How to Negotiate Salary According to Business and HR Pros

A February 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that 60% of U.S. workers chose not to push for better pay when they were last hired.

It's understandable to feel hesitant about negotiating salary. No one wants to strain important relationships, especially financial ones. But too much of that fear can halt our professional progress, and those who don’t have the chutzpah to haggle are leaving money on the table. 

The simple fact is that salary negotiation is something most employers expect from you — and handling it with skill and tact might actually improve your standing at the office.

Erika Taught Me

  • Use free salary research platforms and information from state and local governments to assess if employers’ offers are fair.
  • Professional achievements justify a salary increase; citing personal circumstances is less effective.
  • Using deferential language shows that you’re a team player, which can scale up an employer’s compensation limit.
  • When you reach a negotiation impasse regarding your base salary, shift the conversation to mutual benefits, like performance-based bonuses.

. . .

1. Put Apprehension Aside

Salary negotiation is a routine part of the recruiting process. 

“Top recruiters will privately tell you, ‘always negotiate,’” said Dave (surname withheld by request), a human resource information system specialist for a publicly traded company in Boston, in an interview with Erika.com.

He dismisses concerns that negotiation will harm a candidate’s prospects with future employers. 

“Most who choose not to negotiate probably aren’t aware that they have that right. And if a candidate chooses to politely negotiate, it won’t negatively affect any of our decision-making.” 

Reasonable salary negotiation is a form of self-advocacy, and entering negotiations with that mindset can minimize the chances that you'll settle for less than you're worth.

2. Determine Your Target Salary

Any negotiation should start with an end goal in mind. Approach your future employers with an informed salary expectation. This shows them that you know the market and that you take a data-based approach to all your professional endeavors.

There are a lot of resources out there to help you put together a realistic salary range for your job.

  • Salary research sites: Use platforms like Glassdoor, Payscale, and Salary.com to get a salary estimate for your position. These sites refine their estimates based on your location and experience level. However, they collect data via anonymous submissions, so keep in mind that accuracy can vary.

  • Your professional network: Scroll through your LinkedIn connections and reach out to a few peers who work in similar capacities. Ask them if the figures you gathered from the salary sites are accurate for the position and company you’re interviewing for. Facebook groups for professionals in your field also make for great salary sounding boards. The option to post anonymously in those groups might allow for more candid conversations.

  • State governments and local business associations: Some state government websites publish average hourly wages and annual salaries by occupation. A local chamber of commerce may also be able to provide you with approximate salary expectations for your specific county or city.

Although salary negotiation is typically conducted toward the end of the hiring process, your research should be done before your first interview. You never know when an interviewer will ask about your pay expectations, and having a figure ready shows the other side that you’re always on top of your stuff.

LEARN MORE: How to Read a Pay Stub

3. Refine Your Negotiator Voice

Once you’re armed with accurate data points, it’s time to convey your worth to those who hold the purse strings.

Justify the Number

Citing personal reasons for better pay, like unexpected medical expenses or the financial strain of a growing family, may elicit sympathy from your managers. But it doesn’t communicate your value as an employee, and it’s unlikely to pass a review from HR. 

Instead, mention the salary range you identified during your research and communicate why your professional achievements justify compensation at the top of that range. 

During the interview process, share your talents, certifications, and past projects that particularly impressed management. When have you exceeded quotas set by supervisors, saved your employers money, or boosted revenue? 

Narrow your achievements down to three points and connect them to your employer’s future growth. Review the last annual report that the company released and explain how your skill set will advance their initiatives for the current or coming year.  

Ditch the Aspirations

You have real market value, so orient the language you use in your negotiations around that value. Avoid language that makes your proposed salary seem like a shot in the dark.

Speaking about your salary in aspirational terms — “I’d like to make,” “I hope to make,” “ideally,” etc. — gives the impression that you’re aspiring to be successful in your field and undermines your bona fide knowledge and experience. 

Embrace Empathetic and Deferential Language

Chris Voss, a negotiation consultant to Fortune 500 companies and co-author of the bargaining bible “Never Split the Difference,” is a firm believer in the power of deference during negotiation. 

“If people feel respected and heard, they’ll give you what you want,” said Voss in an Erika Taught Me podcast episode

Though it might feel counterintuitive, Voss said to use “no-oriented questions” during salary negotiation. This communicates a sense of deference and empathy for the company’s needs. 

“Take your question where you’re looking for a ‘yes’ and just switch it to a ‘no,’” he said. 

An example of a yes-oriented question would be: “Can you bump my base salary to $67,000?” In this context, a “yes” response will meet your request, but the question also has a demanding rather than deferential tone. 

Flipping it into a no-oriented question shows that you have what Voss calls “tactical empathy” for the company’s position: “I know inflation may have strained your overhead flexibility. Is a $67,000 base salary outside your means?”

4. Get Incremental

A company’s first offer likely won’t be the maximum they’re willing to pay, and you shouldn’t be surprised if it takes several offers and counteroffers to approach your target salary. 

According to Voss, a common salary negotiation strategy from the employer’s side of the table is to start with an offer that’s 65% of that employer’s ceiling salary. After you reject this initial lowball, the employer might gradually offer figures that are 85% and then 95% of its ceiling. 

While these exact progressions aren’t universal, they can serve as good reference points for your counteroffers until you and your employer reach the lowest base salary you’re willing to take and the highest they’re willing to pay.

The Power of ‘How’

A company may have a firm salary cap for your position, and it may be lower than your target. But other elements of your compensation package or employment terms are probably less rigid. 

“If a company indicates that its proposed salary is capped and that it can’t go any higher than that, you can instead negotiate other amenities,” said Dave. 

When you reach a deadlock over your base salary, it may be time to add what Voss calls a “how” question into your negotiation. For instance, you might ask, “How can my compensation package be enhanced in a way that has reciprocal value for both me and the company?”

“How” phrasing prompts the employer to contribute their ideas to the negotiations, making the discussions more collaborative and increasing their emotional investment in the process. 

It may also pivot the discussion to mutually beneficial compensation forms, like performance-based bonuses or stock options. 

“Ask the ‘how’ question deferentially to advance your agenda, as long as you’re not the sole beneficiary of the agenda,” said Voss. 

“The minute you start asking a ‘how’ question about how you can make everybody’s life better — you know, ‘How can I be involved in stuff that’s going to contribute to the advancement of the entire company?’ — now you’re not selfish; now you’re a team player.”

5. Time Your Proposal

If you’re considering requesting a raise from your current employer, conventional wisdom suggests waiting at least a year after your start date to submit the raise request. 

But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, and you may have the leverage you need to ask for a raise if you’ve taken on additional responsibilities beyond the scope of your original job description, even if you’re a relatively new hire. 

Just be aware that many companies review salaries on an annual basis. Ask trusted coworkers if there’s a cyclical period when the company evaluates salaries, and try to make your raise request about a month before then.

LEARN MORE: How to Beat Lifestyle Creep

6. Execute with Confidence

If you feel your nerves slipping during the negotiation process, remind yourself of the following three points:

  1. All relationships — be they social, romantic, or professional — involve constant negotiation. So you probably have more negotiation experience and skill than you realize. 
  2. Stats are on your side. About two-thirds of workers who negotiate are able to improve the first offer they receive from their employers, according to the Pew survey.
  3. Your employers are hopefully also on your side. They want you to overperform and give them a strong return on investment, and they know that’s less likely to happen if they nickel-and-dime your compensation.

“Dollars are cheap investments for long-term growth,” said Voss. 

So don’t be afraid to ask for a salary that will allow you and your company to grow together.

>> Listen to the full episode of Erika's interview with Chris Voss.

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.