I even interviewed, and for the first time, I felt like I had power/standing in a negotiation. It was awesome! Best not-interview I’ve ever had.

          Reply
  5. Liza

    Thank you for the advice, OP! I especially liked “they hired me at X, and since then my role has grown to include Y and Z, and my pay has reflected that”–I may use that myself when I move on from my current job. (I’m very happy at my job right now, but I expect to move on someday.)

    Reply
  6. Anonymous Educator

    This is awesome, but just to be clear—this is a 50% increase from her previous salary, right? It’s not the new employer offering salary, and then the OP negotiating the offer to be 1.5 x salary?

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      Yeah, I doubt you could get the latter to happen. But it’s so common for companies to try to lowball candidates who are underpaid in their current position that it’s a great achievement that OP did what she did.

      I got a company to more than double my salary once. But I think I did that out of complete naivete — I hadn’t researched what the norms for pay were, I just knew that I was working at a nonprofit, going into for-profit, and that I had been paid close to double my then-current salary at my previous for-profit job…in a different field. It was totally naive of me to assume that I would be worth $2X to my next employer. Luckily, I was, but I think the hiring manager was taken aback when I bluntly said, “You’ll have to double my salary.”

      I think OP’s approach would have gotten me the same result with a less awkward conversation!

      Reply
      1. OP

        Thank you – this here OP is really happy with coming out of Scary Negotiation Times with exactly what I asked for, and is loving the new job.

        Ha, I’m glad that worked out! I bet that kind of confidence does as good a job as overthinking it a lot of the time.

        Reply
    2. OP

      Yes, a 50% increase on previous salary! (In real terms, probably more than that – the new job has some shiny extras like stock options and a non-contributory pension.)

      The new job was one of those that wanted candidates to name a price first, so I have no idea how I did compared to other candidates. I’m not too fussed either way! The challenge was to move from “let’s get my foot in the door of this industry” to “I’m established here and I’ve done cool stuff, pay me a good market rate”, and I think I’ve managed that.

      Reply
  7. cali_to_carolina

    I just negotiated a nice raise for my new role but was unable to dodge the “what did you make in your previous roles” question. They phrased it in a way that I could not reframe it- pretty point blank, so I was honest. I hate being backed into a corner like that. Is it ever advisable to say “that’s confidential” or “I prefer not to share my personal salary information”? Why do employers do this – it’s just not fair!

    Reply
    1. Chriama

      I think saying “my employer considers that confidential information so I can’t share it with you. However, based on [things I know about the job so far] I’m looking for something around x-y.” I think offering *a* number softens the ‘blow’ of not wanting to offer *the* number of what you’re making right now.

      Reply
  8. Dan

    At my first professional job out of grad school, I simply named the high end of my range and told them that’s what I was doing. The VP interviewing laughed pretty hard and said he’d never heard that before. I told him that I had lived down the street in years past and new how expensive it is. I didn’t want to name a low figure, get held to it, and regret it later. He told me that they make offers at market rate, and if someone names too low of a figure, they’ll get a market rate offer. (I heard later a story about someone we hired whose “bottom line” was about 50% less than market rate for the position. We paid her market rate.)

    At my current job, I named a number that I thought was doable but a bit of a stretch, and I was just given a flat no. Such is life, at least I tried.

    I hate “bottom line” numbers with a passion. The reality is that my bottom line depends on a lot of things, only one of which is what the duties/responsibilities of the position is. A huge huge part of my bottom line is what the competition is paying (yes, in each of my job searches I’ve gotten more than one offer). I’m very much allowed to turn down a low ball offer, even if it’s in “my range” to go work for someone who pays more.

    Reply
  9. Brett

    Great negotiating tactics in here. I always have trouble talking to recruiters about salary, since it takes them less than 30 seconds to not only find my 2014 salary. I think some of this can help with those conversations too (which might hopefully lead to actual negotiations some day).

    Reply
  10. NO

    I have a very similar story. I actually increased my salary by 136% this year when I switched jobs this year. My approach wasn’t quite as well thought out as OP’s and I was eventually able to get my company to name a number first, but I held firm in not releasing my current salary since I knew I was grossly underpaid. It has been completely life-changing for me, and I also work from home now and am much happier than I was working in an office. AAM advice works!

    Reply
  11. Permatemp

    Congrats to the OP on a successful negotiation!!!

    I’ve always had to job hop to get “significant” pay increases. The biggest pay increase I ever got (22%) was when I hopped from my last permanent job (where I was also only getting 3% yearly raises) to my current job. And had I not job hopped as much as I’ve done, I’d still be making 50% less than I’m making now at one of my previous positions where there were no opportunities of advancement any time soon.

    I’ve been at my current job for a year now (contract employee), and I had to recently present extremely elaborate 16-page business case to my agency just for another 3% increase in pay. This is despite the fact that I *know* many folks in my same position (with the same client doing equal or less work) are makings several dollars per hour more than me (granted, we’re all through different agencies), the fact that I just successfully lead a project (involuntarily) that helped the client account for millions of dollars they’re going to spend in the next fiscal year and fact that I *know* my agency’s contract bill rate is a 40% markup from my hourly rate. I’m not getting any benefits either.

    It’s frustrating too, because I love everything else about my job (commute, lack of stress, co-workers, boss, etc.). But I’ve heard that the client may make some of us permanent soon (which will come with a *HUGE* pay increase and some of the best benefits around), so I’m going to sit tight for a little while longer to see if this actually happens before preparing to job hop again.

    And to be fair, while I’ve been in the work force for several years, I’m also still considered “entry-level” relative to most professionals and I have still have a few more credits to complete before I officially earn my 4-year degree(s). So I do realize this could largely be why I haven’t been all that successful in negotiating decent raises.

    (BTW, I’m a male)

    Reply
  12. Brownie Queen

    “they hired me at X, and since then my role has grown to include Y and Z, and my pay has reflected that”

    Sadly my role has grown to include Y & Z along with globally recognized certification and my pay has not reflected it at all. I am paid WAY under market for what I do. I am hoping when I start job hunting early next year I can artfully dodge the question of having to state what I currently make so I can use some of the negotiating tactics to at least get myself up to market level.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Good luck, and congrats on getting that certification!

      Y’know, this depends on the timescales involved a bit, but if it was in the last couple of years your work paid for you to get certified, I wouldn’t worry too much about your current salary when you’re applying. Getting you trained and qualified is really valuable, both for you personally and in terms of the fact your work invested money in that training, and it’ll give you a big advantage as you job hunt.

      Even if you state your current salary up front, I bet it wouldn’t be that jarring for you to ask for a fair chunk extra. You’ve gone from newbie in your field to trained and tested expert! Eg: “[company] pays me [amount], and I took that role as I started out in the field. They invested in my development by getting me [certification], and that was a big part of what made the job valuable to me. Moving forward as an accredited Y-person, I’m looking for [more money]”.

      Reply
  13. Quirk

    This all sounds more or less reasonable, advice-wise.

    What I’d add is: if you’re serious about leaving your current job, shop around. Answering the question by noting that you have other offers (or are even at an advanced stage of interviewing for other job) renders your old salary irrelevant. What your employer is really interested in is what it’ll take you to get you in the door. You will likely have to springboard offers one into another to maximise returns, so it’s usually best not to jump at the first offer you get.

    If you’re not in any hurry to leave your current place, you’re very much in control when it comes to setting the terms you leave under.

    Reply
  14. Caroline

    This advice is so helpful! I will find myself in the position of negotiating salary in the next few days so this was very timely. While I see a lot of advice about how to avoid naming the amount you made at your last job, could it actually be beneficial to mention that number if it is significantly higher than what the new job is offering? It seems like it could be a good leverage point. However, both the salary of my last job and the newly offered job are below market averages. Would it be wiser just to focus on the market rate?

    Does anyone have successful experience in negotiating for a grant-funded position where there may not be much wiggle room with salary and under-paying is the norm?

    Reply
  15. sean

    As a recruiter, I give the range of the position. Then I ask the applicant to answer either of the following two questions… Where is your salary now, or how much would we need to pay you in order for you to take our position?

    Reply
  16. Jessica

    I wish I’d read this before I spoke to a recruiter yesterday. I applied for a job that was paying double my current salary. I had the relevant transferable skills, but once the recruiter found out my current salary he said most people only take a 20% jump in pay when changing positions, and implied it was greedy of me to apply for jobs that were double my salary. Instead he said he would put me forward for the position, but at a salary that was 50% up from what I currently earn. I currently work in a notoriously lowly paid industry that I love, but was considering changing industries so I would have enough money to fly back home more often (on the other side of the world, where my parents, grandparents, entire extended family live). To be honest, if the salary had been set at 50% from the outset I would have still been interested, but now I feel that I will end up being short changed if I get an offer, with no potential to end up on par with colleagues that joined from more lucrative paying industries.

    Reply

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