How To Negotiate A Fair Salary In 8 Steps

Negotiating fair compensation is often a stressful experience, and it can feel awkward for many introverts. To some extent, it will always be difficult. It is a tough conversation to have, it is very personal, and the stakes are pretty high as it will impact you for years to come.

If you don’t get comfortable negotiating a fair reward for your work, you will most likely still join the company, but from day one will feel resentful. Instead of giving all you’ve got to the job, there will be a lingering feeling in you that you sold yourself cheap. The more you learn from your colleagues what they make, the more you see opportunities from recruiters, the more resentful you get. Eventually, you jump the ship and join another company.

You could spare yourself all this pain if you only did a better job negotiating compensation that you would consider fair in the first place. With this in mind, it is your duty to negotiate and accept only compensation that you find appropriate.

So how can you spare yourself all this grief, and what can you do to negotiate a fair compensation that will leave both sides happy with the deal?

1. Do your homework

It is all about preparation. First, do your best to understand why the employer even opened the position in the first place. What problem are they trying to solve? Understanding this will help you formulate how you can solve their problem. And it doesn’t need to be just a specialized role. Even if you applied for a receptionist role, there is still a mission, a problem you will help solve. The company needs someone to meet and greet customers or candidates, file some paperwork, schedule stuff, work with suppliers, and do many other things to keep the operation running.

2. Listen carefully

By listening well during the whole recruitment process and asking the right questions, you should get a good understanding of the company’s pains are that your role will fix. Proactive and attentive listening is again one of your strengths, so make sure you use it. Asking the right questions will get you ammunition for the final negotiation and show your interest and acumen.

3. Articulate the value you bring

That leads to the second part of preparation. You need to put together a short sales pitch that will clearly articulate the value you bring to the table. Not just, “I can do all these things,” but more along the lines, “this is how I will positively impact the lives of others.” Not only will this approach help you make a more emotional connection with the counterpart at the negotiation table, but it will also help you visualize your mission at the company. You will feel more confident and in control.

Let’s look at the example of the receptionist role. You can start with something like, “I understand that the tasks this role should handle are managing calendars, greeting incoming people, making travel arrangements, working with suppliers, and running the office. I have done all this before and know how to organize things to run an efficient operation. The way I see it, my mission at this company is to make your and other people’s lives easier by handling tons of the small everyday administrative details in the lives of you and the other employees, by anticipating future needs, and making sure others can focus on their key goals and don’t get slowed down by administration.”

Do you see? You showed the hiring manager that you understand what is in the job description and that you can take the role to a new level. It shows your passion for the job. It shows you prepared. It shows you are a level above everyone else they most likely interviewed.

4. Have a story to tell

Selling works the best when you show that you genuinely understand the person’s need and focus more on emotions than just on logic. You want to highlight the things you will bring that are often unsaid yet extremely important. The best way to do that is to find an example in your life that you can present in the form of a short story.

Listen to this story, our hypothetical receptionist can say. “I understand that a big portion of the job is to book travel for the executive team. I know how busy executives always are, spend lots of time on the road, and cherish every minute they can spend with their family. I see it as my mission to help others live happy lives. It reminds me of a recent situation when a CTO asked me to book him a trip that would make him miss his daughter’s birthday. Since I knew the birthday was coming, I was able to come up with a different alternative from the usual flight he would take, so he managed to get home just in time. It was a bit less comfortable than he was used to, but he was delighted that he managed to be there for his girl.”

You are listing the tasks you have done before and the impact your work had on those around you. The chances are that the hiring manager, when listening to a story, can picture herself in the role of your former boss and say to themselves, “yes, this is the person who understands their job and will make my life easier.” Sold.

5. Understand your value on the job market

When it comes to talking about money, I find the best approach is not to make a big deal out of it. The more you are focused on money, the more obsessed, the more you want to talk about it, the more the conversation will be about “how much you cost” and not about “what do you bring.” Don’t push for money conversation until the end. It may sound like you will save everyone time if you first set expectations but realistically, you can’t set the right expectations on how much “it” will cost before you discuss what “it” really is. You want to talk about money only when your value for the company is established.

Do your research on what someone with your experience, in that particular industry, in that specific position, and in that particular country or city makes. You can find lots of information on the internet, you can even ask some of your friends, and you can ask some recruiters. This is helpful in terms of giving you a feel of your value on the market and making it less personal and less stressful. It is not about “what you think.” It is about “the market.” It will make you more comfortable when having the final conversation.

Don’t stop there. It is not only about the base salary. Consider other monetary and non-monetary benefits that might be important to you. Again, use critical thinking when considering them. Many companies will throw tons of benefits at you, and with time you realize that you don’t need most of them. So what are the things that would be more important for you than money?

6. Don’t mind going first

I have often heard that whatever you do, you shouldn’t go first. Let the other side come up with a number. I find this very unfortunate advice. The moment you let the employer come up with an amount, you are being put in a position to push back and justify why you should be paid more.

A better approach is to do your research, come up with a range and then ask for something at the upper end of that range—ideally, a bit more than you would be comfortable with. You can start with something like, “based on my research of the market and my experience, I believe that fair compensation for this role is in this range. Does it align with your expectation?” Now it is up to the employer to push back and justify why you are not worth that money.

Just make sure that the range is high enough that even the lower end is still a good outcome for you. By having a high range, you are creating what negotiators call an extreme anchor. If you feel you are worth $95,000 and you ask for a range of $100,000 to $130,000, then the lower end of $100,000 doesn’t look that bad compared to the high end. The other party may go for the lower end, and you are still okay.

If the employer is the one who comes up with a proposal first and it doesn’t align with your expectations, you can still get what you believe you are worth. Just take it as a first step in the negotiation, stay positive, and don’t make ultimatums. You can react with something along these lines, “thank you for the offer. I liked everything I heard during the interview process, and I would love to work for the company. I would just ask you to rethink the compensation package. I did extensive research and considering the experience and value I bring, I expect something closer to $100,000.”

7. Focus on more than just money

By going first, you are setting the range, setting the expectations, and framing the conversation. It can easily happen that the employer comes back and says it is too much for them, the budget for the role is limited, and give you a lower number as a counterproposal. If it is still within your expected range, you may take it but use this opportunity to get some non-monetary benefit.

For example, you may be willing to take that offer, but would it be possible to work regularly from home? Whatever it is you care about and what is worth some money to you, ask for it. Just make sure you have realistic expectations. The bigger the company, the bigger the chance of a very rigid compensation system. It has to be. If every person in a company with a hundred thousand employees negotiated different benefits, it would be a mess and most likely also illegal. However, there can always be some level of flexibility, and it is good to explore it.

8. Be willing to walk away

When negotiating a salary, one of the most significant problems is that people don’t want to lose. We are sometimes desperate to make a deal that we make a deal that is no good, and we regret it later. You should have a precise number in your head that is the necessary minimum and don’t compromise. If you did your research and know your value on the job market, there is no need to sell yourself cheap.

Again, for this to work, make sure you think critically about the data you are getting. We all tend to think highly about ourselves and often have unrealistic expectations. If you feel that what you are being offered is under your market value and there is no flexibility on the employer’s side, just walk away. Of course, do it in a respectful way, and that will allow the employer to come back to you in case the situation changes.

To sum it up

Most things in life are negotiable. If you don’t ask for something, chances are you won’t get it. It also applies to salary negotiation. Always negotiate. And always shoot for a win-win situation.

If you accept lower compensation than your value on the job market, you lose. Eventually, you will resent the company and walk away. So, everyone loses.

Similarly, if you get more money than your value on the market, the company loses. Eventually, because you are overpaid, you will be stuck in your job with golden handcuffs on your hands. You won’t enjoy the job anymore, you will be dissatisfied, and you won’t be able to leave because no one will pay you that much money. Again, everyone loses.

The only way for a good long-term working relationship between you and your employer is to go for a win-win. And that means negotiating fair pay, no more, no less.

What are your thoughts on negotiating a salary? What worked for you and what didn’t? Do you have some tips and tricks that lead to win-win situation?

Photo: nattanan23 /

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter: @GeekyLeader

This article is adapted from my book Quiet Success: The Introvert’s Guide To A Successful Career. If you enjoyed it, get a copy today!

Categories: Career, Communication

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