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5 tips for negotiating your salary at a new job

Let’s be frank: most people are not good at salary negotiations. Unless they seek out the information, hire a coach or go through the process several times, they are just blindly taking a shot in the dark. But when it comes to your salary, you shouldn’t be taking any risks. Use these tips and walk into your next salary negotiation prepared to fight for exactly what you deserve to be making.

Figure out your number

Before you get asked how much you want to be paid, you have to figure out how much you should be getting paid and how much you need to be paid.

The “should” comes from examining industry averages for a specific job title in the city you are working in. Salaries in Winnipeg are not going to be the same as salaries in Toronto because the cost of living differs between those two cities. Use resources like Glassdoor to scope out salaries for the role you’re applying for and the salaries provided by the company you’re applying to. If you want to be making $50,000 annually but everyone at the company at your level is making below that, it doesn’t bode well for your future salary negotiations.

You can also reach out to people in the industry and, well, don’t ask them what they’re getting paid but ask what you should expect to be paid and they can give you real world insight. Until you enter the job market, you often have a fantastical idea of what salaries in your field actually are.

The “need” comes from figuring out what your expenses are⁠—rent, groceries, utility bills, etc.⁠—and using that to inform how much you need to be paid to live a comfortable life. If you’re an entry-level professional, you can obviously expect your first (or frankly, second) job will not rain money down on you.

What you can do is figure out what kind of salary you need to earn to pay your expenses and still go out for dinner with your friends on Friday and see a concert during the summer. No one’s salary should force them to only work and not do anything else.

Once you’ve figured out the should and need, and hopefully, they do not wildly differ from one another, you have figured out what your salary expectations are supposed to be.

Stay mum on your current salary

I was once asked for my salary range in a phone interview with an HR representative. When I gave what I thought was a completely reasonable range, the HR rep sputtered and asked, “What are you getting paid right now?” She suspected that I was looking to make a big salary leap. But my current salary was, frankly, none of her business.

The laws are unclear about whether employers can ask about your salary history, which pretty much means they can but that also means you don’t have to tell them. You are better off telling them what you wish you were getting paid at your current job, rather than your actual salary. Especially if you are one of the many entry-level professionals who are grossly underpaid.

Give them a range

Maybe you do have a dream number in mind for your salary and any employer who will match that number is good enough for you. But just remember, we readily undervalue ourselves and employers can give more (they just would rather… not). So, it’s fine to have that number floating in your head but have it be your minimum.

Add $10-15k to your minimum number and you have your range. So instead of asking for $40,000, ask for $40,000-55,000. You might still end up making $40,000 but you also might end up making more than you ever expected!


Delay, delay, delay

Oftentimes, you are asked to provide your salary range in the first interview. Sometimes, you will even be asked to put it in your cover letter! Your best move is to keep quiet until you have reached the end of the interview process and are offered the job.

Simply put, a salary range that is higher than the budget allotted may be a disqualifying factor. And candidates are often encouraged to put a salary range even above what they would actually settle for. Because remember, this should be a negotiation and not a capitulation. Also, you should be fully aware of what the role entails to understand how much you should be paid. A job description doesn’t always give you all the information, but sitting down and talking to your future manager will.

When asked, simply say that you need to learn more about the role before you can discuss compensation. This is a reasonable request and any employer who will bully you into dropping a number is not an employer you should work for. You can also turn around and ask the employer to provide the range they have set aside for the role. Remember, salaries are budgeted for. While there might be some wiggle room, the employer should have a range in mind already.

It’s called a negotiation for a reason

When you’re desperate to find a job (we’ve all been there), you just want to take the first offer and run with it. But it’s supposed to be a negotiation. Also, your salary is not the only factor to keep in mind.

Look at the whole offer in its entirety: How many vacation days do you get? Does the company pay for your monthly transit pass? Does the company provide catered lunches every day? Can you work from home three days a week? All of these factors have an impact on whether you can pay your bills that month and still have a little leftover to save, or not.

If you were satisfied with the salary amount but after looking at the offer, you realize that you would be paying out of pocket for certain health expenses that are not covered by the corporate health insurance plan, then you may need to go back to the employer and ask for more.

Everyone’s afraid of the negotiation because they think the employer will just rescind their offer. But they don’t want to do that. They don’t want to delve back into the job search, which costs more resources than we realize. They’ve decided you’re the employee they want and all they want is to find a number that you are happy with and that they can afford. The negotiation is the part where you figure out what that number is.