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Whether you’re evaluating a starting salary or asking for a raise, negotiating your salary with an employer can be a complex and nerve-wracking situation.

A negotiation is a discussion specifically to bring about a compromise, so it’s important to know what you want and your limits before you start.

To negotiate a salary with an employer, do your research ahead of the discussion. You should know your market value and the value you bring to the job. During the negotiation, start with a higher number than your goal and stay positive. Practicing ahead of time will help you stay confident, too.

Salary negotiations are a part of every HR department and hiring manager’s life, so the person you’ll be talking to likely has experience.

Having a plan and set goals will help you keep the conversation on track and move closer to what you want. This guide will help you prepare for a productive negotiation, whether it’s for a new job or a raise for a job you’ve been at for a while. 

Know Your Market Value

The first thing you need to know is how much you’re worth based on your industry and experience. This can be a tricky number, as it varies by region and the type of company you’re negotiating with.

An established corporation with clearly defined salary ranges for each role will have less flexibility than a small company with a shorter history. 

It’s good to know what salary to aim for based on your history, but it’s also important to decide how much is too little. Part of knowing your value is knowing when to walk away.

It might be an easily calculated amount, such as the minimum you can live on or some other figure. Keeping that number in the back of your head is just as important as deciding the number to aim for in your negotiation.

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Know Your Pay History

Depending on your location, it may be illegal for an interviewer to ask you how much you make at your current job or ask for a salary history. However, if you’re asking for a raise at a job you currently work, you should assume your negotiation partner knows your current salary.

Regardless of whether your negotiation partner is aware of it, knowing your pay history can help you determine if what you currently earn is a fair market value or if you are under-compensated.

If the average salary for people in your field with your experience is $75,000, but you’re only making $50,000, then asking for $80,000 might seem like a huge leap. If you know that you’re underpaid, however, you can confidently ask for a higher number. 

Know What Your Peers Make

You can look up your approximate market value online with estimator tools, but talking to your peers can be more helpful. Ask peers at your company and similar companies if they’re comfortable sharing their salary with you, and see how you compare. 

It’s useful to ask people with various gender expressions, experience levels, and work histories. That will help you factor in your information and also avoid accidentally lowballing yourself due to things like the gender pay gap

Talking to people in your own company can also give you a sense of what your company can pay. No matter how valuable you are, your company will be limited by its budget. Having an awareness of that upper limitation is useful as you go into the negotiation. 

Ask for More

Once you have gathered all the information you can on your market value and the employer’s ability to pay, you should decide on a salary number to start negotiations. Aim high so that you have room to negotiate without going below your actual goal. 

If you’ve discovered that people in your field make a range of salaries, pick a number at the top of the range, not the middle, even if you would be happy in the middle.

It’s also helpful to pick a specific number. For instance, it’s more effective to say $74,750 than $75,000 because that level of specificity will show your negotiation partner that you’ve done your research.

It gives you a strong starting position, and they are more likely to take you seriously. 

Focus on the Positive

Throughout the entire process, it’s important to stay positive and pleasant. You don’t want to dwell on deal-breakers or ultimatums. Instead, you should present yourself in a positive light and focus on your value and accomplishments. 

What Are Your Accomplishments?

Part of the negotiation is proving to your negotiation partner that you’re worth the investment of a higher salary. A list of your accomplishments, accolades, and evidence of benefiting the company will help illustrate your point. 

A positive performance review will help you negotiate a raise, but you shouldn’t wait until review season to start asking. Try to time your negotiation before the next year’s budget is set in stone, as that will give you a higher chance of success. 

If you’re negotiating with a prospective employer, your performance reviews from a previous job aren’t as important as concrete examples of your accomplishments and proof that you are a valuable asset to them. 

Start With the Right Attitude

Listing your attributes isn’t enough; likeability is just as important. You’re talking to a person, not an entity. They represent the company, but you have to appeal to them as a human first.

If you irritate or annoy your negotiation partner, they may be less willing to call in favors for you or go the extra mile to get you a raise. Smile, be polite, and stay calm, even if the discussion gets difficult. 

Avoid the Personal

There are probably dozens of personal reasons you want or need a raise, but avoid mentioning them. You want to keep the focus on your performance and the value you bring to the company, and why they mean that you, in particular, deserve a higher salary. 

Higher cost of living and other expenses might be genuine reasons for you to need a raise, but these factors also apply to most people.

They aren’t an argument that is unique to you, so if you are using them as the basis of your negotiation, there’s no reason for a company to choose to give you a raise over your peers. 

Practice

Above all, the most critical step is to practice ahead of time. Be prepared for tough questions, know your material, and practice until you feel confident in your strategy. Your negotiation partner will likely be experienced, and they have a less personal stake in the outcome, so it will be easier for them to hold their ground. 

Run through your strategy ahead of time and think of answers to questions that make you uncomfortable so that you are less likely to get nervous during the negotiation. Confidence will take you halfway there, and your preparation will take you over the finish line.

Conclusion

Negotiating a salary can be intimidating, but if you know your market value and the benefits you add to your employer, then you’ve won half the battle.

Doing research and practicing your arguments ahead of time will help you stay poised, and keeping a positive attitude will help you achieve your goals.

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