Show Me the Money. How to Win at Salary Negotiation

Winning a salary negotiation

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Negotiating and Requesting a Salary Increase

The purpose of work is to make money.  Fill our bellies with food and allow us money to pay for home, clothing, and to pay for those things we can’t or don’t want to live without.  While we its important to like our jobs because it increases employee productivity and employee satisfaction, we are still there for a primary reason and that is to live.  For employees and job seekers, understanding pay and employee compensation can be hard because the idea of making more money hits so close to home.  Personal topics and subjects like our annual salary are hard to see objectively because we are so personally affected by the matter.  We know we work hard and believe we deserve more.  And so we dream almost like winning the lottery about the end result of that salary increase without giving much thought about the process, the negotiation, and the game to get from here to there.

I have negotiated a lot of salaries either as an HR or Hiring Manager or as the employee myself.  Whether it’s an annual employee merit increase for their annual review or a job offer, the salary negotiation process is just that a process.  The 2012 third quarter average annual salary increase is just 3%.  For someone who makes $50,000 a year, that’s $1,500 or $0.73 an hour.  Keep in mind this is the average, other things impact an employee’s annual merit increase including employee performance, company financials, and where the employee’s salary lies within a pay band.  Yup, it’s just 3% which is a vast improvement compared to negative salary increase many employees took in 2009.  Three percent is the reason why many employees opt to leave an organization all together and negotiate a new salary increase by starting a new job at a new company.

The Cost US Inflation on Employee Compensation & Benefits

And even that 3% can be misleading because it doesn’t account for inflation which is the current value of money.  In September 2012, inflation increased by 2% meaning that everything you bought became two percent more expensive and your salary increase for 2012 was really just 1%.  Depressing I know.  That’s why it’s so important to arm yourself with knowledge and information even before you apply for that new position.  Many companies ask in their online employment applications for that salary information, and it’s essential when negotiating your salary to consider a number of different variables.

  • Differences in Cost of Living.  Money goes farther in different places and things like the cost per gallon of gas, home prices, and even food are important things to consider if you are considering jobs in a new city and relocation.  Arm yourself with this information so that when you speak to a recruiter or hiring manager, you can mention that while you made $75,000 in Kansas City in San Francisco that number is slightly (or dramatically) different.  This will set clear expectations and give the recruiter an understanding of the salary ballpark you are looking for.  And we, recruiters can determine if the increased salary is worth the perceived benefit of having you on our team.
  • Pitch It.  If a salary increase at your current employment is what you are asking, request a sit down meeting with your boss.  Include a presentation and corresponding document highlighting the industry salary averages and concrete ways you are benefiting the organization.  Sit down responsibly  calmly, and confidently with your boss to sell your increase.  For job seekers interviewing for a new role, this happens throughout your interview process.  During the negotiation process calmly and confidently remind your potential employer the unique benefits that you bring to the table.
  • Start High.  Negotiate Down.  Like selling or buying a car, salary is a negotiation, and one that many people like your hiring manager enjoy.  Your starting number is one that should afford some wiggle room which is why you’ve already done the work.  Do not go into the interview or job offer giving the hiring manager your best salary offer immediately.  Increase that number slightly, maybe $2-3,000 knowing that the hiring manager will counter offer you.  You win because you negotiated your target salary and the hiring manager wins because they got you for less than you asked for.  Everybody wins.
  • Play the Game.  As I mentioned, the job offer is a game, one you must play to win.  When presented an offer with a salary you believe is low, state the fact and ask for time to consider like 24 hours.  And wait.  Let the hiring manager think about how important you are to their success and consider the salary number they will accept.  Just wait and wear your game face.  Don’t let outside factors psych you out.  Like a friend of mine.  He’s currently waiting on a job offer, and is freaking out because the job opening just reposted.  Sometimes job postings are automated.  And sometimes they are not.  These are things you cannot control.  Follow with your reasonable counter just before your deadline but be prepared for anything.  Job offers can be rescinded.  Is the extra money in the longer term worth the risk?

Be Realistic When Negotiating a Salary Increase

Most importantly, be realistic Do not expect a 20% salary increase if in your current and future role without a significant change in responsibility   You’ve played your hand and worked for thousands less until now.  Your manager, HR, and your boss’s boss believes this will not change.  Can you really walk away?  Salary negotiation during a job offer or in your current role is not easy.  It’s personal which is why it’s so important to keep a clear head and remain focused at the end game.

Check out our super awesome job seeker toolkit.  It’s free and includes job search tips as well as a resume and cover letter template.  Download now or check out a related article on severance pay

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Cassidy Hennigan says

    >Can you really walk away?

    You should show them that you CAN walk away, that you have other options and aren’t afraid to use them. If you’re a valuable asset, they won’t want to lose you and are way more likely to agree to giving you a raise.


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