How to Negotiate a Higher Salary

When determining how to negotiate a higher salary, you’ll need to start with a clear-eyed view of your own bargaining position and that of the hiring organization.

By — on / Salary Negotiations

negotiate higher salary

When considering how to negotiate a higher salary, job candidates often focus on back-and-forth haggling strategies. But it’s at least as important to think about our broader goals, the type of organization we’d be joining, and the best way to frame an offer. The following advice on how to bargain salary should set you up for a better deal.

1. Don’t Concede before the Salary Negotiation Begins

In 2013, Ira Glass, the creator and host of the long-running public radio show This American Life, was offered a raise by Chicago public radio station WBEZ, the show’s producer. Glass felt “weird” about the big bump in pay from $170,000 to $278,000, he told Cara Buckley of the New York Times—and actually asked for his salary to be lowered to $146,000 (less than the starting point of the negotiation), and later asked for it to be lowered it again.

Why might Glass have negotiated his salary down rather than up? It wasn’t that he didn’t need the money. He revealed to Buckley that he’d been booking speaking engagements on the side to help cover his and his wife’s living expenses in New York City. He may have negotiated down because he felt self-conscious about earning a high salary from a not-for-profit organization funded by grants and listener donations.

Negotiation is difficult, and sometimes we make it even harder by creating extra roadblocks for ourselves. When thinking about how to negotiate a higher salary, we have to recognize how we “get in our own way,” write Simmons School of Management professor emerita Deborah M. Kolb and Jessica L. Porter in their book Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins Into Big Gains (Jossey-Bass, 2015). Pitfalls include failing to recognize opportunities to negotiate, focusing on our own weaknesses, and making the first concessions in our own heads, before we have even given other parties a chance to voice their positions.

Before a salary discussion even begins, we tend to think that the employer has all the cards. These internal dialogues are often where we make the first concessions, write Kolb and Porter. To position yourself to effectively self-advocate, they advise gathering information that will support your requests.

Prepare to describe the value you would bring to the organization. Develop alternatives to the current negotiation to increase your flexibility at the table, and assess the hiring organization’s alternatives. In addition, examine your vulnerabilities and plan ahead to compensate for them. For example, if you are insecure about a gap in your work history, think about the important things you were doing during that time and prepare to share them with enthusiasm.

2. Tailor Your Strategy to the Organization

When determining how to negotiate a higher salary, you’ll be well ahead of the curve if you match your strategy to the organization’s expectations and characteristics. Consider that large, established companies typically measure job candidates against well-defined job categories with a set range of salaries. In addition, you may negotiate compensation with recruiters or human-resources personnel rather than with your future boss.

In this environment, unless you’re a senior executive, it likely wouldn’t make sense to ask for stock options. Instead, try to figure out what pay category someone with your education and experience would receive, then build a case for a salary at the high end of that range.

Now consider how you might adjust your negotiating strategy to a very different hiring organization: a start-up that is recruiting you to become its third employee. You obviously won’t be shuttled off to the HR department, nor will your salary be determined by existing pay scales. In this case, you may have more latitude to structure a creative package that includes stock options.

In sum, you can and should negotiate for a number of immediate concerns when weighing how to negotiate a job offer, including enjoyment, status, compensation, and benefits. Yet it’s just as important to brainstorm creative ways to gain marketable expertise. When it comes to deciding what you want most, the expert advice ends and the soul-searching begins.

3. Make a Non-Offer Offer

The question of how to negotiate a higher salary has a lot to do with framing your offer appropriately. If an interviewer asks you to name your price, how should you respond? In their book 3-D Negotiation (Harvard Business School Press, 2006), David Lax and James Sebenius recommend making a “non-offer offer,” or a statement that could anchor the discussion in your favor without seeming extreme.

Suppose your research suggests that you would mostly likely fall into the $70,000 to $80,000 pay range, but the next-higher category seems within reach. Rather than saying, “I think I deserve $80,000,” consider saying, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve heard that people like me typically earn $80,000 to $90,000.”

Notice that this statement is not a demand. Yet due to the powerful impact of the $80,000-to-$90,000 “anchor”—a reference point that may or may not be relevant to the discussion—it could very well steer the numbers toward your upper goal.

 What other salary negotiation tips do you have?


The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
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