Career Resource Center

How to Negotiate the Highest Salary

Many professionals find salary negotiations to be one of the most difficult and unpleasant parts of the job application process.  This is because most people do not like confrontation – or rejection – both of which are inherent when you negotiate your compensation.  However, the question of salary is inevitable, where it appears on the application or comes up during an interview.

Preparing yourself to answer questions about your desired compensation effectively will set you up for great success throughout your career.

The first step in preparing yourself to answer questions about your compensation is to do some research.  By researching low, high, and median salary ranges based on your experience and the role you’re applying for will help you narrow down your response.  Web tools like PayScale are great for researching compensation levels.  Even so, the research is just going to give you a “ballpark” estimate on your compensation and shouldn’t be used entirely to answer employer questions.

So, how do you respond to the desired salary question on a job application or during an interview?  Here are some great strategies you can use to craft an appropriate response.

You can choose not to answer

Avoiding the question completely is, of course, easier on an application that it is when you’re being interviewed.  You simply have to leave the question blank and there are no follow-up questions.  Unfortunately, many people will fill out this section prior to doing research or thinking about their desired salary range – this can hurt them in future negotiations.  You may be thinking that it is necessary to fill out every section of the application; however, it’s important to remember that many people do not fill out every question on the application, and employers are trying to fill their position as quickly as possible.  This means that if you’re a good fit for the position, they are unlikely to exclude you for consideration, even if you choose not to answer a question about your desired salary.

With that being said, you will want to keep an eye out for asterisks next to the salary box on job applications.  If an asterisk is there, that means the employer is requiring an answer to the question and will reject your application automatically if you don’t respond.

Avoid stating that your salary is negotiable

You’ll want to avoid stating that your salary is negotiable.  This leaves the company an opening to negotiate the lowest possible salary.  Remember that every company wants to get the best-qualified candidate for the lowest possible salary.  And a lower starting salary means that the company will have more wiggle-room for future salary increases and less risk when hiring a new employee.

If you do choose to put “negotiable” on your application, be prepared for a tougher negotiation later on in the application process.

You can provide a range for your salary

Providing a salary range can be a useful method for answering the question without giving away too much information about your attention.  Your previous research on salary should be useful now that it is time to provide a range; however, you’ll also want to do some research into the company you’re applying for to try and uncover some information about what they may be willing to pay.  Often, websites like GlassDoor can provide additional insight into what specific companies are paying for various roles.

When providing a salary range, you’ll want to keep in mind that the employer is going to try to target the lowest number in your range.  So, if you’re providing a range of $50,000 – $75,000, the employer will try to offer you the position at the $50,000 salary.  To receive an offer for the higher salary, you’ll need to give a convincing explanation for why you deserve to be paid the higher salary.

You can give an actual dollar amount

It is not recommended to provide an actual dollar amount unless absolutely necessary.  If you provide a number that is too high, you can end up not being offered the position at all.  On the other hand, if you provide a number that is too low, you’ll struggle to re-negotiate the salary later.  This is especially true when you’re offering specific numbers on the initial application; however, you should also try to avoid providing a specific number until after the interview when you have the full context about the job application.

If you’re unsure how to avoid answering the question, here is a great YouTube video on answering questions about salary expectations.

It’s best to put money talks off until after the interview

You’ll want to avoid answering the question until you know as much as possible about the role you’ll be applying for.  The more information you can glean, the more targeted your reasons can be for why you deserve the higher salary.  For example, if you’re applying to a position as an RN, and you find out the position requires experience working on multiple different floors, you can explain that you deserve the higher salary because you DO have experience working on multiple floors.

How to delay the desired salary question if it’s still early in the interview process

Here are some actual examples you can use to delay salary questions until later on or after the interview process:

“Although I’m confident that my experience and abilities are a great match for your position, I’d like to better explain these details before we discuss salary options.”

“In an effort to be as transparent as possible, I’d prefer to negotiate the salary after I’ve learned more about the position, and you’ve learned more about my expertise.”

These are both fairly simple responses that most employers will accept.  The key to both responses is that you’re giving a valid reason for delaying the negotiation while simultaneously hinting that although money is important, finding the right role that matches your experience is even MORE important to you.  This can be an effective way of negotiating a higher salary without giving the impression that you’re only interested in earning more money.

Once you have entered the job offer phase

The most important thing to remember about any job offer you receive is that there will always be other options available.  You cannot effectively negotiate a better salary if you’re not willing to walk away from the deal with nothing.  Similar to negotiating an offer on a house, if you’re clearly in love with the house and you can’t walk away, you’re going to be more willing to pay whatever price is necessary to get it.

Take the stress out of negotiating salary

If you’re not confident going into the salary negotiation, try asking a simple question first: “Is this salary negotiable?”  If the answer is yes, then you have a clear invitation to discuss what you’re looking for.  Again, try to remember that a salary negotiation is about ensuring you get paid what you’re worth, and employers expect you to ask for more money.

Don’t simply take the salary they offer

I was once told a story by a scrapyard dealer about people who brought vehicles in to be scrapped.  In the scrapyard, they weigh vehicles to determine how much it is worth.  Often, people try to earn more money by filling the vehicle’s gas tank and engine block with sand, thereby adding to the overall weight of the vehicle.  To combat this, the scrapyard will assume that every vehicle coming in is 100-200 pounds heavier than it should be and deduct that total from the final price.  This means that anyone who was being honest and not filling their tanks with sand was getting the short end of the stick.  Similarly, anyone who doesn’t try to negotiate their salary is losing out on thousands of dollars over the course of their career.

Remember salary equals money plus benefits

Many people fail to understand that salary negotiations are not just about what shows up in your bank account.  Some companies may pay less in salary but provide additional benefits.  It’s important to consider the value of the benefits you’re being offered and try to give them a dollar figure.  This will help you better calculate which offer is the best for your future success.

The bottom line

Discussing your salary is an inevitable part of any career.  At the end of the day, you want to put offer discussing your compensation until you have as much information as you can.  Once you’re comfortable and in a solid position to negotiate, make sure you don’t sell yourself short.  Be honest with yourself and the company about what you’re worth.  Remember, getting paid what you’re worth can also help you feel motivated and confident once you take on the position, which is why companies will often be willing to pay you the higher salary if you explain why you deserve it.

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