how to negotiate for the largest possible salary before you accept a job offer.

The easiest time to get more money at any job is before you’ve accepted. You can always ask for a raise later on, but you’ll have the most leverage – and be more likely to be able to secure a bigger increase – while you’re still negotiating whether you’ll come aboard at all.

At New York Magazine today, I have a guide on how to negotiate for the largest possible salary before you accept a job offer.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Scottish Beanie*

    I wonder if we could hear from someone in government on how to negotiate their salary.

    1. LeslieKnope*

      I submitted a question about this a few months back that didn’t make it to the site. Negotiating ANYTHING (PTO, benefits start, salary) seems like such a non-starter in government roles. I certainly wasn’t able to when I accepted my last role.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        If the job is a civil service position and unionized, there may very well be no way of changing these factors for anyone. And even trying to get yourself set up at a different salary grade from the top could mean that they’d have to start from scratch to look for the higher grade candidates.

        It’s part of the trade off for these sorts of roles. (My state pension means more to me than this year’s salary.)

    2. Wonky Policy Wonk*

      It’s going to be very jurisdiction/organization specific and has very little consistency, like everything to do with government. Most of the time the guidelines for starting wages is set out in the collective agreement if the role is unionized, with a few exceptions for unique situations. From my own personal experience, sometimes there is a ~bit~ of wiggle room with the initial offer when you’re first accepting a job with government.

      When I was first hired for a policy role with a provincial level government in Canada I was told that they could only offer me the bottom of the pay scale, because it was based on years of that specific level of government experience. I found out from a coworker (after I had already accepted the role) that I could have asked to get one increment (~5%) up on the pay scale considering my substantial non-governmental related experience, but it isn’t something that is offered by HR without being asked by the candidate or the hiring manager. I’ve been interviewing for other government roles in other jurisdictions over the last year and received two offers (from two different provinces) that were wildly different – one absolutely refused to budge on coming in at the bottom of the pay scale, the other took my current government experience into account but at a discount (6 years of experience here = 3 years of experience there) and offered me the middle of the pay scale.

    3. marmart*

      In US government jobs it would be less about negotiating salary and more about negotiating what level you come in at, i.e. what portion of your work experience counts as years for that role. If you’re in a department/role that uses the AD scale instead of the GS scale, then normal negotiation rules apply for salary (but probably no negotiation on benefits).

      1. Wonky Policy Wonk*

        Same with provincial level Canadian jobs – it’s all about trying to argue your case that you deserve to be brought in above the bottom increment/step on the pay scale. I will say, based on my own experience, it also varies wildly between governments/departments when it comes to recognizing non-governmental but closely related experience or years of service with government in another jurisdiction. You really have to know someone who has first hand experience with the hiring process in that specific government with a similar role to figure out if there is any room to negotiate that first salary offer.

    4. what was my username??*

      I was actually wondering about that when you are in a unionized position (government or anything related really) with pay bands and steps that are set. I have heard that it’s negotiable which step you land on within the same pay band, if the union doesn’t specify explicitly what pay band step new people start at. the more explicit the agreement is, the harder it is to negotiate.

      Some people have no clue how it works, I remember when I was an utter newbie in a job that had steps and the HR was insisting its better to start at a lower step so you “have room to grow” which is NOT true, you want to max out your steps sooner. It’s the same type of people who say that, who wont do OT if it pushes them into a new tax bracket.

    5. Ella*

      I’m not exactly who you asked for, but in government and government-like organizations, a major key to success is making sure your resume lists all your experience and education. Position within salary band is determined by years of experience and other numerical credentials, so if you leave (for example) a three year job from 20 years ago off your resume, those years may be left out of the calculation.

    6. Lily Potter*

      I did a stint in local government a million years ago, but have friends still there. You generally DON’T negotiate salary/benefits in government. The salaries and benefits are set in stone from the very beginning and managers generally don’t deviate from them. The exceptions are:

      1) If you are exceptionally well qualified, you might be able to negotiate a starting salary above “step 1”. For example, if a position starts at $40K step 1, $45K step 2 (automatic at six months), $50K step 3 (automatic at 18 months). $60K at 3 years and $65K at 5 years – you might be able to make a case that you’re not “entry level” and should start at step 2 from day one. You’re not resetting the whole pay scale though, so you’ll still never make more than $65K in the position.

      2)For positions that are really hard to fill, a local government might be willing to throw out the whole pay scale thing and just put an employee under contract. They usually also negotiate contracts with the head of the organization (city/county administrator or manager) as opposed to there being a set pay scale for those positions.

      Really though – in my experience, negotiation of pay & benefits isn’t something commonly done in the public sector. You have to be a pretty exceptional candidate or have a rare skillset to be able to pull it off. Remember that salaries and benefits are public information in most places, so it’s much harder for governmental units to “make a deal” with a candidate since everyone else in the place (and potentially in the city!) will soon have access to knowing exactly how much the candidate/new employee will be making. Usually, this means that salaries and benefits are very much a “take it or leave it” scenario for a candidate. On the plus side, salaries and benefits in the public sector are known quantities on the front end, so an applicant knows from the very beginning what to expect in a package.

    7. Bureaucrat*

      I work in state government and hire for unionized positions. At my agency, we look at people’s experience from other relevant employment, gov or not, to set salary. I don’t consider advanced degrees, although I will throw it in my justification if I’m really making the case for someone. I usually get permission to negotiate 2 steps when I make an offer (equivalent to 5%), and I could go back and ask for more if I wanted (I did this once for a candidate where our offer wasn’t matching her current public sector salary even, with benefits to consider).

      If you are coming from another sate agency, union promotion rules apply, but it’s up to the candidate to ensure that (we can’t legally ask). For internal promotions, you get what the union rules specify, since we already know the salary. I have had an internal hire who seemed underpaid compared to our other staff and we offered her more.

      I recommend negotiating when you enter public service, since it’s rare to get a merit raise and even promotions are based on your starting salary. Some agencies won’t negotiate at all, but it’s worth asking in my opinion. You could also try to do some networking to find out what the practice is at the agency or jurisdiction you’re applying to. I will also patiently explain all of this (except the reapproval to negotiate) to candidates during the interview process if they ask!

  2. Sloanicota*

    I’m so excited to see the way this has changed just in the course of my career. It’s so much less common to see jobs posted without salaries (which I think naturally increases the salary number) and I don’t often see the “required” field for “current salary” anymore. There used to be more of an ethic that you shouldn’t ask or talk about money until the final stage, and that is far less likely now too, all of which makes the final negotiation much easier and more fruitful.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Ugh, I submitted an application *last week* that required actual salary for all previous jobs listed.

      It’s complicated by the fact that I’ve been part time for a while. So obviously I’ve put down the last FTE for each one.

  3. Trout 'Waver*

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes wages broken down by role, industry, and geographic location. It’s a good starting spot for doing salary research if you don’t have any other resources.

    Also, I hate suggesting a range. Counterparties usually focus on the the lower number in the range, so saying “$100-125k” is no different than saying “$100k”. Trust your research and throw out a single number.

    One last thing: Don’t get focused on the person sitting in front of you. For professional jobs, the hiring manager is very rarely the person you’re actually negotiating with. It’s usually an exec some where up the chain that’s making the calls.

  4. Skyrocketing Gal*

    I may be getting a promotion at my job, going from FT hourly to salary. My question is, can I use the fact that I don’t need insurance to ask for a higher salary? I have insurance through my husband, I’ve never taken insurance from my employer, and I know that saves employers thousands of dollars a year (between 6-16 thousand a year according to some sources).

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      You can … but if your husband’s situation changes, make sure that you won’t get penalized for asking for insurance later on. Better to ask if they have an opt-out on the heath insurance plan if it turns out your spouse’s plan is a better situation. Not that this would be guaranteed forever either.

    2. Sneaky Squirrel*

      You could try but so many companies are take it or leave it on benefits. There’s an understanding that employees can’t really guarantee that they’ll never need the benefits indefinitely. What would happen if worst case scenario happened and spouse lost their job?

      My partner’s company offers a stipend to those that don’t use the medical benefits. However, that was a benefit that was available to my partner outside of the negotiation and it goes away if my partner elects benefits in the future. I suspect you’ll know whether that option exists at your company since you work there already.

    3. Ella*

      Usually not, but you are allowed to ask.

      I do not recommend asking if you can negotiate based on other factors, like your past successes.

    4. The Meat Embezzler*

      In my experience in doing recruiting for lots of different companies, it’s very rare for an employer to offer additional compensation if/when an employee doesn’t utilize health insurance. I remember asking one of my clients once about it and while I don’t remember the exact language, it was something along the lines of they got an insurance quote based on the total number of employees and it didn’t affect their pricing at all if a few people opted out. I could be completely missrembering that as it was more than a few years ago. That being said, I’ve seen a small company or two (5o employees or less) that I’ve worked with give a little bit of a stipend to employees who didn’t utilize the insurance offerings so it’s not completely unheard of.

      1. Ella*

        The thing there is that opt-out money is itself a separate line in the benefit package that the employee had to negotiate with the health insurance company or broker for at renewal.

    5. GwenSoul*

      Likely not if it is a larger group, but I also wonder if that was even legally enforceable. Say you wanted the Insurance later for a valid life event (like your husband lost his job) could they say you opted out or does the law say they have to offer you insurance because of the event. Thinking this may be something the ACA would make mandatory (but not sure)

    6. Parenthesis Guy*

      Probably not, but smaller companies are usually more willing to make a deal than larger ones.

    7. Beth*

      I did, and successfully! I was applying at a small business, where insurance is usually crap quality and high cost. My then-partner, now wife, works in a unionized job for county government; the insurance I get through her is better than anything else I’ve ever had.

      I got the salary offer, went hmmm, pointed out that I had been making X at my previous job, and had needed insurance then, but now I was not going to need insurance, could that be factored in? They went up 5%. Win!!

    8. Reluctant Mezzo*

      It’s a good idea to have separate insurance *not* dependent on a spouse. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, having two companies playing jump ball seriously reduced our co-pays.

  5. Unwatered Office Plant*

    I personally was able to negotiate a higher salary from a promotion when moving from hourly to salary by bringing up the overtime I would no longer be eligible for that had raised my take home above the base annual pay they were using as a starting point.

  6. RMNPgirl*

    I just got a new job in California and they legally had to post the range. They posted the hiring range and the low end would have been fine for me, but they ended up offering me the top of the range. So there wasn’t any real room to negotiate salary. However, I did negotiate time off because their accrual rates were much lower than my current place. So I’m going to start with some time off already in my bank and still accrue at the normal rate.

  7. ecnaseener*

    Don’t make my mistake — if the interviewer asks for the absolute minimum you might accept, don’t be completely honest :P I’ve taken this question at face value a couple of times, and both times thought I was being extremely clear about “I definitely wouldn’t consider anything below X, but I’d really need to learn more about the job before I know whether I’d be willing to accept X” — doesn’t matter how clear you are, they don’t write down all that, they write down “target salary is X.”

    1. Walk on the Left Side*

      I would feel so overly compelled to ask the interviewer in return “What’s the absolute maximum you might pay for this position?”

      Honestly, if I didn’t “need” the offer, I probably would.

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    I once got a call from a recruiter who was trying to sell me on interviewing for a job that would be a title boost from where I was at the time. He told me it was a great opportunity for the right person who was really ready to take that next step in their career but wasn’t necessarily motivated by a big salary bump.

    I should have hung up the phone right then. Instead, we did an elaborate dance where I would say “I don’t want to waste your time if we’re not in the same ballpark on salary, so what’s your range?” and he absolutely insisted on me giving him a number rather than the other way around. Didn’t matter that I pointed out “well, you called me, I wasn’t looking for a job, so you tell me.”

    After a good 15 minutes of this rigmarole, I finally said, “well, I make $X now, and to move I would need a pretty significant bump from that.” He immediately got mad, told me he was looking to pay a number less than $X, and acted like *I* had wasted *his* time. Like, if you’re trying to offer approximately the market rate for a MORE JUNIOR JOB than the one you’re hiring for, maybe say that from the beginning?

    1. Blackbeard*

      It seems you have had an encounter with another Recruiter From Hell. It’s full of them, unfortunately. Block his phone number and move on.

  9. Random Academic Cog*

    When I’m hiring, I push HR and our budget approvers for the best possible outcome and then I prefer to offer my candidate the top salary. I don’t even understand why you’d want to pay people less than you can/should. I always make it clear to candidates that I’ve already negotiated with all the people involved and that I’m offering them the best we can do.

    I didn’t have to argue with my boss this last time, but usually she prefers to offer a little under so the candidate can feel successful when they bargain. I get it, but I hate that that’s even a thing. Especially since that attitude harms specific populations.

    I’ve only had one person turn me down, and in that case his dream position was dropped in his lap when he tried to give notice.

  10. Office Plant Queen*

    I’d love to hear more about smoothly negotiating both vacation and salary. PTO is as, if not more, important than salary to me, but salary is still pretty important! I live moderately far away from my family so I have to travel and take time off to be able to see them, but I also want to be able to take time off for vacation travel, out of town guests, and just regular personal time. I’d consider 4 weeks of PTO (excluding sick leave) to be the minimum I’d accept, which isn’t super common in the US. If I have to pick between the two I’d choose the vacation time, but I’d rather have both

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