One of the easiest things you can do to increase your income is also one of the most difficult: negotiate a higher salary.
According to some surveys, about half of American workers neglect to ask for more money when receiving a job offer. Women do worse than men on this count, which might explain some of the gender-based income gap.
The reasons I hear for not negotiating seem almost naive, particularly when I’m talking with seasoned workers. Listen in and see if you don’t agree.
I didn’t negotiate my salary because …
… I wanted to get the relationship off on the right foot.
… The boss said the offer was already at the top of the range.
… I didn’t want the offer to go to someone else.
… I didn’t know you could do that.
If you’re one of the non-negotiators in the world, remind yourself of these five points before accepting your next offer:
1. The higher your salary, the higher your overall earnings. Obviously a higher salary equals more money, but don’t forget that future raises, bonuses, and even future Social Security checks are also based on your salary.
2. Merit is not always rewarded. The awkward truth is that the highest pay goes to those who ask for it, not necessarily those who earn it. Which doesn’t excuse you from earning it; just from making the assumption that you needn’t ask.
3. An employer is not likely to withdraw an offer simply because you asked to discuss it. And if that does happen? Count yourself lucky, because this would have been a difficult boss to work for.
4. Respectfully negotiating your salary starts your work relationship on the right foot.
5. The first offer is not likely to be the best one possible. I won’t say that every offer has room to grow; just that you won’t know if you don’t ask.
Assuming you’re convinced that negotiating your salary is a good idea, you’ll need a strategy. Here’s a very simple process that I teach in workshops.
1. When an offer is made, respond with enthusiasm, ask for the details, then ask for a day to consider it: “Terrific. I was hoping there would be an offer, because I’d really enjoy working here. Can you tell me what’s included in the offer? Thanks — I just need a day to look over my numbers and I’ll get back to you with any questions before we move ahead.”
Note that this person isn’t formally accepting the offer, but makes it sound probable. At this stage, your goal is to keep the employer interested while subtly controlling the timeline and process. Besides, you do need those details.
2. The next day, return to the employer with an idea of what you’d like to change about the offer. You can base this on information from online salary websites, or on your own budget, or just on principle. There are more books and websites on negotiation than I could begin to list, but here’s a start to how this conversation might go:
“Thank you for letting me take a day to look this over. I’m really excited about the offer and I thought almost everything looked fine. I think my only real concern has to do with the salary itself. I was shooting a bit higher, so I’m wondering what might be possible given your budget.”
3. Put everything in writing. Even if you’re not able to move the salary, you might receive the promise of an early raise or hiring bonus. If no formal hiring letter appears, reiterate the conversation in a brief letter of acceptance that you craft yourself.
As a final strategy, remember that negotiating will be easier if the employer doesn’t know your salary history. So do what you can to keep those numbers to yourself, which includes avoiding online applications when possible. But even if the boss has provided an offer that is higher than your last salary, don’t feel that you “shouldn’t” ask for more.
And if you’re still uncomfortable, here’s one last motivator for learning to negotiate: picture yourself as a retiree whose Social Security won’t stretch to cover the basics. That’s who you’re negotiating for, so give it your best shot.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.