How to Negotiate a Job Offer

Smiling woman in front of her computer with her hands up

If you’re one of the millions of people in the market for a new career, how to negotiate a job offer might be at the top of your mind. With employers offering lucrative salaries and perks to woo candidates, perhaps you want to make sure you don’t leave money on the table. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have multiple prospects, maybe you’re looking to negotiate the best job offer among them. 

Whatever your situation, the expert tips below will help you understand how to negotiate a job offer, determine an appropriate salary, and name what you’re asking for in a way that gives you the best chances of hearing ‘it’s a deal!’

Why Negotiate A Job Offer?

Negotiating is an important factor not just in the job you’re considering right now, but in determining your earnings over the course of your entire career. Since so many conversations about pay are based on what you’re making in your current job, failing to negotiate for even one position can set you back exponentially over time. Experts say¹ not negotiating early in your career could mean you leave as much as $1 million or more on the table over your lifetime. 

What’s more, employers accept that a bit of haggling is an inherent part of the hiring process. Seventy percent of managers say² they expect to negotiate over salary and benefits when they’re making a hire. The majority of them, however, don’t outright say that there’s wiggle room in the offer.  

The bottom line is that if you think there’s a better offer to be had, it’s always worth trying to negotiate. Remember, not all job offer negotiations are about money. Whether you’re wondering how to negotiate salary, want to ask for more robust benefits, or just want a little time off before you start the job, negotiating a job offer successfully will give you the best possible chance of getting the outcome you want before you say ‘yes.’. 

Now let’s talk about the big conversation: how to negotiate salary. It’s a discussion that comes with a lot of angst for candidates, but that shouldn’t be the case. When an employer makes you a job offer, they’re invested in hiring you. They’ve put in the time and resources to get this far in the process, so it’s in the best interest of both parties to come to a mutually agreeable figure. 

Tips For Negotiating Salary and Benefits With a Future Employer

Do your homework

You’ll need to be prepared to name a number early in the negotiation, and to do this, you can’t just throw out a figure you’d subjectively like to be making. Rather, the salary you put forward should be based on solid research of what other companies in your area pay similar candidates for comparable positions. If you already have a competing offer, even better. 

Also, be cognizant of what’s going on in the company. If they’ve just downsized, for example, going much higher on salary might be out of the question. If they’re looking to hire five people in the same position, they might have a locked-in figure they plan to pay all five people.

Name the right number

The first number you name in a salary negotiation matters, so it’s important to get it right. This is known as anchoring³, and it’s a psychological effect that influences our perception of possible outcomes.

Here’s an example. If you were hoping for a salary of $75,000, but the interviewer says the range for the job is $55,000 to $65,000, you would probably adjust your expectations pretty quickly to make $65,000 your target number, based on nothing else but the interviewer’s words. It works the other way, too, when you’re naming your desired salary. 

Once you’ve done some research on the going market rate for your position, you probably have a good idea of a figure you’d be happy to accept as a salary. Your best bet is to go a little higher than this figure and use that as the first number you mention. This allows wiggle room for you to “compromise” if the employer makes a lower counteroffer and still arrive at a number you’re satisfied with. 

Finally, it’s helpful to name a specific number rather than a range, as a range makes it too easy for you to settle on the lower end. 

Know your value 

Confidence is key to negotiating well, and this step will help you make a solid case for why you deserve the number you’ve arrived at. Just as a salesperson comes armed with all the wonderful features of the product they’re pushing, so should you be prepared to list off the reasons you’re worth what you’re asking for. Share the results you plan to achieve for the employer in detail, citing specific numbers and past accomplishments where appropriate. 

Also, bear in mind what they’re hoping to get from you as a candidate. Is it hitting a certain sales target? Landing more clients? Unlocking creative new ideas? Tailor your selling points to whatever those desires are on the employer’s end.

One thing you should avoid doing at all costs during a salary negotiation is bringing your personal life into the conversation. Needing to make a certain amount of money per month to cover your rent, for example, isn’t a solid argument for why you deserve a certain salary. Limit your argument to the facts that are directly relevant to your ability to do the job well.  

Time it right

While salary talks may come up earlier in the interview process—in fact, we recommend talking about it early so both you and the employer are on the same page—it’s best to wait until you have an offer in hand to start negotiating. Ideally, you’ll have already discussed a ballpark that ensures the number you name isn’t way outside the range they’re able or willing to pay. 

Be prepared for tough questions

While you’re negotiating with a person, it’s important to remember that they represent a business—one that has a bottom line to protect. So, don’t be thrown if they ask challenging questions. For example: what other companies are you talking with? Are you considering other offers? If we meet your salary expectations, will you accept the job today? If we offer you X, will you compromise on Y?

While you by no means have to show your hand when it comes to other companies you’re speaking with or offers you may have, you’ll want to think through how you’d like to respond to these questions ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard. 

Keep it positive

While conversations about pay can feel tense, try to remember that they’re a normal part of the hiring process and it’s in your best interest to keep that process as positive and professional as possible. 

It’s also ideal for the person you’re negotiating with to have a positive impression of you. This is what’s known as liking bias⁴; it dictates that people are more likely to say ‘yes’ to those they know and like. Even if the decision isn’t fully up to them, a hiring manager who likes you is more likely to expend emotional capital going to bat to get you what you want than if you rubbed them the wrong way by being rude or terse. 

Know when you’ll walk away

If your acceptance of the offer hinges solely on landing your desired salary, there has to be a point where you’re okay with losing the offer. If you can’t arrive at a mutually agreeable sum, be prepared to bow out gracefully.

Related: How to Withdraw Gracefully From the Interview Process

Consider the offer as a whole 

It’s important to note that a job offer is a package deal that includes more than just a named salary. Maybe they can’t come up to meet your higher wage expectations, but they can offer you an additional week of paid vacation or flex time to work from anywhere you want a certain number of days each month (more on negotiating these things in a minute).

Also, just because you can negotiate doesn’t mean you have to. Sometimes you’ll get a great offer that you’re happy with right out of the gate. If the first salary they name is within your desired range, consider expending your energy negotiating on other things that will sweeten the deal, like company-sponsored attendance to that industry conference you’ve always wanted to attend.

What Can You Negotiate in a Job Offer? 

When most people think ‘negotiation,’ they think salary. And it’s true that pay is probably the biggest factor candidates raise in discussions over whether they’ll take a job. In a 2018 survey⁵, 68% of and 45% of women said they negotiated their salaries.

But as we touched on above, salary is far from the only thing you can negotiate, especially since in some cases there isn’t much room for employers to come up on pay. Here’s how to negotiate a job offer on items besides salary:

  • Sign-on bonus
  • First-year bonus
  • Job title
  • Start date
  • Vacation time
  • Flexibility 
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Relocation expenses
  • Professional development opportunities

Remember, your decision to take the job should be based on the full package a company can offer you, not just the salary, so be sure to consider how things like work-life balance and other incentives will influence your overall job satisfaction and negotiate accordingly.

Related: In-Demand Perks and Benefits

Sample Job Offer Negotiation Scripts

Is your stomach feeling a little queasy just thinking about the negotiation conversation? Take a deep breath, then practice with these job offer negotiation scripts for different scenarios. 

When you want more money than they’ve offered

If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ve done your homework and know what a competitive salary would be for someone with your skills and experience. Try this:

“I’m confident I’m the right fit for the role and excited about what I could bring to the team. Based on my market research, candidates with my level of experience are making about $70,000 for similar roles. Can we explore a starting salary that’s closer to that number?”

When you need time off for something you’ve already planned

This is a more common scenario than you might expect, but it’s still something you need to raise before you start your new gig. The best time to bring it up is during the final stages of negotiation or after you’ve already accepted an offer, otherwise you risk giving the impression that your time off is more important to you than the job. Be direct and phrase it as a statement rather than a question or an apology, like this:

“I’m looking forward to getting started with Acme Company. I wanted to let you know that I have a previously scheduled trip planned in January and will be out of town from the 25th through the 29th.”

When you reach an impasse

When you disagree with a work colleague about a shared project, you don’t simply walk away from the project. Rather, you’d explore all options to find a compromise and move things forward. Your job offer negotiation script should reflect this same level of commitment to finding common ground.

“I understand that being fully remote doesn’t make sense for what’s required of this position, but I’m wondering if working from home two days a week might be feasible. That would allow me to accommodate in-person meetings while still having some location flexibility.”

Leverage a Recruiter to Land the Best Offer

You may already know that working with a recruiter can help connect you with job opportunities. But did you know it can also help you land a better offer? A professional headhunter can be a trusted source of insider information like the market rate for certain jobs and the pay range for open positions. Launch your job search with the team of experts at 4 Corner Resources by sending your resume to connect@4cornerresources.com today. 

Resources and Sources

  1. https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/research-shows-not-negotiating-your-salary-could-cost-you-1-million-especially-.html
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2020/01/08/the-most-critical-reason-you-need-to-negotiate-how-to-do-it-effectively/?sh=2360853e30ed
  3. https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/negotiation-skills-daily/what-is-anchoring-in-negotiation/
  4. https://www.wealest.com/articles/liking-bias
  5. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/more-professionals-are-negotiating-salaries-than-in-the-past.aspx#:~:text=51%20percent%20of%20Americans%20have,with%2053%20percent%20of%20women.
Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.