No matter who you are, no matter what you do as a job, there is one skill that will always (always!) come in handy: negotiation. Whether you’re a newbie just starting out on your career path or a seasoned professional, being able to negotiate salary or raises helps ensure that you’re getting the most out of your career.
Before You Start
Before you even get in the room and start negotiating (or crack open your email), there are some tips you should follow first.
1. Know your worth.
The absolute baseline for any negotiation is knowing what you’re worth. This isn’t some existential exercise—this is knowing the dollar value of your professional skills and experience in the current market, in your current industry. Sites like Salary.com, Glassdoor, and PayScale provide valuable real-time information about what people in your position are making at different companies, in different regions, at different experience levels. Using that kind of data you can get a pretty solid sense of what you’re worth in the employment marketplace.
2. Keep your mindset realistic.
Chances are, you’re not going to get everything you want. So before you even start it’s good to steel yourself for an outcome that may be a little less than you were picturing. After all, when you’re done you want to be able to enjoy what you did win here, rather than focus on what you lost.
3. Don’t limit your research to salary.
If you’re negotiating a job offer, make sure you know everything you can find out about your prospective new company. If their stock is tanking, or there’s a general sense of upheaval, you might not be able to negotiate all that much above an initial offer. If the company is flush and doing well, there might be greater leeway for negotiation.
4. Get your plan together.
This is not the time to wing it, no matter how confident you feel. Go into this with a specific plan for what exactly what you’re going to ask for, what information you’re going to use to support that ask, and what you'll say when met with different responses.
5. Look at the calendar.
Believe it or not, studies have shown that you’re more likely to get a raise if you ask on a Thursday. Maybe it’s pre-weekend goodwill, or it’s that the Monday-related grumpiness has dissipated. Whatever it is, it’s a psychological advantage that could help you, without the other person realizing it.
Okay, so you have your numbers in mind (and written down), and you have a realistic sense of where this negotiation can go. How do you kick off the next phase?
6. Get pumped.
What gets you awake and ready to act decisively and confidently? If that’s a #treatyoself latte, do it. If morning yoga or a run helps energize you and make you feel centered, go for the Zen. Basically, whatever helps you feel focused and confident, make sure you allow yourself time to do that before any negotiation.
7. Exude confidence.
You know how baseball players have special walk-up music playing when they come up to bat? Find your walk-up song. Don’t blare it as you enter the room (that’s a bit too extra), but definitely have it in your head as you walk into the room with your head held high. Or if you’re negotiating remotely via email, have your power song(s) playing on repeat in the background.
8. Rock your body (language).
Body language is one of the most important factors in an in-person negotiation. Strong, confident posture and body language show that you’re comfortable advocating for yourself and aren’t likely to accept whatever they throw your way first. They also show that you’re engaged and approaching this in a calm, friendly-but-businesslike way. Make sure you’re not being too aggressive in your body language, though, because that can backfire as much as being too weak or nervous.
9. Remember, you’re not here to make enemies.
Negotiation is something done in good faith, assuming that both parties are trying to come to an agreement that works. If you go full-on aggro, you ruin that element of good faith. It’s not going to make your negotiation partner want to give you more—and it much more likely to have the opposite effect. And it’s crucial to remember that this is someone you’ll have to deal with at work after the negotiation is over, so don’t say or do anything you’d regret later.
10. Start with the right questions.
It can be tempting to jump in with “here’s what I want,” but this is your chance to get more info about the other party. You can start the conversation about asking about priorities and the other party’s goals for the negotiation. Sure, it’s small talk, but it can help you measure your next step.
The Big Negotiation
Once you’re in it (either in the same room or locked in an email exchange), it’s important to keep up your confidence and your momentum.
11. Move first.
Be the first one to put out a number. There’s an old saying that you don’t want to be the one who blinks first, but that’s not really valid here. By putting your own highest number out first, you’re setting the bar for the conversation.
12. Go a little higher than you want.
Again, keep it realistic, but if you inflate your upper range a bit the other party will feel like they’re getting a “deal” when they talk you down from that initial number. Assuming the number is somewhat realistic based on your research, you likely won’t be laughed out of the negotiation room.
13. Don’t talk about ranges.
In your prep work, you came up with a range of numbers you’d accept. Keep that in your head (or in your notes in front of you), but don’t throw out a target range to the negotiator. Your negotiating partner will automatically zoom in on the lower end of the range, so it’s better to stick to specific numbers rather than ranges while you’re talking.
14. Focus on value.
Remember all that background research you did on your professional worth? Here’s where that comes into play. Use industry stats to support your number, and emphasize the qualities that make you a good deal for that price.
15. Keep it professional.
Don’t bring any personal motivations or justifications into it. This is about negotiating professional compensation. Your cat’s need for expensive liposuction surgery just doesn’t (and shouldn’t) register as a valid reason why you should get a raise or a higher starting salary.
16. Keep asking questions.
If your negotiating partner seems resistant to any of the requests or information you’re putting out, it’s okay to ask why they seem hesitant or why they are surprised/unhappy/unwilling to move in the direction you’re trying to move.
17. Listen actively.
It can be easy to focus on the offers being made and ignore everything else but the numbers flying back and forth. Make sure you listen to everything the other person is saying and how they’re saying it.
The whole point of this is haggling, right? So you shouldn’t be surprised if your opening offer is rejected. Here’s what to do next.
18. Don’t fear the counteroffer.
If your number is rejected or met with skepticism, you aren’t obligated to accept whatever they offer in return. Come up with a counteroffer that is as specific and realistic as the last number.
19. Stall a little.
Even if you know you’re likely to accept the counteroffer they make, don’t agree right away. Take some deliberation time as you review (or at least pretend to) their counteroffer. Feel free to throw in some thoughtful “hmm”s along the way.
20. Consider taking it offline.
Negotiations are often done in person or on the phone, but if you primarily correspond with your negotiating partner via email, use that medium. It gives you more flexibility on timing and can help you bluff a bit if you feel your confidence failing.
21. Don’t make threats.
People don’t respond well to ultimatums. They just don’t. So if your big nuclear option is “well, then I quit,” don’t use that as a negotiation tactic in the middle. It’s not likely to make the other person willing to hand over exactly what you want and can end up hurting your negotiation in the long run. Similarly, don’t use other job offers as bait in a negotiation—it can sound like a threat.
22. Have non-money options in mind.
If you suspect that salary negotiations aren’t going to go far, consider including benefits like flex time, a better title, or other workplace concessions as part of your counteroffer.
Accepting (Or Walking Away)
At a certain point, you’ll have budged as far as you’re willing to go, and so will have your negotiation partner. It’s time to start thinking about your negotiation exit strategy.
23. Know your limit.
Before you start, you should know what your dealbreaker point is. If it’s a new job, maybe that’s your current salary. If you’re trying for a raise, maybe that’s a 3% increase. Whatever your personal limit is, know it and stick to it.
24. Accept graciously.
If you’re on board with the negotiated salary, be a good winner. Don’t act begrudging, like you’re doing a favor by taking this offer. And don’t gloat if you ended up getting a better deal than you expected. Be a good winner.
25. Don’t take it personally.
Whatever happens, you shouldn’t take it as a personal slight that you’re not being offered top dollar. You have your priorities, but your negotiating partner has them as well. Those interests are not necessarily a dig at you or a suggestion that you’re not valuable.
26. Have an exit plan if necessary.
If you know that you want to leave if the negotiations don’t go a certain way, don’t stomp out of the room and quit in a huff. But do start preparing for a job search. The knowledge you have about your market value and the feedback you get during this negotiation can help you prepare for whatever professional opportunity comes next.
27. Be firm about your limit.
If you know you have a certain point that you’re not willing to drop below, stick to it. Try not to panic and take a subpar offer if it’s truly not going to work for you.
28. Don’t drag it out.
This can get particularly long if you’re doing it via email, but don’t let much time lapse between their offer(s) and your counteroffer(s). Radio silence for more than a day is not going to be met with much enthusiasm.
29. Don’t get hung up on mistakes.
Maybe you jumped too soon on an offer and regret it. But if you do find yourself making little mistakes along the way, don’t beat yourself up—make a note for next time.
30. Live to negotiate another day.
Regardless of the outcome, every negotiation becomes a useful tool for Future You. Maybe certain arguments weren’t met with the kind of response you were hoping to get. Maybe their starting offer was way lower than you expected and threw off your game. Whatever happens, you’re getting valuable tools for the next time you do this—and there will be a next time.
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