when do I start negotiating salary?

A reader writes:

I have a question about negotiation. For context, I should mention that I’m currently a teacher whose salary and benefits are set by our union contract. Negotiation hasn’t really been a factor for me in the past, because we can’t individually negotiate on much.

Next week, I have an interview for a job with our district office. I think there’s about a 50% chance that I’ll be offered the job. If they do, at what point do I actually start the negotiation? When they call to offer me the job? Do I say I’ll get back to them in a day or so and negotiate then? As an added complication, I’m not 100% sure that I actually WANT the job. I mean, I do want it, but it will take me out of the classroom and I’m not completely sure that I’m ready to do that because I love what I do.

I guess my question has two parts: At what point in the process do I start negotiating, and do I do that before or after I figure out if I want the job in the first place?

It’s absolutely fine to start negotiating when you first receive the offer. There’s no need to wait a day just for the sake of it, unless you truly do need to think the offer over before you’re able to come back to them with a counter proposal. (If you do need that day, by all means take it. You just don’t need to do so artificially.)

If you do it on the spot, you can say something like, “I’m really excited about this role. On salary, I was hoping for something closer to $X.” (Then, stop talking and wait to see what they say.)

Regarding figuring out if you want the job in the first place, ideally you’d do as much of that as you can before you get called with an offer (or more accurately, “I’d want this just if the salary is at least $X”). You might not be able to fully figure it out before then, because you might have additional questions that you need answered before you can finalize your thinking — but you should at least get yourself all the way up to that point, so that by the time you get an offer, you know exactly what further information you need from them to help you make a decision. You don’t want to wait to start your thinking until the offer comes in, because you’ll probably have a limited window of time to make up your mind — and you don’t want to spend three days thinking about whether you even want to do this work, only to have to ask a basic question about the work or the culture on day 4.

Do your thinking now, as much of it as you can.

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. Nodumbunny

    This is implied in Alison’s answer, but to be clear – decide if you want the job before you negotiate. It wouldn’t be fair dealing if you negotiated, they came through and THEN you decided you didn’t want to leave the classroom.

    1. Not My Real Name

      I think that what they offer would play in to it though. A significantly better salary and benefits might outweigh leaving the classroom, where as if the final offer is not much more it would not.

    2. Turanga Leela

      Why wouldn’t this be fair? I mean, it’s great to decide ahead of time, but I wouldn’t think a candidate was operating in bad faith if she told me her preferred salary, I offered it, and she ultimately decided the role wasn’t right for her.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Well, if someone offers you a job and you spend time with them negotiating (and they potentially spend some political capital getting the higher amount you want approved), and you haven’t even decided if you even want the job yet, that’s bad faith. Negotiating doesn’t obligate you to accept at the end, but you should at least have a pretty good idea of whether or not you’ll accept if they meet your terms.

        1. Turanga Leela

          That makes sense, and I agree that you shouldn’t negotiate without being pretty sure you want the job. I still think there’s some room to continue thinking over the offer during the negotiations. If a candidate says she was hoping for $X, I don’t think that’s necessarily a commitment to accept if the employer offers $X.

          I’m definitely thinking of a fairly short, straightforward negotiation, like your suggestion for an on-the-spot discussion. If it’s a protracted negotiation or the person is asking for significantly more than the job would normally offer, then as you said, the employer is spending time and energy on the candidate, and I wouldn’t want to do that lightly.

          1. Artemesia

            I do think if one says ‘I was hoping for X’ and they offer X that you have implied acceptance and that it is jerking them around to then pull out. I have seen this in an organization where people bend over backward to deliver on the applicant’s requests only to have them back out. A lot of political capital gets spent when the hiring manager has to put pressure on to sweeten the offer; she looks inept when she then can’t close the deal and it makes her job tougher next time.

            If you don’t want the job, don’t negotiate. If you lay out requirements and then don’t accept, you have negotiated in bad faith and you will gain a reputation.

            1. Hiring Mgr

              I don’t know…just like companies, employees can change their mind for any reason. I once accepted a job then had second thoughts and rescinded my acceptance. I don’t feel it was “bad faith”…Accepting a job is a big deal, you need to feel confident you are doing the right thing. The new employer wouldn’t want you there if you weren’t happy.. Sometimes you don’t realize that right away.

              I felt extremely guilty about it, like I was letting them down, etc. but in the end it was the right move. Of course there are consequences for that, one being that I most likely wouldn’t be able to work there in the future….

  2. Jill-be-Nimble

    I’ve got a question that’s loosely related to this (and I have to make a decision today; can’t wait for Open Thread or AAM)–I’ll put it out to the hive mind.

    I’ve been working a temp position since February. It was supposed to be a 2-week job where I would be picking up some slack during a busy period. It was at $14/hr. I left at the end of that contract (they wanted to keep me longer, but were told by the Powers that Be that the budget wasn’t there).

    Two weeks later, someone in that department fell sick and was sent to the hospital, so they called me in again at short notice. Now, I’m still making the same amount and they keep extending me every week (for 3 months now…I keep telling them I need more time because I keep assuming my job is going to end and trying to make other arrangements). They just told me that they want me for at least 2 more months. I’ve absorbed all of the responsibilities for an entire position and am basically a full-time, fully-functioning member–just at $14/hr with no benefits, paid holidays, etc. I’m also looking for a full-time, well-paid, reliable job, but it’s nice to have this here while I search.

    Would it be prudent to ask for a raise in my hourly wage right now? $14/hr in DC is not a lot to live on and I hadn’t planned on doing it for this long. I also don’t want to bite the hand that’s been feeding me, especially for this short a time.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You could say something like: “Given that this position has evolved beyond the original two-week job I was doing and I’m now covering longer-term work that’s different than when we originally discussed pay, could we revisit the pay rate for this work?”

      That said, if you’re the one who pushed them to do a more long-term extension (it sounds like you were?), then it can be a little awkward to push them to do that, and then when they agree at your request to say “ok, now pay me more because of it.” They also might have been able to agree to that because they knew what they needed to budget for, and now you’d be changing it.

      I don’t think it’s impossible to bring it up now, but you want to be sensitive to the fact that the timing isn’t as ideal.

      1. Jill-be-Nimble

        Thanks for the follow-up! I didn’t ask them for longer; I just asked them for at least a week’s notice before the end of the period so that I could make plans further in advance than the two days they were giving me.

        1. Jill-be-Nimble

          …and I only did that after they had extended me, week by week, for well over a month.

    2. Chinook

      “Would it be prudent to ask for a raise in my hourly wage right now? ”

      Jill-be-Nimble, I agree that it can’t hurt to ask but there may not be a way for your boss to give you a raise if you are working through a temp agency because the agency gets a cut of your salary. My boss wanted to pay me more because the position turned out to be more complicated than what they imagined but, because they contracteed with the agency for a set amount, at best I would only get 50 cents of any dollar more they paid (and none of thought the agency should be rewarded for doing no work and no f/u with me as I was the one reminding them to renew the contract) or, at worst, none of it would make it to me. But, if both you and your boss have a good relationship with the agency, maybe something could be worked out?

      As for me, it took me going to independent contractor status where I get the entire fee (plus pay my own payroll expenses) and my boss offered my the pay bump over that without me having to ask (she literally offered it before I could open my mouth). Why didn’t they just hire me? Because staff positions come out of the payroll budget, which a director in Canada has little influence over while contractor fees are an operating expense (like office furniture and computers) which are controlled at the manager level.

      1. Jill-be-Nimble

        Thanks, Chinook! I was wondering how that worked with the agency (this agency says that they don’t take money from our salaries, though–they say that they get a fee. I’m not sure if that’s true, or even if I’m remembering that correctly). It might not be worth it.

        1. Chinook

          The agency is correct in that they don’t take any part of your salary for their fee. Instead, they charge the “buyer” based on what they pay you (which, BTW also covers your payroll taxes, their overhead and, in Canada, your benefits for things like vacation pay and stat holidays).

          For example, when the agency offers you a job, they also tell you what it pays you (i.e. $14/hour. Canadians – always make sure to ask if this includes vacation pay!) They then offer you, as a product, for $28/hour. They cover their expense and make their profit on the other $14/hour they are making. This also means that, if they pay you stat holiday pay, they aren’t charging the customer for your hours because you aren’t actually on the job.

          Now, the customer may not realize that the $28/hour they are paying for you doesn’t go directly to you (though, if they really thought about it, that makes sense) and or that you don’t get any benefits.

          I learned this because I am often the person processing the invoices for my services and, because I know it is only business and not personal, I have asked questions that I preface by saying that I know the agency makes a profit off of my services because I am the product they are selling. In return, I don’t have to knock on doors, hand out resumes or even do many interviews at no extra cost to me. I also get access to companies and industries, like the ones I work in, that rarely hire off the street and usually work through agencies.

          As for asking for a raise, it can’t hurt to ask your agency handler. At the very least, she may be able to look for other positions for you at a higher pay rate (since your value as a commodity has gone up. Remeber – the more you make, the more they make!). Also, your current employer/customer may think you are worth paying the extra money (even if only half of it goes to you) and, because you are not a payrool expense but an office expense, they may have more flexibility to do it. Even 50 cents an hour means another $20 a week (less taxes, of course) which, when you are doing this type of job is worth a little hassle.

          1. Chinook

            Sorry to go all lengthy about the behind the scenes temping stuff, but it always fascinated me that none of the agencies really talked about this and that all the customers tried to hide my invoices as if I would throw a fit if I knew what I really cost. The reality is that, in my first placement, my supervisor loved me but not enough to buy out my contract (she became my go to reference in that city). It put everything into perspective and I never looked back.

            1. Jill-be-Nimble

              No, no–this is great! I love knowing how this stuff works. (And, add this to one more reason I’d love to go up and join Canada–I’ve been working my butt off this week to work ahead of schedule so that all the “real” employees can have a paid holiday on Monday, whereas I won’t get paid for not coming into the office on Memorial day!) I wonder if my boss even knows what I’m making…

              1. Jill-be-Nimble

                You probably won’t see this, but I asked my manager–and she said no to a raise (they have turned it down for other temps in the past). She said that I get is considered high. I was right, though…she didn’t know what I was getting! When I said “$14/hr is considered high?!” She was utterly shocked at what I was making! No idea what I’d have to do to get more other than buckle down on my job search and get out of here. Thanks again for your input!

  3. Meg Murry

    You might also be asked about your salary requirements in your interview. If so, that basically starts the salary negotiation process – because you can’t say “I want $X”, then if they offer you $X say ” oh, but now I really want $X+10%.
    Also, is the new position a 180 day or 260 or somewhere in between? Be sure to take that into account when doing your salary calculations – I’ve seen school districts offer teachers full year positions for very little more than their current salary, even though the new job required working the whole summer.

  4. Chinook

    Can I just add that, when you are negotiating, remember that you can talk about more than just salary – benefits may be negotiable or influence what you are willing to take. If you are working in the head office, does that mean you have summers off? If not, what type of vacation time do you get? What are your health benefits and your costs? What other “perks” do they have? Personally, I would take $36,000 a year if I was guaranteed 4 weeks off (plus sick leave), a good health plan with no co-pay and free transit passes and a great coffee machine (for example) but not that amount if I get 1 week PTO, high copays and no office coffee at all. Coming from a union environment, it is easy to forget that there are other things besides cash that can be used to pay for our services.

    And, don’t forget AAM’s advice to “stop talking and wait to see what they say.” I got my first pay raise with extra benefits purely because I was at a loss of words when my boss told me he didn’t want to lose me and he would move me from P/T to F/T. He thought that wasn’t enough and threw in more cash and extra benefits. I was just shocked that he thought I was worth keeping (because he wasn’t good at verbal feedback – think stereotypical techno geek).

    1. Traveler

      Does that ever come up in interviews when they show you around? The coffee machine?

      1. Chinook

        As a temp, I remember the places with the fancy Keurig machines and willinging went back to them because it was like an extra $4 a day post tax (because a penny saved is a penny earned) and really resented the teacher staff room that had really crummy drip coffee and wouldn’t share it with their subs. To me, it was more a sign of how they valued their staff.

        Would it make or break me taking a job, probably not but it could be the final straw.

        Why do I think Traveler has this image of me insisting on a post-interview office tour that includes checking out the staff room?

        1. Traveler

          Haha. No image. I was just curious. I’m not a huge coffee person, but I’ve had apartment tours where they sell their downstairs anytime free starbucks machine hard! So I was wondering if it ever came up in interviews – like look at this coffee we have for free (or snacks or drinks etc.). Bonus perks like you said, that can also potentially lead to extra money savings. It never has in any of mine, but I was curious since you brought it up if it ever had.

          1. Chinook

            Ironically, a perk that would have sold me on a job but wasn’t mentioned until I was there was free transit passes. Everyone who was hired, including brand new university grads, pointed out that this would be a selling point because that would be after tax savings plus, because of how they are issued (as a taxable benefit), they are also a tax credit at the end of the year.

            1. Onymouse

              Wouldn’t the tax credit be worse than a tax-free benefit? You’d get taxed extra for the benefit, then claim a federal credit, which comes off the “bottom” of your taxes rather than the top.

              1. Onymouse

                Sorry, just realized that I missed the point and focused on a trivial detail. I tend to do that sometimes.

  5. TheSnarkyB

    What other factors do people here find to be critical at the offer stage? Obviously you’d want to have evaluated the workplace as much as possible and you need to know something about negotiating salary, but what other factors are important/which questions would be critical for someone to ask at the offer stage, especially if they’re weighing multiple offers?

    1. Traveler

      What the hours look like? Do I get my own office? What does paid time off look like? When do my benefits kick in (assuming you know what they are)? Are you providing relocation expenses? Paying off my contract from my last job?

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ha, I am literally writing about this for U.S. News right now — as in, I just wrote the first few sentences while you were typing this. I’d say details of the benefits plan, when those benefits kick in, and making sure you’re really clear on the details of the role you’re being offered. Hopefully you’ve already evaluated the rest of it (culture, manager, etc.) during the interview process.

  6. A.

    What if the job listing listed a “starting salary?” In that situation is it supposed to be understood there’s no negotiating, or can you still negotiate? That’s probably a silly question, but I’m genuinely curious if that makes a difference at all.

    1. Traveler

      In my experience this is something you can always ask to clarify – they will usually tell you if its firm or “depends on experience”. With the exception of government jobs, where $XA – XS means you’re only ever going to see $XA, unless you’re a very special snowflake.

  7. Anony

    Just curious…what about negotiating title? For instance…position is listed as Office Manager but the responsibilities really fall into a more HR or other type of role.

    Are there any tips in this situation or should you assume title is not negotiable?

  8. OP

    Thanks for answering my question.

    The things I want to negotiate on are more related to benefits than salary; they posted a salary range with the job listing (and it’s a pretty standard salary range for positions at this level within the office) and it’s definitely in the neighborhood of what I’m looking for–and what will make it worthwhile to give up summers off…

    My two big things for the negotiation center around leave time: both how much I get each year and the fact that I want to keep the leave that I’ve accrued. We get a certain number of days per year, and it continuously rolls over. At the moment I’ve got about 7 weeks, and I don’t want to lose that. The problem is that it’s all sick leave, which is the only type of leave that we get as teachers. Practically speaking, we’re allowed to use it however we like–illness, doctor’s visits, waiting at home for the plumber, etc, and since we can’t exactly take a week off to go to Bali in the middle of the school year most of us who have been around for awhile tend to have a lot of it from year to year. But the leave system doesn’t work the same way in the district office so I’m not sure how that piece will go, or if it’s logistically possible. But it’s worth a try.

    I’m strongly leaning toward taking the job if offered. I’m not 100% sure that the timing is right, but this particular job is fairly specialized and difficult to come by. If I pass it up, I don’t know when I’ll have a similar opportunity. But first things first, I suppose–I have to get an offer first!

  9. Sarahnova

    Alison, I thought you might like to know that I just negotiated salary for the first time in my life, based partly on your advice, and received a nearly 10% increase on their initial offer, which I was thrilled with :) This has been my first proper job hunt – I’ve gone straight from one job to another in the past – and your advice has been super-helpful the whole way. Put me down as another AAM success.

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