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How to Negotiate Your Salary Like a Champ

March 26, 2015
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You’ve heard that you’re supposed to negotiate your salary before accepting a job, but finding the right words to say isn’t easy. How do you get what you want without turning off your potential employer? If it’s your very first job offer, it can be especially hard to build the confidence you need to become a salary-negotiating ninja.

So we talked to the experts and came up with a few strategies and scripts to help you nail that conversation — and land a salary and benefits you’re excited about.

Negotiation approach: Do your research

The best way to end up with the salary you want is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Use tools like Glassdoor or PayScale to see what others earn in similar positions. Look up the company’s earnings statements and read news articles about how they’re doing financially. Then decide on a range you’d be comfortable making as a starting salary.

Impressing your employer is a hidden benefit to doing your homework beforehand, says Lisa Gates, a negotiation consultant and co-founder of She Negotiates. “This shows your resourcefulness, your ability to do research, to come to the table prepared,” she says.

Put it into action: Once the hiring manager has offered you the job (yay!), he or she will probably suggest a starting salary. As tempting as it will be to say, “That sounds great, thanks!,” stand your ground. You’ve got nothing to lose by asking for more.

Say your employer offered you $35,000, below the market value of the job. Respond with, “I’ve done some research and I see the salary range for comparable positions is $40,000 to $50,000. I know I have a lot to learn and that I’m new at this, but I think what would be fair for me is $45,000.”

Negotiation approach: Ask open-ended questions

Your employer might meet your request right away, or he or she will say no and come back with a different suggestion. Instead of feeling disappointed, giving in or freezing up, keep the conversation going by asking follow-up questions.

“Train yourself to ask questions before you make a concession,” Gates says. “When somebody pushes back, make sure that your lips are forming in the shape of a ‘W.’”

Put it into action: If the hiring manager says he or she isn’t authorized to give you a higher salary, it’s OK to ask why. You’ll have more information to help you move through the negotiation, according to Gates — insight into the company’s budget, or the understanding that this is a new position. Then push ahead to get your counter-offer in front of those who approve salaries. Ask, “Would you be willing to carry forward my request of $45,000 to whoever the decision makers are?”

It’s especially important to make sure most of your questions don’t have yes or no answers, which could stall the negotiation, says Farzana Mohamed, co-author of “How to Negotiate Your First Job.”

Let’s pretend that after researching the average job offers other employees receive in your industry, you expected a signing bonus. But — bummer alert — your potential employer didn’t mention one.

“Rather than saying, ‘Can I have a signing bonus?,’ you might say, ‘What’s your policy regarding signing bonuses?’” Mohamed says.

If the employer says a bonus is unlikely, ask, “How might we explore including a signing bonus as part of my compensation package?”

Negotiation approach: Look to the future

If you’re really psyched about the job but the hiring manager isn’t willing to budge on salary or other benefits, all isn’t lost. Take a deep breath and remember that you’ve done your research and that asking for more, as you’ve done, was the right move. Now let your employer know that you’d like to talk about salary again at a later date, so you’re not locked in to an amount lower than what you wanted.

Put it into action: Gates recommends responding with: “I want to say yes because it’s a great opportunity, but I’m mindful of the market value of this position. I accept your offer, but can we revisit my compensation in six months?”

It might feel uncomfortable, but keep in mind that negotiating your first job offer will make you a more attractive candidate. Employers will recognize that you know your worth, and you’ll have set a respectful, self-assured tone for your time at the company. Instead of a chore, think of it as an opportunity, Mohamed says.

“You want to construct the conversation in such a way so the other person will say, ‘I’m really glad we hired Susie. She’s even better than we thought.’”

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer covering education and life after college for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter.

Image via iStock.