Get That Money is an exploration of the many ways we think about our finances — what we earn, what we have, and what we want.
I recently wrote about how to ask for a raise, but truth be told, the easiest time to get more money is before you’ve been hired, while you’re still negotiating a salary after a job offer. Here’s how to do it.
1. Research salary before the interview process
Before your first interview for any job, make sure you’ve researched the market rate for this type of job, in this industry, and in your particular geographic area. It’s crucial to do that because the employer could ask you what salary you’re looking for at any point, including as early as the initial phone screen. You don’t want to be caught off guard and end up winging it, because if you do, there’s too much chance that you’ll inadvertently lowball yourself or name a number so unrealistically high that it takes you out of the running.
Researching salary can be time-consuming and frustrating, because there’s rarely one single, easily accessible source that will give you the info you need. Because the same job title can mean very different things from company to company, salary websites are generally more of a rough starting point than a definitive answer to what a job should pay. You’ll often get more precise numbers by talking to people in your field and asking, “What would you expect a job like X at a company like Y to pay?” Recruiters and professional organizations in your field can also be good sources of data.
Once you have a good feel for the market rate, think about the factors that might move you up or down within that range — how much experience you have, whether you have additional qualifications that the employer seems excited about, and whether there’s any special hardship attached to the job, like a lot of travel. Those can also factor into the salary for a given position.
2. How to answer questions about your salary expectations
Assume that at some point in the interview process, you might get asked what salary range you’re looking for. There’s a lot of advice out there recommending that you duck the question and respond with something like, “I’m seeking a fair salary that’s in line with the market” or “I’d like to learn more about the job and your benefits package before I answer that.” But I’ve got to tell you — an awful lot of interviewers aren’t going to let those answers stand. You’re very likely to get pushed to name a number, because employers don’t want to waste their time if you’re wildly outside of their ballpark. (If you’re thinking, “Well, then they should name their salary range first and we can both figure that out,” you’re absolutely right. And in fact there’s a movement toward more companies being up-front about their salary ranges. But it’s still very, very common for companies to play coy and insist you name a number first.)
You can try saying, “Can you tell me what the range for the position is?” And some interviewers will tell you, so it’s worth asking. But in other cases, you’ll need to be prepared to name a number yourself if you want to move forward in their process.
That’s why you did your research beforehand! Ideally you’ve come up with a range that you think reflects the market rate for this kind of work in your geographic area. If you’re pressed to name the range you have in mind, one option is to say, “I’m still learning about the job, of course, but based on what I understand so far, I’d be looking for a salary in the range of $X–$X. Are we in the same ballpark?” (And yes, this is infuriating! The company knows what it plans to pay, and could just tell you instead of making you go through this guessing game. But often this is how it goes.)
3. How to bring up salary yourself
Sometimes the employer might not bring up salary at all, and you might find yourself wishing for some idea of how much the job pays, particularly if the interview process is a lengthy one. There’s a long-standing — and inexplicable — tradition of frowning on candidates who ask about salary, especially at early stages of a hiring process. This is ridiculous, as obviously you work for money and what a job pays is highly relevant information that might affect your decision to continue on in a hiring process of not. And yet, the convention persists.
That said, this is starting to change, and it’s becoming more accepted for candidates to ask about salary. Be aware, though, that if you bring up the topic yourself, some old-school interviewers may hold it against you.
The safest time to bring up salary yourself is when it’s clear that you’re asking to spare both you and the employer from investing time or money if you’re too far apart on salary — like if you’re being asked to fly in from out-of-town for an interview, or if it’s clear that the interview process will be lengthy with many steps to it. In a case like that, you can say, “Before I fly in, can we make sure we’re in the same ballpark on salary?” Or, “Since it sounds like this is a multi-step process, I wonder if you can give me a sense of the salary range since I want to respect your time if we’re not in the same ballpark?”
Of course, if you do this, be prepared for the interviewer to turn it around on you and say something like, “Let me know what you’re looking for and I can tell you if it’s in our range.” So again, you’ll want to have done your research beforehand and be prepared with an answer.
4. What to say when you get the offer
Once you receive an offer, and you want to ask for more money, the biggest thing to know is that most of the time, you don’t need to present an elaborate justification for why you’re asking for a higher salary. In most cases, you can just say one or two sentences: “Any chance you could go up to $X?” Or, “Do you have any room on the salary? I was hoping you’d be able to do $X.” Truly, that’s it! I’ve made many job offers, and the majority of candidates who negotiate are just doing it with one or two short sentences.
Once you say that, stop talking. You’ve made your request, and now you’re waiting for an answer. It might take the person a minute, and during that minute you might feel uncomfortable and be tempted to fill the silence. Don’t do that! You risk undercutting the request you just made.
5. Most of the time, it’s smart to ask for more money
If you’re wondering whether or not to ask for more money when you get an offer, most of the time the answer is yes. Employers often have a bit of wiggle room when they make an offer, and at this point in the process, getting more money in your salary is often as easy as just asking for it.
But there are times when you generally shouldn’t try to negotiate. For example, if you and the employer had discussed salary earlier in the process and the offer meets or exceeds what you said you asked for, generally it’s going to be seen as bad faith if you ask for more now (unless the job has changed in some significant way since then). Similarly, if the offer is unusually generous for the market, you might look out of touch if you ask for more. But in most cases, it makes sense to see if there’s room to bump the offer up.
If your market research has left you still uncertain about how much is reasonable to ask for, you’re generally not going to look unreasonable if you ask for a bump of around 10 percent more. There might be room to ask for even more than that, depending on what you learned from your market research. But if you’re unsure, consider 10 percent. (Don’t say “10 percent” — use the actual dollar figure you’re asking for — but that’s a decent guideline for your thinking.)
6. What to do if the answer is no
If you ask for more money and the answer is no, you can still accept the job if you want it! People sometimes worry they’ll look foolish accepting at this point, but you won’t; people accept offers after thwarted negotiations all the time. All you need to say is, “I appreciate you considering it! I’m interested enough in the job that I’d love to accept regardless.”
And remember, negotiating salary is very normal! Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, but don’t take a “no” as reason not to try in the future.
Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.