How To Negotiate Salary Without Losing The Offer

By Danielle Bilbruck

You nailed the job interviews with your experience and charm. Now, you’ve got the offer in hand…congratulations.

But is the salary what you were expecting?

Negotiating for a better offer can be scary and leave you feeling caught off-guard, even for the most prepared people. Here are some definite do’s and don’t’s when it comes to getting the offer you want:

  • Do research before the interviews. Know about the role and the company before you go in. Salary averages are typically documented in a range. That range may be wide, depending on your location and the employer. The employer may pay toward the top or bottom of that range, and you should know that going in.
  • Don’t disclose your current salary unless it is absolutely mandatory. Memorize and practice this phrase in case you are asked: “I understand you may be interested in my current salary, but this position is different from my current position. I am much more experienced going into this position than I was in my last position, so I would like a salary that is commensurate with my current qualifications and the current position.”
  • Don’t offer up your salary figures in the interview process. Memorize this phrase, “I’d like to have a complete understanding of the role, the expectations, and what you are willing to offer before I make a decision about salary.”
  • Do know what you are willing to accept. Identify your “floor” and “sweet spot” before going in. Know what you want to make (sweet spot) and the lowest number you are willing to accept (floor.) Don’t adjust these numbers after the offer is made: know your numbers and stick to them.
  • Do look at the total package. The offer isn’t just about salary. What is the total monetary value of the benefits you’ll receive? Are you willing to take a minor cut because you get so much PTO? Is there a sign-on or performance bonus included? Look at the big picture when you’re sizing the offer up with what you wanted.
  • Do take time to think. Unless the offer is absolutely perfect, you should always thank the hiring manager for the offer and ask for 48 hours to look it over. Examine each part of it, and know, without a doubt, that this is the offer you want before you accept.
  • Don’t take more than 48 hours to look over your offer. If you’re going to say no, they need to be able to make that offer to another candidate. Don’t hold up the process for everyone else.
  • Do negotiate, always. Chances are that the offer isn’t quite perfect. You might want an extra week of PTO here, or a performance bonus there. Either way, find what could make it better and ask about it.
  • Don’t settle for your offer, assuming you can have a review in 6-12 months and ask for a raise. This is the most common mistake people make in the job offer process: they think they can settle for what’s on paper, then “prove their worth” for six months, and then ask for more money. Your future supervisor will look at you with two heads: why would we pay you more for the job you agreed to do? Remember that a salary offer is reflective of what you and your employer think your work is worth. Asking for a raise when you’ve already agreed your work is only worth X doesn’t show you’ve gone above and beyond…that’s what you were supposed to do anyway.
  • Don’t ask close-ended questions. The ask should not be “Can we look at an increase?” but “I’d like an increase of X to feel good about accepting the offer. How likely is it that the offer can be changed to accommodate that?” Yes/no questions (close-ended) can shut down a conversation quickly. Open-ended questions keep a dialogue moving forward.
  • Do be clear about what would sweeten the deal. If it absolutely must be money, be clear about what you are willing to accept (floor/sweet spot, remember?) If you are willing to sacrifice a lower salary for a performance bonus at the end of a year, or an extra week of PTO, say that.
  • Don’t leverage another offer against this one unless you’re willing to follow through. Too often, candidates will throw out another offer they’ve received to try and pit two employers against each other. Unless you’re crazy about that offer as well, and would take it and be happy, don’t gamble this–the employer you’re leveraging against may walk away from the table.
  • Don’t take negotiation personally. In a good negotiation, both parties lose something. A good negotiation means two parties met in the middle: they won a little, they lost a little. It doesn’t mean one person won and the other didn’t. If they can’t give you everything, but they give you a little bit, that’s how negotiation works–don’t take it as a personal affront on your skill set.
  • Do get the final offer in writing. When you finally arrive at an agreement, make sure to ask for the revised offer in writing. Don’t sign an offer that doesn’t reflect the revisions and negotiations: you will be held to the piece of paper you signed, regardless of verbal negotiations or handshakes.

Above all, breathe and stay calm. The employer has already made you the offer–they think you’re the most qualified candidate and they want you to work there. Making the ask for more will not make them tear up your offer letter and walk away: they want you, and they want you to be happy. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you are worth (and not what you “need”) and see what they can come back with! Better to try and fail then never to know what could have been!