How To Prepare For A Salary Negotiation: A Check List

We would never buy a house without first inspecting every nook and cranny. We’d never buy a new car without comparing similar models. But when it comes to negotiating our salaries, why do many of us just cross our fingers and hope for the best?

Like buying a house or a car, our yearly salary has a massive impact on our financial well-being. As we’ve covered before, even a small raise in the beginning of your career can have an outsize impact on your life-time earnings. Yet we’re never taught how to negotiate.

“This is an opportunity to make thousands of dollars within a few minutes, you have to take advantage,” says Jim Hopkinson author of Salary Tutor: Learn the Salary Negotiation Secrets No One Ever Taught You. Come prepared, he says, and you put yourself leaps and bounds ahead of other candidates. We asked Hopkinson how creatives can be ready for the negotiating table:

1. Get in the right mindset.

If you’ve never negotiated before (or your last negotiation went poorly), it’s likely you have some preconceived notions about negotiations being adversarial or awkward. Instead, view the negotiation as a discussion and a partnership. When negotiating, you need to aim for a “friendly but assertive” mindset. Remember that you’re not being a nuisance, you’re taking control of your financial future, an admirable and necessary aspect of being a professional.

If you’ve gotten far enough to receive a job offer or raise, the company (or client) has already invested lots of time and mental energy in you and a little negotiation is not going to make them rescind their offer.

“They’re offering you the money and a job so it may appear that they hold all the cards, but you are offering stuff in return, too. You’re going to put in your expertise and bring your experience and work ethic to the table,” says Hopkinson.

2. Research a salary range.

Before you negotiate your salary, you need to have an objective measurement of what you’re worth on the open market. By providing facts and figures backed up by research, you replace “I think I’m worth…” with “Someone in my position typically makes between $35,000 and $40,000.” The former is subjective and easily shot down, the latter is objective and encourages both sides to arrive at a fair number together.

“It shows you’re not pulling numbers out of thin air,” says Hopkinson. “Then it’s not you against me, we’re working together to make something that works for the both of us.”

To get a realistic number there are several resources at your disposal:

  • The Department of Labor Statistics – The U.S. Federal government has comprehensive studies of widely held jobs organized by location.
  • Glassdoor – Features salaries by company and, as a bonus, reviews of the interview process of select organizations.
  • – Enter in a job title and location and will give you a range. Useful for negotiations to determine what the “top performers” are making in your field.
  • LinkedIn Job Listings – Many LinkedIn listings have salary information. If you have a premium account, you can even sort jobs by salary range in the sidebar.
  • Your Network – Before the negotiation, shoot emails to anyone you know who hires in your industry: “I’m applying for position X at a company in Chicago. My research tells me that the common range is $40,000-$50,000, does that sound right to you? If you were to hire someone for this, what would the range be?”

Remember to research comparable job titles and companies. One company’s “community manager” is another’s “customer service associate.”

3. Show your accomplishments.

If the negotiation is for a raise, rather than a new job, you should have materials that help demonstrate your value to the organization. Depending on your field, these can be projects pushed forward, a portfolio of work completed, or clients landed. Highlight ways you made and saved the company money. It’s likely that you are one of many employees at your company, so a little refresher on your contributions can place all of your great work at the forefront your employer’s mind.

This can be anything from printed materials to an actual presentation. “I’ve had clients that did a little bit of everything and were able to show [using research] that if her company had to hire for her four different roles, it would cost them another $150,000 a year,” says Hopkinson. “So it’s planting that seed and the person she was negotiating with was probably thinking, ‘Oh God, I hope she doesn’t leave because it would be a nightmare.’”

4. Come ready to discuss more than money.

Numbers are only one side of the equation. You may offer a salary range and discover that the company can’t budge. In this case you can be willing to negotiate more than money. If you’re stonewalled on the salary, you can also discuss:

  • Accelerated review schedule
  • Additional vacation
  • Conferences you’d like to attend (or other educational opportunities)
  • Relocation fees
  • An altered bonus structure

Hopkinson recalls one client who was told her salary couldn’t improve because salaries were standardized across the company. She pressed for more. “They came back and said, ‘We’ll give you a one-time bonus in January 2014, we’ll double the bonuses that we give you quarterly, and we’ll pay you for two months to live in the corporate housing for free when you move here.’”

The dollars for these perks often come out of different budgets than your salary. Teach yourself the phrase, “Are there any other compensation elements that we can discuss?”

“The main goal for you,” says Hopkinson, “is to be able to walk out of the room and say I was prepared and I did everything I could.”

5. Remember a few key phrases.

The best way to get good at negotiation is to know your numbers cold and then practice with a friend who takes different approaches each time you role play. To help deflect some common negotiation enders, you should teach yourself the following phrases and strategies before your meeting.

One of the cardinal rules of negotiation is that you should never be the first to name a number (read more rules of negotiation here). Sometimes, the other party will pressure you to come clean with what you make so they can adjust their offer accordingly. Deflect this with any of the below phrases.

“My current employment contract does not allow me to reveal that information, what kind of range did you have in mind?”

“As you know, it’s a really small industry that we’re in and I’m pretty sure my current employer wouldn’t be too happy if I was revealing what they’re paying over there, so let me ask you what kind of range did you have in mind?”

“You have much more information about this job than I do.”

“What’s in your budget?”

People are naturally conditioned to fill silences. When being made an offer, don’t feel compelled to answer right away. Remember: you’re in control of the conversation. Let any offers breathe and oftentimes, you’ll be on the offensive without saying a word as the other party rushes to fill the dead air.

Them: “What if we gave you a 6 percent bump in pay?”

You: “I see… [silence]”

Them: “…and an additional two vacation days”

When you present your salary, always do so in a range and mention that you’d like to be in the upper part of said range (provided you can back up that you are successful at your role). Never name a specific number as you could be “anchoring” the number lower than if you had waited.

“I hope to be in the upper end of that range. Is that something you can do?”

And lastly, whenever you offer a number, always back it with facts that you’ve pulled from reliable sources.

“Based on my research…”

How about you?

Have you successfully negotiated your salary or raise? What specific actions did you take?

More insights on: Money

Sean Blanda

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Sean is the Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U. Find him on Twitter: @SeanBlanda.
load comments (17)
  • Jared Krauss

    I am an hourly employee at a local, independent bookstore in Iowa. And I am currently providing them with about 7 in-house, low-cost ideas in order to raise, let’s say, the cultural value of the establishment. The owner is worried about the decline in book sales, and we are something of an establishment in the city. There has been an expressed appreciation and desire to implement some of the ideas I have proposed thus far, all proposals have been informal, and will be formalized in a report in the coming weeks. In the fall I will have worked here about 10 months. I feel that is about an appropriate time to ask for a raise.

    P.S. We have already hired a consulting agency, but that was “to get the staff more involved,” and to “better management practices.”

    Can I use these methods above to arm myself? (I’m thinking I can.)

    Do you have any other advice in this situation? Or ways to adapt what you’re saying to my and similar situations?

    • David

      It sounds like you are doing quite a bit with the company, but ten months is a very short amount of time to be requesting a raise. Beyond just showing your worth with ideas, the company may be looking to see you implement said ideas and show your potential longevity by being there for at least a couple years. In addition, if your base profit (i.e., book sales) is declining, now would not be the time to ask. I would wait until you have established yourself within the company more and also have gone beyond “working” on the ideas to actually seeing them produce positive results. Give it a year or so.

      • joy2b

        When you’re writing up your ideas, try to make them appealingly easy to implement (I can fit this in around my usual duties) and be sure you include the ways you can measure their success. If you’re lucky, you can get one of them actually working before you hit the 1 year mark, which is the first good time to ask for a review.
        Keep in mind, if the boss is being pinched profitwise, they may be more worried about how to keep their own wage from falling, how to keep you employed, or how to afford your special projects. If this is the case, it’ll be essential to be sensitive to their concerns.
        If you need to pursue a raise when a business is doing badly, it’s wise to have numbers showing clearly the substantial benefits from paying you to do the extra work. (Note – If you only have short term numbers, you may have an easier time justifying a bonus.) If the conversation turns toward your current job, do be prepared to give some numbers showing that they’re already getting good value for your time.

  • growthguided

    I think placing expectations besides money is one of the best negotiating techniques. Once you engage the hiring manager with work from home options, vacation days, hours worked, etc you get your foot in the door for more compensation! @GrowthGuided

  • highdiver_2000

    prepared to be low balled. Keep your cool and remember to be polite.

  • Tharg the Mighty

    I asked for a 40% pay rise way too much, and settled for about 26% which was about what I wanted.

    Aim high.

  • Nick312

    I entered my most recent review expecting a 3-5% raise based on previous interaction and my boss’s outlook on salary increases. I prepared myself with all the statistics of what I have fulfilled in my position over the past 12 months, aligned output to last years set goals from review and goals I achieved beyond those set 12 months prior. I also researched my field and the competitive salary, as well as businesses in the area in need of an person with my talents. After my presentation, it took my boss and the owner of the business 3 days to come back to me, I was offered a 47% salary raise and 200% increase in vacation time.

    Knowledge is power! Go in prepared and your value will be seen.

    • Sean Blanda

      This is awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    • Anonymous

      Did you propose a number first?

  • John Lizardman Robinson

    Certainly interesting observations, however, it all depends on the company you work for, and your level, in respect to theirs. Its never necessarily that black and white as; 1 2 3, in fact, in my experience, its more about what you put in is what you get out, and with that, if they consider you an important piece of their business, rather than perhaps an asset or number, then its negotiation time!

  • MrPaycheck

    Sincere question: how do I negotiate raises during performance reviews when I’m already paid way above average? I work for a professional services firm who started me out at $60K (with one year experience) then I went to $70, $78, and $87 after three annual reviews. I admit that for 4-5 years of experience (and in my mid-20s) $87K is quite a bit of money, so how can I respectively negotiate a raise in salary when my employer and I both have an assumption that I’m already paid well above average?

    • JustSaying

      If I was in your position, and given the current economic scenario, I wouldn’t push too much for ‘visible’ increments however I would definitely make sure that while the Salary increment may be less, I am nominated for some good trainings or certain courses are sponsored if I decided to pursue them.

    • John Banks

      If you’re paid above average, then are you an above average employee? If so, by how much? If you’re great at what you do and deliver value to your employer, then they’re delivering value to the client. Your approach is all wrong. stop thinking that your overpaid. Rather qualify and quantify your value – change your perspective and negotiate from a position of strength. Your objective? To secure a radically stronger and advantageous position and Get What YOU Want. Stop trying to fit in, it’s time to STAND OUT!

  • mike


  • Sreynik

    How do I negotiate for a raise when I know that my inputs are tremendous but cannot be quantified? I am in the Test-prep field.

  • John Banks

    I disagree that “you should never be first to name a number.” If you’re as prepared as you should be eg you know your worth, the market, the potential employer, etc. then you’re establishing your position – and displaying your knowledge and preparation.

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