How to Negotiate a Higher Starting Salary

Four Parts:Preparing YourselfBuilding Your CaseMaking a Salary CounterofferSample Negotiation Scripts

Even when you manage to find the job of your dreams, there is still the question of salary. Is it possible to negotiate a higher starting rate? Yes, it is, provided you take a good look at your own worth and present the case for your worth well. Here are some suggestions to help you on the path to the last sell before entering the position.

Part 1
Preparing Yourself

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    Overcome any reticence about asking for a higher salary. If you're someone who feels reluctant to ask for more money for reasons ranging from fear of asking through to issues of self-esteem and a lack of confidence in your worth, it's time to face your nemesis. Being so grateful to get work in hard times, anxious about receiving a "no", or not being bothered to even ask are not good approaches. Whatever the reason stopping you from are ways of stopping you from getting the best deal. Here are some common factors that hold many people back from negotiating the best possible deal:
    • Fear: Probably the most common reason people don't ask for more money, this relates to fear of being rejected, fear of coming across as too pushy, fear of resentment from your future bosses and fear of being miserable if the answer is no. Fear is a killer of all good things in life and the sooner you face it, the better off you'll be, mentally and financially.
    • Excusing the salary offered: Telling yourself that the offered salary is already good enough, that you don't need more or that you will love the job so the money offered will be sufficient, etc., are all excuses. They're excuses to not even try, to not engage and to not negotiate. You deserve more than excuses. After all, do you love the job enough to come in for free? No, of course not––it's not that kind of passion!
    • Humility: A dash of humble thoughtfulness is perfect now and then but it doesn't pay to be a lifelong doormat, especially not when your well-being is at stake. Worrying about things like being paid more than your friends or family members, not being seen as humble or downgrading your worth because of innate talent rather than effort are not healthy signs of humility––they're ways of putting yourself down. There will be ample time enough to display humility on the job when a boss takes all the glory for your work! If you really do have a problem with not been seen to be humble, practice having gratitude for the ability to make the request in advance of your asking––that way, you can work around the worry of not being considerate of others or harbor unnecessary guilt.
    • Lack of self-esteem: By being unsure if you're worth more, telling yourself that other people are more clever/worthy than you or deserving of larger money amounts, you're putting yourself down in the worst possible way. Stop this, before you fade into anonymity!
    • Lack of confidence: This is linked to lack of self-esteem, fear and humility. You worry about getting knocked back for asking or looking pushy or vulnerable. This is a very unassertive way to begin the relationship with your future workplace––and they'll notice. At the very least, consider asking for an assertiveness training course to be included as part of your package if you can't stomach the thought of asking for cold cash!
    • Apathy: You don't care. Maybe past experiences have taught you that it's a waste of time to try. The trouble with apathy is that it creeps into every part of your life once you've let it in. Knock it on the head, now.
    • Strange notions: Some people carry around odd cliches and social notions about earning more money, such as rich people being snobs or greedy, money matters being a nuisance or beneath oneself to deal with or worrying about compromising relationships with the boss or other coworkers. If you have any such skewed perspectives, realize that you're carrying baggage that is holding you back––ditch these strange notions now! Your bank account will thank you.
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    Steel yourself. Think about it: If you don't ask, your future employer is not going to fill the gap for you––they're not mind readers, nor do they suddenly feel like upping a salary offer without being pushed to do so. Remember that while "no" is one possible answer, so is "yes", "we'll see what we might be able to do", and "how about a compromise?". In each case, the employer is going to be listening to you, gauging your willingness to engage and seek the best, something that they will extrapolate to your work performance in giving and getting the best for the company. Even if the answer is a "no", you've opened the employment relationship with a positive message of assertiveness and pluck, and it will be remembered when it comes time to discuss pay rises in the future––namely, that you're someone to be taken seriously.
    • If you don't ask, you have potentially left a pool of money for someone bolder to take. Be the bold one instead!
    • After discussing pay at this nascent stage of your employment relationship, you will have a really clear understanding of what is expected of you in order to earn more later on via pay raises. That's a very healthy position to be in.
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    Be prepared for "no" as another possibility. Know in advance how you'll react if the answer is a "no". Aim to be gracious but also try to think outside the square. Acknowledge that the employer came to the negotiating table in good faith.
    • Remind yourself that you are not your salary. This is not personal––it's business.
    • See the previous step for raising other non-monetary possibilities in the fact of a "no".
    • Even where it's a "no", well done for trying. You have just proven that you can ask questions and stand up for yourself. You're going to get on well in this job.
    • Last but not least, remember that a "no" could be a veiled "not now but we can't explain why to you"––namely, the economic times don't warrant it at the moment but the company isn't going to reveal its bottom line to you. However, if you stick with the firm as times upswing, it's possible that future pay rises can make up for the original "no".
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    Treat this as a business transaction, because it is. Although personal to you, it's an impersonal issue for the company, which simply wants your backside on their chair as soon as possible now, for as good a price as they can get you. It's another chance to sell yourself to them in the comfort zone of knowing you already have the job, as well as a slight upper hand in being able to ask for a higher salary before accepting the job.
    • For the introvert, hipster or shy sort who feels a sense of panic and intense dislike at the thought of "selling" themselves, don't confuse selling your professional worth with your personal worth. Your personal worth isn't up for examination. It's your professional worth that you'll need to spend a little time polishing into a standard spiel. Treat this like the business transaction it is and keep everything professional; you're not selling out by promoting what is valuable about yourself.
    • Recognize that a high percentage of companies expect renegotiation of salary offers and set their salary offer lower than what they expect you to accept, on purpose. While this won't hold for all companies (and be careful with government organizations where set pay levels are published and clear) but why accept the chance that you've been offered less based on this rationale? Give it a go!
    • Realize that those who ask get heard. The squeaky wheel is real, now and in any other workplace transaction.
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    Practice. If you're the sort who gets the jitters when asking for something and find this matter of salary negotiating even harder than attending the actual interview that won you the job, then spend time practicing asking. Stand in front of the mirror and out loud, give your reason for asking for more, the suggested figure and your reaction to possible questions, including rejection. This is time to develop your "pitch", in the freedom of your own space.
    • Have a trusted friend be the boss at the other end. Ask your friend to respond with different scenarios so that you can practice each one––the "yes, of course we'll increase your salary" scenario, the "no way" scenario" and the "we'll need to think about this" scenario.

Part 2
Building Your Case

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    Consider what makes you unique and valuable (apart from having been offered the position). This is about establishing your professional worth, and is about clarifying and confirming to yourself the reason for asking for more. Compare your skills and experience against others in the same field and write down key factors that demonstrate why you're a cut above these others. In particular, select your strengths that are outstanding and demonstrate your unique style, talent and draw card elements. While some of this will have come out through your CV and interview, there will always be more concrete facts you can present to win over your future employer, and this is a chance to show expanded, detailed evidence of your worth when stacked up against peers. Consider:
    • your level and extent of experience in the field
    • your educational background, including ongoing education and expected future education
    • your ability to draw new clients or use your contacts/network
    • your level of knowledge about your new employer, along with knowledge of competitors and how to take advantage of this knowledge for your new employer's sake.
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    Do your research. You can't negotiate without the facts. Moreover, you can never assume your new employer has them all at hand––they're not paid to watch out for your interests! Once it becomes clear to you that you've got the job, now is the time to know what others in your position are earning in the industry. Coupled with your specific expertise and experience, this should give you a fair and objective idea of what is a good salary for your position and to know whether the offer is reasonable, well under, or awesome (it being presumed that "awesome" is a fairly rare reaction to a salary offer!). Look for hard facts that back up your statements. Some important things to do are:
    • Check salary guides (many exist online but ask at the local library if in doubt)
    • Talk to your mentors and former bosses
    • Talk to colleagues to see if they can point out skills that really stand out for them in their experience and ask who has demonstrated these skills in the past
    • Talk with clients if relevant and get their feedback on your value
    • Look into what the company has traditionally paid employees in your role.
    • It's recommended that you reach a reasonable figure to give as a suggestion to your future employer. It's harder to say no to a specified, thoughtful and fair figure than to an unknown and possibly "sky's the limit" request.
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    Know what final offer you will accept and what number you would truly love. After conducting market research on your potential job and an evaluation of your previous company’s compensation, define a good counteroffer. For negotiation purposes, it is best to determine a number that will make you ecstatic and a baseline number that you will accept, given the value of the entire compensation package.
    • This is your salary range.
    • You can then use this range to set your counteroffer.
    • Having these numbers will help you be prepared to make your counteroffer and either accept or decline the employer's final offer.
    • Consider location. Region and cost of living can make a huge difference. A Marketing Manager in Greensboro, North Carolina will not merit the same paycheck as one in Washington, DC. The cost of living will be a factor in determining a candidate's salary.
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    Be realistic and reasonable. Don't expect the stars when you have just been given the moon. A higher salary is a good goal but an astronomical one is edging on greedy or an impossible promise to live up to. Never ask for an amount above the top end of your position's market worth unless you have an exceptional reason to do so. Again, this is about doing thorough research but it is also about using your intuition, general knowledge and knowing how to pitch this just right.
    • Accept the fact that you have been given the job as an important part of your negotiation process. It's precisely what your future employer is thinking constantly and pushing too far can hurt your cause.
    • Accept the reality that some companies can only afford so much before your "unique factor" is out of their league. Do bear in mind that even large, wealthy companies need to remain profitable by not bloating employee salaries to any ridiculous extent. Indeed, increasingly outrageous salary packages are viewed by a majority of citizens now as an unhealthy evolution in employment and the next decade will undoubtedly see reasonableness becoming a key element of salary determination, even for top CEOs.

Part 3
Making a Salary Counteroffer

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    Ask about the full compensation package to evaluate what areas to push for in your counteroffer. Ask for a breakdown (in writing) of the full compensation package including costs of offered benefits (dental, medical, etc.). A full compensation package includes not only your salary, but other benefits including vacation or paid time off, company phone and medical, dental, vision, wellness and life insurance.
    • Once you have received this information, you can include increases to these benefits as a part of your counteroffer.
    • For example, you can ask for increased salary specifically to compensate for spending more on medical benefits. Or, you could ask for another week of paid vacation.
    • Remember, sometimes asking for non-monetary compensation can give you more leverage when making your counteroffer.
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    Determine if you need more time or can make a counteroffer now. If you can comfortably make a counteroffer after the initial offer is made, by all means go ahead. If you need more time to evaluate information and determine a counteroffer, say (as mentioned above) “I would like to have some time to think over your offer”.
    • Then, provide a time of when they should hear back from you.
    • For example, “Can I give you a call back by noon tomorrow?”
    • Asking to think things over will show that you will not accept any offer and that you put thought into your employment decisions. This should not be perceived as a bad thing to potential employers.
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    Express your interest in the job. Before making your counteroffer, express that you have great interest in the job and working for the company. This reassures the recruiter that they made the right decision by offering you the job.
    • For example, “I am really pleased that you have offered me the job and I am excited to have the opportunity to contribute to your company”.
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    State your ideal salary with an acceptable range as your counteroffer. Based on your research as described above, provide your ideal salary followed by an acceptable range.
    • It can be a good idea to state your ideal salary as the maximum upper limit of a reasonable range.
    • For example, if you think it is fair for you to be paid $90,000, ask for a bit more when stating your ideal salary.
    • Try saying, “My ideal salary is $95,000 with a range of $84,000-95,000”. Your ideal salary explains what you would love to make, and your range shows what is acceptable.
    • Given this example, you would accept no less than $84,000.
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    Back up why you are giving a certain amount for an ideal salary and salary range. Let the recruiter know you did not just make up these numbers in your head.
    • Explain that you have done research on acceptable salary ranges for the position in your area.
    • Also explain where you believe you fit in this given range based on the value you bring to the company.
    • Factors of why you feel you deserve your ideal salary could include:
      • Experience.
      • Education.
      • Skills.
      • Abilities.
      • Personality.
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    Stand firm and be confident to increase the chance of your counteroffer being accepted. If you did your research and used it as a guideline, your counteroffer should be reasonable. When making your counteroffer, it is best to sound firm and confident without mumbling, apologizing, or avoiding a number.
    • This will show the employer that you truly believe in your ability to do the job, understand what you are worth, and have a minimum salary that you will accept.
    • Standing firm places you at an advantage at this point because the company clearly wants to hire you and does not want to spend the additional time and money to find someone else.
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    Assure the employer that you want to settle on something to give them time to consider your counteroffer. The employer may need some time to think before making another counteroffer. If this happens and you are not yet ready to settle, it is important to let the employer know you are serious about the job.
    • You can say, “I would like to settle on something that makes us both comfortable as soon as possible”. This shows your sincerity and that they are not wasting their time with you.
    • Expect your future employer to want time to consider and to perhaps ask for more negotiation with you. One possibility is the open-ended but potentially positive request for time for reflection, followed by "let's negotiate some more". Your future employer may not meet all of your request (very likely) but may be willing to compromise. See these reactions as good signs and be ready to negotiate if needed.
    • If you're asked questions, answer them calmly and with patience even if you feel you're being re-interviewed. Your future employer may be probing you for more details to help the decision.
    • Sometimes your commitment to the company may be tested. Provided you've done your homework for both the interview and this request, you should pass this test with flying colors. Just be careful not to suggest that your commitment is commensurate to your pay level––this is a fairly delicate dance, so simply stick with reassuring how keen you are to be a part of a company that recognizes your skills and experience.
    • If you've done your research and judged that it's appropriate to do so, you can make suggestions of compromise during a negotiation that open up the possibility of different types of reward, such as additional leave, time off to volunteer, annual bonuses or stocks, a larger office, flights home if you're working interstate, a personal development course, membership to a club, a car park space, etc. In many cases, the company may have leeway on non-monetary recompense that they'll be happy to add to your package.
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    End the request on a positive note, however it has been received by your future employer. Whether or not you've been successful (and in many cases, you may not know as many employers will ask for time to consider your request), end everything politely and without begging. A simple "Great, thanks" to the employer's response is a good and neutral way to respond. Keep smiling––your friendly and easy-to-negotiate-with approach matters.
    • Don't gush and thank them for considering it with oodles of superlatives. It sounds desperate.
    • Never turn a "no" into a backlash, such as pointing out you know that everyone else in the new firm is getting paid heaps more than you, blah, blah. This is an invitation to withdrawing the job offer!
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    Get the offer in writing. Whatever your offer is, never take a job without the entire package being signed off, in print. Go forth you smart negotiator, your new job awaits!

Sample Negotiation Scripts

Sample Salary Negotiation Script

Benefit Negotiation Email


  • If you feel you're not being paid your worth, don't fret. At least you have your foot in the door and the only way is up, salary included. Accept that you have the job with good grace and keep striving to be the best. There will be new opportunities for pay rises, promotions, travel, etc. that will come in the future, let alone the experience you're now getting that can help you to achieve your goals.
  • If asked what your current or past compensation looks like, it is okay to provide a range. For example, if you are making $45,000 as an annual salary you can tell your potential employer you are currently in the $40k-50k range. Try not to stretch the range too far, because it is important to know an accurate range for your position industry wide, and being dishonest could cost you the job.
  • Consider what more you have to offer. The fact that they have offered you the job clearly means that they want you. But if you have something extra to impress upon your professional worth on the future employer, now is the time to raise it. For example, perhaps you're able to bring two new clients to the company with you. Or perhaps you're willing to take on two additional clients than the job specifications require of you. Don't get into using these promises like bribes but do make it clear that you have a special dynamic that you're bringing to the company. Be prepared to deliver these promises anyway, because you've just revealed what you can do for them and they'll consider it part of the package of employing you. In other words, offer what you're already planning to bring as an employee whatever the result of your salary negotiations, while hoping it really shows your employee your great worth.


  • Never play off one firm with another, especially where you don't really have another opportunity lined up (such as going back to your promotion-less existing job). The one you're negotiating with may drop you if you play favorites. Remember to compare, not threaten or brag that you've got better opportunities elsewhere.
  • You can only negotiate in the space between "you have the job" and "yes, thanks". Attempting to negotiate after you've agreed to take the job is too late.

Things You'll Need

  • Comparisons with peers in your industry - salary rates, same level of work
  • A list of your professional worth
  • Mirror (and friend maybe) for rehearsing your request

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