The very thought of salary negotiation makes many job seekers nervous. In fact, so many people find negotiating their salary intimidating that they don’t bother doing it all. 

Only 39% of workers said they negotiated their last job offer. For women the number was even smaller. Only about a third (34%) of women said they negotiated compensation. That’s a lot of money left on the table. 

Once you get the hang of salary negotiation and gain some practice, it isn’t nearly as intimidating as you might think. Here are some tips and tricks of the trade that’ll help you become a master salary negotiator.

woman looking ahead
woman looking ahead

put the first number on the table

Candidates are often afraid to speak first and ask for too much or too little. But there are many advantages to doing so: 

  • The person who puts up the first number holds a lot of power. 
  • The first number sets the baseline for all subsequent negotiations. 
  • It’s difficult for an employer to throw out a low-ball offer when you start high. Job seekers are often afraid of speaking up first and asking for too much or too little. But there’s a lot of power in being the one to make the first move. 
  • If your potential employer puts forth the first number and it’s lower than you expected, it’s more challenging to negotiate up than it is to defend your ask when you speak up first.

start at the top of your range

If you’re looking for a salary in the $60,000 to $75,000 range, the first number you put on the table should be close to $75,000, or maybe even a little above. 

If you start high, by the time negotiations are finished, hopefully you’ll still be comfortably within your acceptable range. It may be tempting to share your entire range to show that you’re flexible, but that can backfire if they come back with an offer at the bottom. 

You indicated that was an acceptable offer, so backtracking and asking for more can seem wishy-washy.

pick a slightly unusual number

Ask for $51,200 rather than $50,000. It’s a psychological trick. When you ask for a salary that’s a neat, round number, the person on the other side is more likely to assume you pulled the number out of a hat and don’t have a real justification for it. 

However, when you pick a very specific number, it’s assumed that you had a reason for choosing such a precise number. It makes the person on the other side of the table approach negotiation less aggressively, because they assume you know what you’re talking about.

always counter offer

If your employer does put the first offer on the table, always, always negotiate, even if you really like the offer. Employers build room into their job offers for counter-offers – they rarely come out of the gate with their best offer for this reason. It’s assumed that new hires will propose a counter offer before accepting. So go ahead. They expect you to. You don’t have anything to lose, but you do have something to gain. If they say no, the original offer will most likely still be on the table. Job offers will almost never disappear because you tried to negotiate.

don’t be afraid of hearing ‘no’

Fear is a driving factor in job negotiations. Job seekers tend to make conservative offers and counter offers, hoping to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being shot down. It’s important to remember that rejection is a standard part of negotiating, and not the end of the conversation. 

Negotiating is essentially the art of saying, ‘no, but…’ Hearing ‘no’ during negotiations isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so don’t let it scare you off from asking for what you really want.

negotiate other benefits, too

There’s more to a job offer than the money. Monetary compensation is important, yes. But don’t forget to look at other benefits like :

  • paid vacation,
  • health and dental,
  • RRSP matching and pensions,
  • stock and investment plans,
  • wellness and convenience perks, 
  • or anything else that adds value to your job offer that isn’t cash. 

There’s often room to negotiate these things, even if your salary is capped, so don’t forget about them! You could gain an extra week of vacation, a higher retirement match, or a free gym membership that are just as valuable to you as a minor increase in your base salary.

talk to a recruiter

Recruiters are specialists in their field – they tend to work in a specific industry and know it inside out. They also hire people and negotiate salaries every day. 

So they have a firm grasp on what your market value is and can help you assess your skills in a much more precise way than an online salary checker.

be willing to walk away

Negotiating requires compromise, however both parties will have lines they can’t cross. It’s important to determine what your hard limits lay before entering negotiation. You must also be willing to walk away if the job offer doesn’t meet them. 

If you think meeting in the middle is possible, go ahead and counter. However if the gap is too large and you don’t see an offer you’ll be happy with materializing, be willing to throw in the towel. Don’t accept an offer than doesn’t make you feel good.

schedule negotiation on thursday or friday
Working people are more stressed early and mid-week and that makes negotiating at these times more challenging.

Thursdays and Fridays are the best days of the week to negotiate your salary. The end of the week, when everyone’s winding down, ready for the weekend, and in the best mood, is the ideal time to approach a negotiation. Happy people are easier to negotiate with. 

be firm and confident

When negotiating, take a firm, confident stance. An employer is more likely to respect someone who’s firm in their convictions. If you say you need 4 weeks of vacation to feel comfortable accepting an offer, stick to your guns. 

Waffling and changing your mind midway through negotiations about what an acceptable offer looks like is a surefire way to walk away with an offer you’re less than happy with. There’s a difference between compromising and settling for whatever you can get.

demonstrate your value

When negotiating salary, frame your ask in terms of the value you bring to the organization. There’s no shame in highlighting skills that make you worth the investment, or comparing and contrasting other offers you’ve received. 

Context matters. If you’re asking for more than another candidate – but you also have additional certifications they don’t, that means something. Have your elevator pitch ready. Just because you’ve reached the job offer stage, doesn’t mean it’s no longer useful!

look to the future

When negotiating it’s easy to get mired in talking about your past experiences and discussing how they justify your future salary. However it’s actually a good idea to frame your salary negotiations in terms of what you’ll do for the company hiring you in the future.

How will the skills you’ve learned add value going forward? What will you work on when they bring you aboard that will justify their investment in you?

need help assessing the value of your skills? connect with a recruiter in your area to discuss compensation and get support finding the right job.

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