Let’s be frank: most people are not good at negotiating their salary, especially when they’ve been offered a new job. Most people just take a blind shot in the dark, hoping they don’t scare away their future employer in the process.
But when it comes to your salary, you shouldn’t be taking any risks and you shouldn’t be afraid either. Your starting salary can define how comfortably you live your life for that first year, and possibly longer.
Use the following tips so you can walk into your next salary negotiation prepared to fight for what you deserve.
Figure out your salary number
Long before negotiations begin, figure out how much you should get paid and how much you need to be paid.
Calculate your “should” by examining industry averages for a specific job title in your city. Salaries in Winnipeg are not going to be the same as salaries in Toronto because the cost of living differs between them. Use resources that scope out salaries for the role you’re applying for and the salaries within the company you’re applying to. Maybe you want to ideally make $50,000 annually but everyone at your level in that company is making less.
Here are some online salary tools:
You can also reach out to people in your industry and ask what you should be paid. They can give you real-world insight based on their own experiences. Until you enter the job market, you might have a fantastical idea of what salaries in your field actually are.
And then there’s “need.” Figure out what your expenses are—rent, groceries, utility bills—and use that to inform how much you need to be paid to live a comfortable life. There’s also more to “need” than paying your rent. You need a salary that covers your expenses but also dinner with your friends on Friday night. Your salary should cover the essential costs and also allows you to enjoy your leisure time. That’s only fair.
Once you’ve figured out the should and need, you have figured out what your salary expectations are.
Give them a salary range
So, you have a dream salary number in mind and any employer who will match it is good enough. But remember, we readily undervalue ourselves and employers can give more—they just would rather not unless they’re pushed.
It’s fine to have that dream number in your head but during negotiations, let that number be your starting point. Think of it is as the minimum amount you want to be paid. Add $10,000–15,000 to your minimum number and now you have your range.
Let’s break that down. Instead of asking for $40,000 straight (your dream number in this scenario), ask for $40,000–55,000. You might still end up making $40,000 but you also might end up making more than you expected!
If you’re not comfortable putting forward a number (the entire conversation makes some people violently shudder), instead ask the employer to share what the “budget” is for the role.
This is a common question that freelancers will ask their clients, to avoid selling themselves short when clients can afford more than the freelancer’s typical rate. Much of the time, there is a budget set aside for team members and the question isn’t offensive so go ahead and ask.
Stay quiet about your current salary
I was once asked for my salary range in a phone interview with an HR representative. After I gave a completely reasonable range, they sputtered and asked, “What are you getting paid at your current job?” They suspected that I was looking to make a big salary leap.
My current salary was, frankly, none of their business. It is legal in Canada for employers to ask, but most don’t because it’s not a relevant question. If they ask, you’re under no obligation to answer. Under the Pay Transparency Act passed in Ontario in 2018 (but still not enacted), employers would be barred from asking this question.
Let’s get real. There are countless examples of employees being underpaid from the moment they start a new job or struggling to advocate for themselves when a year goes by without a raise. I shouldn’t accept a $2,000 bump in pay at my next job just because it’s a $2,000 pay bump and be super grateful I got any bump at all. I should be paid a salary that is calculated based on my experience, my role and the industry I’m applying to work in.
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! If you have the option, keep quiet until you have reached the end of the interview process and are among the final candidates.
Simply put, a salary range that is higher than the budget allotted may be a disqualifying factor. While you shouldn’t put down a salary range that you can’t afford to live with, it would be better to have all the facts straight before you do decide on a range. During the hiring process, you will learn more about the organization as well as your potential responsibilities. A job description doesn’t always give you all the information, but sitting down and talking to your future manager will. When you know everything you need to know, you can make a more informed decision regarding your salary expectations.
If you’re asked to give a salary range early on, say that you need to learn more about the role before you can discuss compensation. Or you would like to learn about their allotted salary range for this role (as in their budget). This is a reasonable request and any employer who will bully you into dropping a number without giving up any information first is not an employer you should work for.
In other instances, the budget for the role is stated in the job description. If you’re really eager for the job but the salary range is too low for you, go forward and apply but state in your cover letter what salary range you’d accept instead. Who knows? Maybe you’re exactly what they’re looking for and they’d be willing to accommodate you.
It’s called a negotiation for a reason
When you’re desperate to find a job (we’ve all been there), you want to take the first offer and run. But negotiating your salary is supposed to be a negotiation and not a capitulation. 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.
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, 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 from the outside looking in.
They’ve decided you’re their next employee and they want to find a number they can afford and that you are happy with. The negotiation process is the part where you figure out what that magic number is.