all your questions about negotiating salary, answered

usnewsNegotiating salary for a new job can be complicated and stressful. How do you know how much to ask for? What if you ask for too much and the employer pulls the offer? When do you even bring it up and what do you say?

At U.S. News & World Report today, I answer all these questions and more. You can read it here.

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Trout 'Waver

    I think the biggest issue people have with negotiating salary is the power differential. Employers often start the negotiation process by asking for salary history or expectations before during the application stage. Potential employees feel boxed in, or are afraid to negotiate when they’ve already provided salary history and expectations. Employers rarely post the salary band in job postings, and it’s virtually unheard of for employers to tell candidates what they paid the last 5 people to work the job.

    Reply
    1. all aboard the anon train

      Definitely. I’ve had some interviewers drop me from consideration because I refuse to tell them my current salary, and it’s been frequent enough that I’m wary of giving any answer. I live in MA, and I know there’s a law in 2018 to ban asking for salaries, but I don’t think that’s going to help. They’re just going to find other methods of gaining the upper hand.

      I’ve tried turning it around on employers by asking what range they have set aside, and a lot of them don’t like that either. It’s frustrating because I wish employers would save themselves and candidates the hassle by just being upfront about the salary for the role.

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      1. K.

        I had a call with a recruiter in which I asked what the position paid, and he was like “They’re really open.” And I mean … really open, like, $1M/year is reasonable? I doubt it. Budgets exist. Let’s not waste each other’s time, shall we?

        (I got an answer by asking if they’d given him a range. Which of course they had.)

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        1. Specialk9

          I’ve been so appreciative of recruiters who have just told me the range upfront. One position they even gave parameters for that range – X for certified junior teapot professional, Y for certified matter teapot professional. That felt really calm and transparent, like they weren’t trying to hustle me.

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          1. K.

            Absolutely! It’s business – if either one of us is off base with salary, let’s just get that out of the way so we can both find stuff that fits us better! I’m much more confident about asking about salary up front than I was earlier on.

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          2. Elfie

            I know I’m late to this thread, but I’m always surprised by your experiences in America. I’m in the UK, and I’ve held lots of jobs in the IT industry. Maybe it’s location-specific, maybe it’s industry-specific, but the vast majority of jobs I’ve applied for I’ve known the salary range before I even applied. If I didn’t know the salary, I asked at the telephone interview stage – the only place I can remember not getting an answer directly, I was already paid obviously way more than they were offering (it was an engineering company, and IT salaries are pretty decent, whereas engineering salaries are quite low for the skills and experience an engineer brings to the table), because I named my range, and they immediately brought the conversation to an end, saying I was well out of their range. I can’t imagine the secrecy that surrounds your (collective) experiences! It means things aren’t as obviously unequal, as well – it doesn’t matter what gender, or race, or religion or anything you are, they’ve advertised their range upfront. Yes, a man might get the high end and a woman might get the low end, but it shouldn’t hamper anyone for the entirety of their career the way it sounds like it does over there.

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        2. Greg

          FYI, there is research that shows asking for a ridiculous amount is actually an effective negotiation strategy, due to the “anchoring effect”. So when they say, “What are your salary expectations?” you say “How about $1 million? … ha ha, just kidding. I’d really like to make $X,000.” Statistically, you’re likely to end up with more than if you had just asked for $X,000 off the bat.

          (Of course, that wouldn’t have worked in your case, because you need to do it with the hiring manager directly.)

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      2. DecorativeCacti

        I don’t know for sure if I have been dropped because I didn’t give them my salary history, but there have been a few listings that asked for that in the cover letter and I only gave them what I’m looking for. I’m underpaid now, why would I take a new job to continue being underpaid?

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      3. Cheese Sticks and Pretzels

        I have been having the same issue. I am paid 30k+ under market so really do not want to disclose my current salary. I continue to provide a range of what I am looking for and asking if that fits with what they are offering. I then still get the insistance they need to know my current salary I am never going to get ahead.

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        1. all aboard the anon train

          I’m looking to move industries, so I think the current salary question is particularly dumb in my situation. My industry has lower salaries than the industries I’m looking at, and I don’t think it’s fair to base a new salary on a completely different industry’s standards.

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          1. Bea W

            There are essentially 3 types of companies someone in my field can work in. The gap between them in terms of salary is HUGE (my pay doubled). For people making the move from one type to another, it doesn’t make any sense to ask salary history, particularly if they are going from the lower paying sector to the higher paying one. The pay offered to any qualified candidate should be what the market and company deem the job is worth to them.

            It does make some sense to discuss a current salary it when the movement is in the other direction, if only to make sure the candidate is fully aware of and okay with the scope comparative pay cut for making that move.

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        2. ThursdaysGeek

          I’m well under too, and the wording I would use would be to give them my current salary, as requested, and then reiterate that I’m currently underpaid, which is the reason I’m looking, and I’m not interested in changing jobs for less than X, where X is in that range I am looking for.

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        3. NerdyCanuck

          I’ve been dealing with this as part of an industry switch – if they’re absolutely going to insist, what I’ve found works is to give them a number so they can check whatever box they have to, but to make it clear first that you know you’re underpaid and thus aren’t basing your expectations on your current salary.

          That might keep them from lowballing you.

          Reply
      4. Bea W

        I had a call during my search where the first person I talked to assured me the range the company was willing to pay was up to 130k which is on par with with industry pay, and which made me feel better about moving forward because my experience has outsourcing companies like the one I was talking to were unwilling to match my current industry. When I talked to the 2nd person, who was supposed to be the guy going over all the HR stuff and salary requirements and he asked about my current pay and what I was looking for, I felt I was safe saying upfront what I was currently making, which was a typical industry 6-figure salary and within the range I was told in the first conversation. That guy ended the call abruptly, and I never heard back form anyone after that.

        I did have a really positive experience with speaking about salary, and that was with the job I ended up taking. They gave me their budget up front, and everything was transparent. It was especially important in this instance because as a grant funded project, they couldn’t offer the ridiculous paycheck I was used to. The way they handled that process and played fair during both the initial interview stage and then during negotiations, made me a lot more comfortable with accepting their final offer. The result was two parties that were dicking around with each other starting the process and able to make conscientious choices about moving forward.

        I live in MA. I can’t wait for this law to go into effect. Part of that law requires employers to state the numbers upfront. So while I am sure they will still try to get people to disclose their salary history or get at it some other way, I feel like having that information upfront will put candidates in a much better position to make decisions about moving through the search process.

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        1. all aboard the anon train

          Honestly, I feel like not many people know about the law so there’s still going to be a lot of recruiters or HR people who don’t state the numbers up front or who ask about current salaries.

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    2. designbot

      God I wish that was a thing. If nothing else, knowing what they’ve typically paid for this would give me trend lines on them the same way they have a trend line on me! If they pay each successive person less, I’d want to ask if the business was doing okay. If I was far afield from what they typically pay, I’d want to know why. There are times when that’s appropriate–if I’m being promoted into a role that the last person occupied for 20 years for example–and times when it requires explanation.

      Reply
  2. Red Reader

    I currently work a regular job and also, for my same department, work a separate role 10 hours per week, for which I receive a second paycheck aside from my regular job’s salary. (This has been the case for a year and a half.) I interviewed for a promotion a little while back, still within the same department, and if offered that position I would no longer be able to continue to work the separate role. Would it be reasonable, in the salary negotiations, to reference the loss of that income and point out that I would like the promotion salary to be at least equivalent to the total I make from both positions that I currently work?

    I know generally the rule is not to base a salary negotiation for a new position on one’s current salary, but a chunk of the range for the promotion position is at a point where it would be a raise over my current salary but a net loss when the second position is factored in, and since it’s all within the same department/reporting to the same director, I wasn’t sure if that would make a difference.

    Reply
    1. hbc

      I think it’s a very fine line. I talk to far too many people who try to let personal circumstances influence what we pay them, but I don’t mind if it’s more of an explanation of their thought process and why they won’t accept the job below a certain amount or why they’ll be looking elsewhere. So if I made an offer for $X and you said you would have to have $X+Y to take the job because of losing the side gig, I’d take a look at the budget and see if it’s doable/justified. But I still have to believe you’re worth that amount, and $X+Y should be reasonable for the job and not outside a range I already provided.

      Also, they already know you pretty well, so if you make a “mistake” in this regard, it probably won’t hurt you.

      Reply
      1. BRR

        I went back and forth and I’m happy you replied with this being a very fine line because I agree with that. I think I would lead without mentioning it but because this all falls under the same director I think it’s ok to say that the new job wouldn’t equal the two current salaries. I would mention this last for non-internal positions as well.

        Also if Red Reader is non-exempt, I wonder how overtime pay comes into play?

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        1. Red Reader

          I am not — my main job is (correctly) salaried exempt, and the side job is paid at a straight hourly wage with a weekly cap on hours.

          Reply
      2. Red Reader

        Based on the range they listed, anything over the bottom 5% of the range would be a raise from my main job alone, and anything over the bottom 15% of the range would be a raise from both jobs combined. So I’m definitely not looking to price myself out of their planned range, for sure.

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    2. Nan

      It would make sense to me, but in their eyes it may not. They are going to have to back fill that other spot, and pay that person.

      If you had a second job at the llama washing facility across town, and quit it to take the new full time job, would you ask them to make that up as well? That’s not their responsibility, right?

      Reply
      1. Red Reader

        nah, definitely not — but that’s why I was asking if it was different since in this case both jobs are for the same department of the same org :)

        Also, FWIW, they would not be likely to backfill the secondary position — basically the supplemental job is “help out the cream pitcher polishing team up to 10 hours per week,” and if I choose to only do 8 or 5 or 0 hours in any given week, the official cream pitcher polishing team will still do their normal allotment as assigned. Any cream pitchers I polish during my time are just bonus, I’m not part of their official head count. (I think there are five of us who help out the pitcher polishers, and I’m the only one who regularly maxes out my 10 hours, everyone else usually does 3-8/week.)

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        1. Nan

          ah, that’s different. because it’s sort of optional, I don’t think they’d add that into the new pay. But if you’re in good standing with them, it doesn’t hurt to ask!

          Reply
    3. designbot

      It seems like it makes more sense for an internal position than an external one, since they know the situation. On the other hand, I’d just start with what you’d like to be making without justifying it, and see if it even requires any explanation.

      Reply
    4. CAA

      Couple of things … are you exempt in the first job and hourly in the second job? Are both part-time and just at different hourly rates? It can be sketchy to work two jobs for the same employer, and they should be really careful about how they are doing the accounting for this as you could end up entitled to lots of overtime pay if a labor board decided you should be treated as a non-exempt employee working a single job.

      To answer your question, I think it’s fine to bring up the potential loss of income and try to negotiate for the full amount at the new job. You may not get it if they think that you should fall in the lower part of the new position’s salary range based on your skills and experience and when compared to others in that role. Also, they are presumably going to have to pay someone else to do the second job you do now, so that expense doesn’t go away just because you got promoted.

      Reply
      1. Red Reader

        full-time salaried exempt (appropriately) at main job, hourly at a straight wage capped at 10 hours/week at the second job, and both jobs have completely different responsibilities/roles/managers within the department hierarchy and don’t reconnect for another three levels up the org chart. (The policy on supplemental work was signed off by the general counsel and the CFO, so my assumption is that they’ve crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s? I suppose that could be optimistic of me. :) )

        Reply
    5. Where's the Le-Toose?

      I think that the fact that it’s for the same department and same director doesn’t change the analysis and I think you shouldn’t include the loss of income from your second job in the salary negotiation.

      Salary negotiations should be a back and forth about what the market will pay and your skills vis-a-vis the market. If their offer is below market, then the dialog should be about increasing the offer to be at market rates, not your loss of income. Also, if your skills justify an above market rate and they offer you only a market rate, you want the dialog to be about your skills, not the loss of your secondary income. But if the offer is a great offer for the market and the skills you have, then negotiating with “but I’m giving up this other income” is going to appear out of touch.

      Reply
    6. Red Reader

      Thanks for the input, folks, y’all have given me a lot of good points to ponder :) (Of course, now I just need them to make me an offer so I can see if it actually matters. :) )

      Reply
    7. Specialk9

      Yes of course! The company pays you X+Y, if they’re taking away Y, then new salary Z has to be at least X+Y. I’ve always been paid from different funding streams, and the total is my salary. They can’t offer you a step up for less money! :)

      Reply
  3. Many Emails

    I’d love it if you’d do a post similar to this one, but with the focus on independent contractors/consultants, especially with tips on how, and if, you should raise your rates.

    Reply
  4. Samiratou

    Tangentially related, for those who have experience as contractors or with contracting companies–what are the usual markups contract agencies charge? Couple examples–if we laid out requirements for a contractor and were quoted $40 an hour that we would pay, what is the likely rate the contractor would be paid? Or my husband, who is job hunting, gets quoted $27 an hour originally, how much is the agency likely quoting to the employer? Is it usually a percentage? $x an hour addition? Something else?

    Having worked with some long-term contractors at my company, I know they sometimes have been able to negotiate raises with their agencies that don’t change the rate my company pays, so presumably there is wiggle room there, if it’s worth it for the agency to take less of a cut vs. having to place someone elsewhere.

    Just curious if anyone has any experiences to share, as I find this stuff kind of interesting.

    Reply
    1. CAA

      It varies. If you are paying $40 to a contracting company, their employee is probably earning between $20-$25/hr. Remember that the “contractor” is a W-2 employee and the company has to pay their half of the employment taxes from the markup. In addition, some contractors get some benefits such as paid holidays, and if your state or city requires paid sick leave, that has to come out of the markup as well. The rest of the markup goes to pay for their own staff (recruiters, admin, payroll), their office space and other business expenses and finally profit.

      Typically if your company has a lot of contractors from one agency, they’ll be more open to negotiating individual rates with their employees, especially those who’ve been doing a good job for a long time. They don’t want to lose all of your business because one or two of their people resigned over a few dollars an hour.

      Reply
    2. Trout 'Waver

      The cut the contract agency takes depends on terms, level of work, benefits provided by the contract employer, and a host of other variables. Different contracts between the contract agency and the company can be set up as percentages or $X additions.

      For my STEM field, an entry level worker with a BS degree could expect to receive $23/hour, with a total cost to the employer of ~$35 per hour.

      The only times I’ve seen a contract agency agree to pay a worker more without passing the cost on to the company is when the contract agency is in competition with other contract agencies. Your husband should ask for more if the market allows it, regardless if that dollar comes from the agency or the company.

      Reply
    3. ThatGirl

      I had an infuriating experience this summer that’s sort of related to this.

      I was laid off in March and looking for full-time permanent positions, but willing to consider contract work. I got an offer for a contract job that would’ve been an hour-plus drive for me in traffic, but the pay rate the recruiter mentioned was a good $10/hr above what I’d been making, so I was willing to strongly consider it at least on a temporary basis.

      And then, after the offer, the recruiter mentioned that no, they were actually going to pay me $10 less an hour – about the same was what I’d been making, but with no benefits, a short-term contract, and a longer drive. After some back and forth I decided it was not worth it and passed. Ironically a former co-worker of mine ended up getting the job instead, and she told me there was more wiggle room than I’d been told. But she lived a lot closer and was a better fit anyway, so it was not a big problem for me. (And I ended up with a much better job close to home.)

      Reply
    4. LadyKelvin

      My husband works for a big name government contractor, the rate they charge the government is almost twice his hourly rate. It pays for his vacation, overhead, etc etc etc and they will float you about a month if you don’t have any billable work so it pays for that as well. It allows you a chance to find a new contract to join if yours is no longer available.

      Reply
    5. Brett

      Roughly double for IT contracting. But I have learned that a lot of contracting agencies will badly miss the mark for specialities outside their comfort zone.

      Reply
  5. Marisa

    Allison! I recently negotiated for my job I started a few weeks ago, and I used your interview guide and raided the archives for salary negotiation scripts! It worked great, it was the first time I negotiated and felt more in control than the person making the offer. I mentioned it over at The Billfold, but figured I should thank you here! Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Not a Real Giraffe

    I’m in the process of interviewing for a role where the hiring manager was really upfront about salary and what’s realistically possible for her in terms of being able to negotiate with me money-wise. (Basically, nothing.)

    If an offer comes in, I won’t be able to negotiate more money, but I would like to negotiate for perks like working from home. How do you recommend approaching that?

    Reply
    1. BRR

      Do it when you get the offer. I would just ask if it would be possible to work from X number of days per week, Mondays and Fridays, etc.

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    2. Greg

      Yes, definitely negotiate the entire package as a whole. The more moving parts you have, the more you can come to creative solutions.

      I would recommend preparing ahead of time a list of every possible aspect of the job that you might negotiate: base, bonus, benefits, vacation, start date, time before next salary review, etc.

      You might not bring everything up — for example, if you know they have a fixed vacation policy for all employers, no point mentioning that — but you want to give yourself as much room to maneuver as possible. And pay attention to how they react to all of your requests. If, for example, they care a lot about start date, that gives you leverage (“OK, if you can meet my salary ask, I can promise you I’ll be ready to start on the 15th.”) Alternatively, if they don’t care as much about something that’s important to you, you can bring that up at the end of the negotiation and pocket that concession as a way to get to yes. And, of course, that also means as part of your prep you should think about how much value you place on each aspect of the offer.

      It’s a tricky dance, and there’s no defined playbook, but do your homework, be flexible, and be creative. Good luck!

      Reply
    3. Not Yet Looking

      Be certain to get it in contract writing if they agree. My wife once negotiated for an extra week of vacation “under the table” (she was salaried, so it’s not as bad as it sounds), but then, big surprise, she lost that perk when her manager changed.

      Reply
  7. LadyKelvin

    I negotiated salary by email for my current job. My offer is more than my equivalent federal employees but they get 12% untaxed COL on top so I asked for more to make my taxed salary equivalent to their total salary. Unfortunately we are apparently also payed on a pay scale and the salary was non-negotiable, but I did get moving expenses out of it. So even if you don’t negotiate salary, sometimes you can negotiate other benefits.

    Reply
  8. Sled dog mama

    I changed jobs almost a year ago (side note: holy cow I can’t believe I found AAM a year ago) and negotiated salary for the first time.
    I now count myself really lucky that my profession does an annual salary survey that breaks down pay by education, certification, years of experience etc. so it very easy to see what the “national average” would be for a person with my education and experience, then adjust based on COL. The company came in pretty low on the original offer and I was able to respond that they had advertised compensation in line with the salary survey so I was thinking closer to $X than they were offering, they came back at $Y which was what I wanted.

    Reply
  9. Brett

    Something I ran into with last job…
    I was contracting and the contracting company had no clue what the going rate was in my specialty so they would only go based on my way-below-market previous public sector salary. This was not just them, this was a coming thing for agencies in our area. The billing rate they ended up asking for was less than 50% of the market rate.

    In that situation, where the employer has no understanding or a poor understanding of the market rate, how much effort do you use to educate them on market rate? Or do you try to negotiate more based on their budgeting, recognizing that you might have to refuse if their budget is no where close?

    Reply
    1. Bea W

      I ran into this with an agency recently. I was giving them market rate for my area, which was where they were attempting to hire people, and they thought I was insane and should be willing to accept much less. By much less we’re talking $85/hr for a contractor vs less than $60/hr and as low as $48/hr. I gave them that talk exactly once, and then had nothing more to do with them. They clearly did not understand the market they were working in or maybe didn’t want to understand it. I had plenty of other options in agencies that were not completely clueless. So wasting energy on the one that didn’t get it wasn’t worth it.

      Reply
  10. Anon por favor

    I negotiated salary for a position a couple of weeks ago. The initial offer was very good but I took a deep breath and thought about how things were at my last org–the top four performers were women but three men had the highest salaries. Grrr. “I’m doin’ it for the ladies,” I told myself!

    I presented data on two other positions where I had been interviewed recently (both posted salary ranges) and I discussed cost of living in my city. I got more than what I asked for. Everything was so respectful and smooth–don’t be afraid to ask!

    Reply
    1. The Grammarian

      That’s amazing, and I love that you thought to yourself “I’m doin’ it for the ladies.” I think it really does help.

      Reply
  11. Help!

    I actually have a question not answered here: when is the right time in the offer process to negotiate salary? I realize you could negotiate in the initial offer phone call, but I tend to think that puts a damper on the positive mood. I’m job searching now and my current plan is to thank the person for the offer and express my excitement, then ask them to send over information about benefits so I can review. At that point I’d look at everything comprehensively and ask to schedule a call to discuss final details (where I ask for the number I want). What do you guys think? Basically it feels odd to respond to the initial news of the offer with “that’s great but I want x.” I lean towards keeping the positive momentum on that initial call.

    Reply
    1. Zombeyonce

      What you’ve laid out sounds like a good process. I wouldn’t be hesitant to negotiate salary on the initial phone call, but only if I already knew about the benefit package. Otherwise, you’re not working with a full picture of the situation. Most employers wouldn’t balk at negotiation when they offer you the job. There’s no reason for it to dampen the mood; you want your final interaction with them before you start to be the one that’s the most positive as everyone has agreed to wages, benefits, start date, etc.

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      Sounds good. Make sure you look at 401k match rate (or equivalent)… Seems unimportant, but it’s cold hard cash!

      Reply
      1. Help!

        Yes!! This is a big one for me because I’m currently getting a 12% contribution from my employer which is almost unheard of. I know I likely can’t replicate that, but something more than a 3-5% match would be nice.

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    3. Greg

      Yes, this is a good strategy. The thing about negotiating is that you always have to be prepared for yes. So (assuming you want the job) you shouldn’t ask for anything unless you know what you’ll do once they agree.

      Also, I once got an offer and said, “I need some time to think about it … I’ll be honest, that base salary was a little lower than I expected.” So I put it out there but then didn’t negotiate further. By the time we did sit down to hash things out, they had come up with a compromise that was closer to what I wanted.

      Of course, they were a good company who was fairly easy to negotiate with. It might not have worked as well in a different context. You really have to read the room.

      Reply
      1. Help!

        This is a good point–to be ready to say yes. A couple places I’m applying I know the benefits because they’re publicly available (universities), but others I have no idea about the benefits until the offer. Also, if one of the companies comes back with an offer, I’d want to let the others I’m in process with know about it in case they were close to an offer as well (or so they can fast track the “no” if it’s a no).

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  12. Final Pam

    Thank you for this timely post! I have a negotiation call tomorrow and I’m actually looking forward to it.

    Reply
    1. Final Pam

      That was the easiest $3K more dollars a year I’ve ever asked for in my life. Makes me wish I asked for more!

      Reply
  13. Westward

    As someone in a field that is usually temp-to-hire, I find it frustrating to weed through the (purposely) vague information about how much of a cut the temp agency is taking from the capped salary allowance. The less the temp agency can get me to take, the bigger their share. It’s two levels of people with interests counter to me, instead of one.

    Reply

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