How to negotiate a starting salary: tips and examples

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April 20, 2021

Never accept less than you are worth again. This is how to negotiate a starting salary, even if the thought of it fills you with dread.

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Have you been through the whole time consuming, stress inducing, endless process of job search and interviews and then heard those magic words – we are going to make you an offer?

It’s such a relief to know that it is all over, you have achieved what you set out to do, and that you can now plan ahead once again.

But then you receive the offer – and it all comes crashing down because it is far lower than you expected.

Confusion sets in and you are left wondering where it all went wrong and what should you do now?

How to negotiate a starting salary before a job interview

If you have received a job offer lower than your expectations you will know that it starts a rollercoaster of emotions.  Shock, disappointment, and anger all jostle for position with each other alongside the main question: is that all they think I am worth?

By the end of this post, you will know the key points to negotiating a starting salary but let’s address this ‘worth issue’ now because it is central to the whole process

A study in 2007 attempted to measure if price had any influence on the taste of wine. The researchers had their study participants sample various wines while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

The participants were told the sample wines started at $5 a bottle and progressively increased up to $90. They were told the price of each before they drank it and the blood flow was measured to regions of their brains that are associated with pleasure.

Participants told researchers that as the price increased, so did their enjoyment of the taste of the wine. This was corroborated by their brains emitting increased spikes of pleasure.

However, throughout the experiment all participants were given exactly the same wine every single time.

But what’s this got to do with negotiating your starting salary I hear you ask?

Well, my answer is everything.

This experiment is a classic example of framing. How a product is framed or presented can alter the whole personal perception of that product.

How you frame yourself as a candidate can do the same.

Which would you hire?

Compare these 2 candidates up to the offer stage

Candidate 1

  • Submitted generic resume  
  • Attended interview unprepared
  • Waited for offer

Candidate 2

  • Submitted targeted resume & cover letter  
  • Provided answers based on research about the role and company
  • Asked questions they had pre-prepared.
  • Provided references from appropriate professionals.
  • Sent a thank you email to the interviewers.
  • Followed up a week later to reiterate their interest.

Prove your worth right from the beginning

How you present yourself up to the offer stage is so important.

Your salary negotiation starts way back at the beginning where you can either position yourself as the $5 or the $90 option.

In other words, you can influence their decision on whether you are worth a higher salary by behaving like you are.

This means taking time to write a targeted resume for the role, accompanied by a targeted cover letter, and thoroughly preparing for the interview so nothing throws you off track.

Whether you like it or not, they will be comparing you to other candidates at every step of the recruitment process.

How to negotiate a starting salary after a job interview

Many people won’t even think of negotiating a higher starting salary for 3 main reasons.

Conflict

Let’s be honest, who likes to find themselves in a confrontational situation? It is so much easier to avoid this by just accepting the offer as is or walking away without trying.

Confidence

The mere word ‘negotiation’ suggests that you need to be brimming with confidence but not everyone has such self-belief.

Fear

Perhaps the biggest reason is the fear of losing the job altogether if you question their offer.

If any of the above have stopped you from earning what you deserve, I want you to do this right now.

Change your mindset on this topic and throw out the window everything you have heard about sales negotiation.

This isn’t about sales negotiation.

You are both coming together to reach an initial agreement about what they are going to pay you for your services.

This isn’t you trying to sell a dodgy product to them and wondering how to pitch it at the right level.

The interview is over, they like you, and they now want to give you a great offer.

Start to negotiate a starting salary with these words

If you want the job but aren't quite there yet because of the starting salary, open up the discussion with these 6 words - I want to make this work.

This lets the employer know that ultimately you want to accept their offer and that it is worth their time coming up with a solution.

Tell them this as soon as possible in the process. Offer up suggestions with what is missing, what you need or what you would trade such as salary with vacation days, stocks, or benefits for example.

Replace negotiation with communication

Keep in mind that both of you win if you accept the job, and both of you lose if you don't.

Remember you are a team.

You both need to communicate where you are coming from and why.

Listen to what the company’s position is. Some of these compensation packages can be very complex so hear them out.

They also need to understand your rationale so be clear with your communication and reasons.

Assess what the salary offer is really worth to you

Remember to see it as a package – what I get to do, who I do it with, how it matches all of my requirements.

If it is your dream role, you might be willing to trade some certainty dollars against performance dollars.

If the location is perfect for your lifestyle, this may compensate a lower figure.

You need to look at it holistically.

You don’t want to throw away all the things that are important to you just because a few dollars are missing.

Get the timing right

If you have been in a lengthy process you should know by the time you get down to the end whether you want to accept the offer assuming that the compensation is in order.

However, if it has been quick – ie days or a week – you may need some time to think it over.

Either way, when you are given an offer they will likely give you a date by which they want your response.

Sometimes this is a day, or it could be as long as a week or 2 weeks.

Whatever it is, you should reply to them verbally, not in an email, telling them when you will respond within that time frame and then make sure you stick to it or beat it.

You may decide that this opening is not right for you but don’t burn your bridges with them for future opportunities by acting unprofessionally now.

What to say when you are negotiating a starting salary

Always start by thanking an employer for an offer and reiterate your interest in the position.

You have built up loads of goodwill over the course of the interview so don’t ruin it now by being cold and adversarial.

Here is an example of how you can start off your negotiation that you can adapt to your industry and situation.

Example opening statement for starting salary negotiation

First and foremost I just want to let you know how excited I am about this role and that this is definitely the job I want.


With that said however I think the experience I bring to the table and the value I have been able to demonstrate in my prior roles warrants a much higher salary than $Xk.


(Next give a range and suggest where you fall within it – you need to research this prior to the face to face meeting or telephone conversation)


In terms of my own research regarding this particular role in other companies I have found that there is a range of between $X – Xk


I think that given my experience, and the success I have achieved in prior roles which I believe I could bring to this role, that I deserve to get the higher end of that range.


So my aspiration is to get $XK

The two most common reactions to this opening comment tend to be these.

“I understand what you are saying but my hands are tied. These are the set rates for the X team within the company and I can’t go beyond this.”

And “the economy is tough right now so we really can’t offer any more.”

Let’s look at how to handle both now.

How to respond to “we need to keep your salary in line with other people in the team”  

The truth is, there is always more money for top talent.

But top talent does something different to normal jobseekers.

This goes back to that framing principle again.

If you set yourself apart right from the beginning of the recruitment process, you will put yourself in another league.

And it follows that if you are in another league, the salary guidelines don’t apply to you.

Prove your worth, prove what value you can bring, and the money will follow.

But, take notice of what comes first. Value then money.

You don’t say “if you give me $x more I will take your offer.”

You say “I will bring x, y  and z to the table so that is why I feel  should get a higher salary”

It is up to you to explain exactly why you are worth more than the other members of a team.

Identify your key achievements with your current or previous employer that they would value and say something like this.

“OK, I understand what you are saying about the team and why you are sensitive to that but  I would like you to consider the value I am going to bring.


Does anybody in your current team do X? Does anybody else do Y? And is anybody going to be able to do Z?


Due to the fact that I will be performing the same role as the team but at a different level, I feel that the salary should be altered in my case to reflect what I will deliver.”

To fully frame yourself as a better candidate, you need to get your point across right from the beginning of the process by changing their thoughts regarding the role in question as well.

HR may have set the salary at $80k for example, based on current and previous roles within their organisation.

They will have some issue or function within their business and they will have an idea of who can solve or manage this based on qualifications, age , experience, industry exposure and other factors.

Remember though that these are assumptions and beliefs which are not set in stone.

The only thing that is will be the actual issue or function within their organisation.

This means that if you can convince them from the beginning that they will get more from you than any other candidate, the will be prepared to offer more money to you than any other candidate.

Be proactive, offer ideas, solutions along the way, brainstorm processes with them and act like you already work for them during your meetings.

Keep a note of all that value you have offered with your knowledge and then, when it comes to the end, remind them of this accumulated total of how you will deliver results that others haven’t even discussed with them.

How to respond to “the economy is tough so we can’t increase the salary offer”

If a company is using this as a bargaining tactic then essentially, you should use the same response as above to negotiate a starting salary but with a spin.

“OK, I understand what you are saying about the current climate but that is exactly why I believe you can’t afford not to hire me due to the value I am going to bring.


Does anybody in your current team do X? Does anybody else do Y? And is anybody going to be able to do Z?


Due to the fact that I will be performing the same role as the team but at a different level, I feel that the salary should be altered in my case to reflect what I will deliver, which is essential in this tough market.”

However, if this is a genuine issue for a company and no amount of negotiation can change their position, then this solution will make sense to them.

You may not be getting the salary increase immediately, but you will be setting up the opportunity for a review once you have proven your worth to them in 6 months’ time.

Can I just ask what would be the review cycle in terms of evaluating my suitability for a promotion or raise?


I understand that right now we are going through some tough times, but could we maybe accelerate a review in 6 months to evaluate my salary in line with the experience I bring to this role?

How to get more than the job offer by looking beyond the salary

Once you feel that the subject of salary is maxed out, you could consider negotiating and exploring other types of compensation

Would it be appropriate to talk about some of the benefits associated with the role?


I understand that maybe there are budgetary restrictions, but perhaps we could come to some agreement on these so that we could close the gap a bit.


I really appreciate your flexibility because I am committed to this role I think these options could be a great way to demonstrate our commitment to each other.


Don’t make these common starting salary negotiation mistakes

There are of course companies that are just not worthy of your time and effort. The one’s that offer ‘take it or leave it’ low ball offers to see what they can get away with deserve rejections and you should move on.

Discounting these, watch out for these mistakes that can seriously hinder the whole process.

Mistake 1Talking about money during the interview process

Never talk about salary at the beginning of the interview process.

You, the job candidate, want to talk about it when your value is highest.

It’s not high before they interview you.

It is at its highest at the end of the interview process because they know more about you and want you then.

At the beginning of the process, you also don’t know them.

You also have no idea initially what the entire package involves.

For example, you may love the fact that it is just across the street from your house, you may love that you get to travel internationally, you may love that particular team, or that you will get a unique opportunity to learn new skills that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

If you gave them an answer at the beginning it would be completely uneducated.

You could rule yourself out of your dream job without knowing it.

So never talk money at the beginning of the process

If they do ask what are your salary expectations try this.

"When I was younger I started on a low salary but now I have [years of experience/particular skill or qualification] I obviously want a fair compensation.

My expectation now is to be in the top of the range for this role but I am sure we can work out a mutually agreeable figure if we feel we are the right fit for each other."

Mistake 2 - Focusing on money not value

Always back up your desired figure with facts.

Help them understand the value you will bring to their role.

If an employer feels that money is the only thing you are motivated by, alarm bells will start ringing in their head.

They may feel that you would easily jump ship and leave them for a competitor if they offered you more in the near future.

Recruiting and on boarding employees is a seriously expensive process so you need to reassure them of your commitment to their specific company.

You can do this by researching current projects and news and talking about these with them to show that you are serious about their specific company.

Mistake 3 - Lying about competing job offers

Of course, you may well get other offers and undoubtedly it is useful.

You can use this to your advantage by saying something like this.

"I have actually received a significantly higher offer from another company.

I would like to reiterate though that this is where I would like to work and I prefer the scope of your opportunity.

Do you think we could work this out before I have to get back to them with a decision on [date]?"

You may be wondering, why not lie?

The problem is that if you get found out, you could lose the job.

Never underestimate who knows who.

After all, if you lie about other opportunities you may also lie about other more important things if they hire you.

Mistake 4 - Setting expectations too high

Negotiating a starting salary is not about one side winning and the other losing.

The process should bring you both together so you are equally happy.

You are looking to get paid a fair salary that makes you feel valued.

If you feel underpaid you may feel disgruntled but if you are overpaid you may feel a bit nervous – and for good reason.

Wringing every last dollar out of an employer is not always a good thing.

If you play hard ball and get an overinflated salary you will have a target on your head.

If an employer‘s expectation of you is higher than you can actually deliver, you will soon be out of a job again and your references will be a problem.

Key takeaways

The key to successfully negotiating a starting salary lies in proving you are a better candidate than others right from the first screening call or interview through to the end of the process at offer stage.

If you successfully set yourself at a higher level, coupled with making them see the actual role in a new light because of what you will personally bring to it, then negotiation will be much easier.

And if none of this works? Then move on because you need to be valued. Keep being professional and proactive with your job search because yes, you are worth it.

Amanda Datchens

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About the Author

A career coach, headhunter, and entrepreneur, Amanda has founded and been involved in developing multiple companies known for innovative HR and recruitment solutions. Originally from London but now in Queensland, Australia, she is the co-founder of Real Life Career Advice and the Hi Vis Hub.

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