Please help me with my first salary negotiation.
July 16, 2012 7:27 PM   Subscribe

I am preparing to negotiate my salary for the first time. What strategy should I take?

A little background:
I am a young-ish (24) female. I have been working at my present job, a small consulting firm in some capacity for about 2 years. I was an intern and then a part-time consultant while I finished grad school. I have been a full-time employee for close to a year now. I was informed that I would be getting a promotion at the end of this year. I have never negotiated a salary before. In the past I have just taken what I was offered. I don't know if this is of any importance but I did find it a little odd, so perhaps it is worth mentioning. When I went from part-time hourly employee to full-time with salary and benefits, I had to ask for an offer letter after the fact. They had just changed my pay and did not officially let me know without my asking. In other words, even if I had intended to negotiate my pay I wasn't presented the opportunity. Another thing that is important to note: in the past, all discussions relating to my pay have been directly with my boss. This is a small company (60 to 70 employees) and the HR function is one person in another office. So I would be having this negotiating discussion with my boss, not with HR.

I understand the first step to negotiating would be to research and figure out what I am worth. I have an idea of what I might be worth, but I work in a bit of a niche industry so I haven't been very successful just using Google to find average salaries. I also have a certification (CPA) that would make me more valuable. My first question is related to this: what are some places you would recommend to find accurate and reliable salary information?

The second part of my question is about the negotiating itself – what would be the best strategy to take? I don't think they will be expecting me to come back with another offer as I never have in the past. I want to do this right or I may not be taken seriously. At this point, I am thinking I either ask for more than I want and hope we end up at the amount I want, or I ask for exactly what I want and explain really well why I am worth that amount. Along with a strategy recommendation, I appreciate any general tips or words of advice.

Here's a throwaway email address ( to get in touch with me if you have any further questions.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite supposedly has salary information for a bunch of jobs (disclosure: friends of mine work there), so that might be a place to start.

Ask for what you think you're worth. I don't think salary negotiation should be like bidding on a house, aiming to meet in the middle, you should ask for the salary you deserve, and if they can't meet that in your salary, find out if you can make it up in bonuses and/or benefits.
posted by xingcat at 7:35 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Play to win.

That is, ask yourself if you are helping yourself win. Have stats and comparables. Signal firmness by reducing the percentage of $ that you are approaching their position. Negotiate by faxed, written letter.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:57 PM on July 16, 2012

You work in a niche industry? Great, the upside to a small industry is everyone knows everyone. Do you have friends who work in a similar role at other companies that can give you a ballpark? Obviously, it'll vary by company and location, but if you know $45-$55,000 a year is about the range and they come it at $20,000, you know they're running game on you.

Failing that, can you go to some networking events in this niche industry and meet some people and ask politely if they know what a Whatever Your Job Title Would Be should make, ballpark?

Failing that, there's probably salary surveys for whatever professional association handles your field that'd give you a range, which you could tweak for your region, industry, etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:58 PM on July 16, 2012

You're in this for yourself, not the company.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:03 PM on July 16, 2012

Also, talking points written on paper. Impresses every time.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:04 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Welcome to a long life of negotiation. Surely you've been doing this for awhile, but one can always improve.

I really liked Slate's somewhat-recent Negotiation Academy.
posted by asuprenant at 8:49 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am thinking I either ask for more than I want and hope we end up at the amount I want, or I ask for exactly what I want and explain really well why I am worth that amount. Along with a strategy recommendation

In situations (such as the one you are in, presumably) where you are in an ongoing relationship that you want to be positive, I'd suggest you go with the second strategy. Both strategies might be effective or might not, but the first one contributes to a working relationship where people expect each other to play games, conceal things from each other, and not communicate directly, while the second contributes to a working relationship where people can talk honestly, and support their ideas with evidence. I'd suggest that the second is a better way to try to get along with your employers.

In the past I have just taken what I was offered. I don't know if this is of any importance but I did find it a little odd, so perhaps it is worth mentioning.

There seems to be a lot of evidence suggesting that men usually ask for more money when getting an offer, and women do not. It if helps give you confidence/motivation - you may want to think about that when you choose to negotiate, to think that you're doing this not just because you like money, but also because you dislike gender inequality.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:50 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

egotiation is all about leverage; what is the recourse to the company if they don't give you what you want? If you're content to continue working and you're hoping for more money, there's a good chance that any competent negotiator will low-ball you, call it a final offer, and watch you take it. Remember, it's in the company's best interest to pay the least amount they can in order to retain you.

Exactly this. This, this, this. I am amazed and appalled by the people who walk into a negotiation thinking "I'll take what they give me, let's hope it's a lot!" If you aren't willing to leave, you basically have nothing, no matter how well-prepared you are, how many comparisons you do, or ho many notecards you bring. So find other places that might be willing to hire you and that you would have a good shot .

Bear in mind, you don't have to threaten to leave. You don't have to let your employer know you've looked elsewhere. I would not recommend that. But the mental difference between going into a negotiation armed with smoke, mirror, and numbers, vs going in knowing that you have the upper hand cannot be overstated. Find out where you can earn more money. Then go into the negotiation knowing that if they don't give you what you want, you can get it elsewhere. This is the best advantage you can have - all of your statistics about salary, all of your planned responses will be much more effective if you know that you can go elsewhere.
posted by Tehhund at 9:27 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not a big fan of the whole "ask for more so you can end up with what you want" thing. Unless it is part of a strategy to get them to bargain on something else. Seems disrespectful otherwise.

In my job, like many others, my boss doesn't have direct control over my pay. He certainly has influence, but he isn't the ultimate decider. So I treat him as my agent rather than my adversary. "Is there anything I need to improve on? No? Then I expect a top-notch raise." That explicit declaration, combined with the implicit "I don't want to leave, but I will if I have to", has done pretty well for me.

- Know what you are worth in the marketplace. Do your research, use legitimate sources so you know you are correct. But in the negotiation, do not mention the sources. You know that they know that you know the info is correct, there is no good reason to appeal to authority.

- At the same time, know what the revenue situation for your employer is. If they are having a good year, and especially if you have something to do with it, then stand firm on the money you are asking for. If they are having a bad year, it's going to be rough to get much money out of them. But you can get other things. Extra vacation, title improvement, flexible hours.

- Remain dispassionate. If you start to feel overwhelmed, ask for a break. If you get surprised by an offer, feel free to ask for time to mull it over.
posted by gjc at 6:02 AM on July 17, 2012

All good advice. I would add:

What is the person who is your boss LIKE? What is the Culture of the company like?

Even given all the variables above, I would need to know the details to adjust the presentation of my negotiation positions.


Make sure you can list (in a culturally/personally appropriate way, see above) all the ways that you've earned more remuneration. How you are useful to the company - especially if they are over and above expectations/job description. etc.


Remember that salary is not the only thing on the table. More contributions to 401k, more vacation time, other responsibilities, payment for offsite job training courses/networking/conferences that they wouldn't normally pay for. Even though these things cost money, the often can come from a different 'pot' so hurt the company less.

Lets say you want X and they offer 0.85X, you can say, I'd accept 0.95X if one of the above things improves.

The job training/networking stuff especially can be cast as a win-win. Want to go to graphic design accademy for a week? Minor qualification in network admin? Conference at a particular place ? What competencies wil be good for your career AND the company?
posted by lalochezia at 10:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Boss here. $1k is worth far less to your company than it is to you, so what feels like a big amount to you is less so to them.

Also, anchoring is important and so try to be the first to say a number. If you start with a way-too-high number, you will likely end up with $thousands more than if you start with a reasonable number.
posted by cogat at 10:43 AM on July 17, 2012

The Noel Smith-Wenkle Salary Negotiation Method is pretty famous for this.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:39 PM on July 17, 2012

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