Negotiating Your Salary

Recently, I worked with a student trying to decide between two job offers. She preferred the position that offered her a more flexible schedule, but the pay was a little lower. I suggested, “why not try negotiating a higher salary?”  She replied with an oft-heard question…how?

Negotiation is an integrative process. To negotiate successfully, you identify common goals or acceptable compromises; a “win” for you doesn’t necessarily mean a “loss” for the other party.

For example, when you lived at home, you might have wanted a later curfew, but your parents wanted to know you were safe. You would then negotiate, and hopefully find a compromise that left everyone happy; a later time with a promise to call and check in.

What makes it different in the workplace?

To be sure, negotiating with a potential employer feels different than asking for a later curfew. It can be very uncomfortable asking for more money, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience to offer. But there is no harm in asking, and potentially a lot of benefit.

All organizations have the flexibility to negotiate on salary and/or benefits…trust me.  These concessions may be small, such as moving expenses, or significant, such as vacation time.


To get started, follow these tips:

  • Research the going rate for your position using the salary guides of resources such as,, or Look at similar postings in Handshake or on to develop an idea of salary range.
  • Before the negotiation, write a S.W.O.T. analysis of each offer. That means listing the Strengths (great opportunity), Weaknesses (long commute), Opportunities (more money/benefits), and Threats (other candidates or other offers).  Putting your thoughts on paper can help you organize your main points and ensure you stick to the plan if you start to feel nervous.
  • Take a page from Lady Gaga and practice that poker face! During the negotiation, you do not want disclose any unnecessary information that might be used against you by the organization.  This includes mention of the fact that you prefer a particular location such as “I want to stay in Boston” or that you do not like to work weekends. Try answering a question with a question, listen more than you speak, and ask for time if you need it.
  • Of course, it helps to know what you won’t settle for. Determining this for yourself is known as a BATNA (Best Alternative To No Agreement).
  • To develop your BATNA, research your options carefully and develop your walkaway point and your optimal point.  The zone between these is what you will settle for.
  • Shop around and interview for other positions, including at organizations you are not necessarily familiar with or have preconceived notions about. Even if you choose not to accept their offers, having options can strengthen your position in a negotiation.
  • Think long-term value. Don’t be afraid to suggest items that will give you longer-term benefits. For example, you could talk that your salary be formally reviewed after 6 months, or for other nontraditional forms of compensation such covering as the expenses for professional development or networking opportunities.
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