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Knowing Your Worth - Negotiating Your Salary Offer

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Krystal Yates, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

One of the most overlooked steps in finding your next job is negotiating. While salary is always a significant consideration, there are other parts to the offer that job seekers often forget to evaluate. What is most important to you? Besides salary and benefits, you should consider future growth opportunities, the number of hours you will be expected to work, the shift you are being offered, the organization's location, and whether their culture is right for you. The specifics will be different for everyone, so be sure to negotiate knowing the difference between wants, needs, and deal-breakers.

To negotiate successfully, you must know what a successful negotiation is and what it is not. It is not when all your demands are met. It is when both parties feel like they have won. In the case of a salary negotiation, both sides must feel like they are receiving value. Keep this in mind when determining your negotiation points.

Why should you negotiate? Studies show that more than half of employers expect it. While actual numbers vary, studies show that as many as 87% of employers are willing to negotiate, less than half of employees do. That percentage is significantly lower for women than for men, contributing to the wage gap. In most cases, if you are not negotiating, you are leaving money on the table. What if you happen to be interviewing with an organization that does not negotiate? They will let you know. Negotiating is that simple. Organizations are not in the habit of pulling an offer just because a candidate tries to negotiate. They will make their final offer clear and allow you to either accept it or move on.

The Ask. Getting started—as with most things—is the hardest part. First, you must determine the right time to negotiate. The later in the interview process, the better, so you know as much as possible about the organization, the expectation of the position, and the available benefits and culture. It can be challenging to wait to have the financial discussion, as companies ask for your salary requirements earlier and earlier, frequently even on the initial phone call.

The earlier in the process salary is requested, the wider your range will be however, you want to answer the question as strategically as possible. If you are asked for a salary on the first phone call, try to deflect the answer. I like to say something along the lines of, “I am not familiar enough with the position to give you a good range at this point; can you tell me what the typical pay range is for this position?” While not all companies are ready to volunteer this information, you will never know unless you ask. If they persist in getting a number from you, then go ahead and give them the widest range. I like to say something along the lines of, “I can go as low as $V if everything else falls into place, but I’m looking for $Z,” with V being about 10% above your absolute minimum and Z as your maximum. While many experts will tell you never to be the one to speak first, the reality is that somebody must. Since the person interviewing you is probably a more experienced negotiator than you, it just makes sense to tell them if you are genuinely interested in the position. I have seen too many inexperienced negotiators alienate their interviewer by refusing to answer. The key to not finding yourself in a losing negotiation is the preparation you have done before the call.

Negotiating is much clearer cut—and as a result, much more natural—than most people think. However, that is if you do not skip the most crucial step in the negotiation process. Before you start negotiating, you must know what your market value is. This means you must do your research before you start applying. With so much useful information online, there is no excuse for skipping this step. When you are determining your worth, you should come up with three numbers. The first one will be irrelevant to your “ask,” but is very important to ensure that you are taking care of your financial responsibilities. You must sit down and create a budget if you do not already have one. This should not be a budget where you have given up on everything you enjoy; instead, it should include regular parts of your daily life. If you like to get coffee a couple of times a week, include that in your budget. If the family goes out to dinner and a movie every Friday night, add that. You get the idea. If you are a dual income family, add the other income in your calculations, but determine the bare minimum, you need to be making each month to cover your budget. Now, set this number aside, and forget about it while you calculate your next two figures.

What’s your worth? The internet makes figuring out your worth easier than ever. You can start by Googling, “What does a {Job Title} make in {City, State}.” If you are in a specialized industry, some industry organizations will have salary information. LinkedIn creates salary estimates by region for its premium members. There are many other websites where you can get salary information, including,, Bureau of Labor Statistics,, and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Spend some time determining where you fall in the range based on your skills, number of years in the industry, and location. Then, hang on to the data that you used to make this determination. Your lowest number should be what you are willing to take, assuming all other conditions have been met for you, and your highest, based on the assumption that none of your requirements have been met. This will likely be a wide range. That is okay for now. If either number falls below the budget you came up with earlier; you will have some difficult decisions to make. Consider finding a financial advisor or a good career coach should you run into this situation.

Benefits. Another frequently forgotten piece of compensation is benefits. Both tangible and intangible benefits should come into play when negotiating your next salary. Intangible benefits do not have a dollar value associated with them but are often just as important. Can you work from home one day a week? How flexible is your schedule? What is the culture of the company? These intangible benefits are going to help determine how happy you are in your new organization. Tangible benefits have a dollar value associated: medical insurance and paid time off are the most common. These are the ones we most often think about when we consider a benefits package. However, don’t just ask whether the organization is offering these benefits. Find out the dollar value associated with them. The cost of healthcare has skyrocketed over the last decade. Companies that used to pay 100% of medical, now only pay a portion. Some companies might cover your cost but not those of your family. What will the insurance you need cost you through the course of a year?

Remember that a good negotiation comes down to doing your research. It does not matter what you made at your last job, how much your car payment is, or how much you want to make. What matters is the market value of the position, and that information is more accessible today than it has ever been.

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