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3 Salary Negotiation Challenges and How to Beat Them

Topics: Negotiation

If negotiating salary were easy, everyone would do it. However, PayScale’s data show that only 43 percent of people have ever asked for a raise in their current field … despite the fact that 75 percent of those who asked, got some kind of a pay increase.

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If you’re one of the 57 percent of people who haven’t asked, make a plan to deal with some of the trickier salary negotiation challenges that might come up. It could make the difference between taking what you’re given and getting paid what you deserve.

  1. The dreaded salary history question.

Asking for prospective hires’ salary history will soon be illegal in Massachusetts and maybe a lot of other places as well, but that isn’t stopping hiring managers wherever it’s allowed. If you’ve ever looked for a new job, chances are you’ve been asked to share your past pay with employers.

Knowing that you don’t have to answer isn’t enough. You want the job, and you don’t want to alienate HR, so you’re probably going to have to give them something. The trick is to give them the information they actually need (how much they should pay you), instead of the information they’re looking for (how little they can get away with paying you).

Do You Know What You're Worth?

To do this, you need to know the appropriate salary range for the role in question — not the ones you’ve held in the past. PayScale’s Salary Survey can help you arrive at a salary range based on data for the job title, your experience, education, and skills, and your location.

Then, it’s a matter of shifting the conversation. Penelope Trunk offers good advice in her piece for PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide. As she says, “The right answer to the question, ‘What’s your salary range?’ is almost always some version of ‘I’m not telling you.’”

With a little practice, you can learn to do that in a way that seems savvy, not abrupt — and get paid based on where you are, not where you were.

  1. Finding out that your coworker, who has the same job title, education, and experience, is paid more than you’re paid.

Maybe your cubicle neighbor shared his salary info with you. Maybe you overheard something you weren’t meant to overhear. Or maybe your company embraced pay transparency, and voluntarily gave up the information. However you found out that your colleague is making more than you, it stings to discover that you might be underpaid.

Note that I say, “Might be underpaid,” because even if all things seem equal, they might not be. Before you assume that you’re being cheated, make sure you’re not overlooking a small factor that makes a big difference. If your coworker has an additional certification, or came from another department that gives him experience dealing with another side of the project, he might be getting paid more fair and square.

Then again, he might just be a better negotiator … or you might be dealing with some unconscious bias that makes your employer offer you less than you deserve. The bottom line is that you should start by figuring out how much you’re worth on the job market, and base your negotiations around that.

In other words, don’t burst into your manager’s office shouting, “I KNOW BOB MAKES MORE THAN ME. WHAT KIND OF A BUSINESS ARE YOU RUNNING HERE?”

Do your research, determine how much you should be getting paid, and ask for a meeting. You might choose to mention that you know some people with similar experience in similar roles are being paid more, but don’t get bogged down in specific comparisons. Remember to back up your request with evidence of your accomplishments.

  1. Negotiating when there’s no more room in the budget.

The first step in negotiating is not to do your boss’s job for them. This is especially important if you’re shy, introverted, or less than confident, because your tendency will be to give them an out, and that’s the last thing you want. Whatever you do, don’t go into the meeting with these words on the tip of your tongue: “I don’t know if there’s room in the budget, but…”

“Not only does this kill your chances, but you’ve actually put the words in their mouth to say no… all they have to do is repeat back, ‘Actually, the timing is bad and there is no room in the budget,’” writes Jim Hopkinson at TopResume. “Instead, view this as a business transaction … arm yourself with data, ask for what you deserve, and muster up the confidence to stand up for yourself in this crucial moment … and then you can go back to quietly reading with your cat.”

What if the boss mentions budget first? Then, you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to push. If the company’s doing poorly, the answer is probably no. If they’re making money hand over fist, but don’t see the value of sharing that with people in your role (or with you in particular), your job is to help them see why you’re worth the money.

Here’s where knowing your worth, both in terms of the market and in terms of what you bring to the company, will come in handy. Come to the table not only with a salary range for your role, but also with proof of your contributions — bonus points if you can show that you’ve made the company money.

If all these stars align, your next move might be to say something like, “I understand that we need to stay within our budget, and I’m committed to making sure the team hits its numbers. In fact, last year, I saved the department $X amount by doing Y and Z. My research also shows that the duties I have now are also more similar to ABC job title, which typically pays [salary range]. Would you be able to match that?” Play your cards right, and you could wind up with more money and a better job title, to boot. (More salary scripts, here.)

If you genuinely get the sense that further negotiation is only going to hurt you, or that the company is having financial problems, you can also choose to negotiate for non-monetary perks like more vacation time, educational opportunities, or a flex schedule.

Whatever you do, it’s important to be gracious, both in victory and (temporary) defeat. You’re playing a long game here, and you need to keep your boss on your side — even if your ultimate decision is to take your talents and negotiating skills elsewhere.

Are you being paid enough? Find out today by taking PayScale’s free Salary Survey. Then, use PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide to close the gap.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the toughest salary negotiation challenge you’ve ever faced? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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The real issue is this: “The right answer to the question, ‘What’s your salary range?’ is almost alays some version of ‘I’m not telling you.’” Disappointed that this article didn’t explicitly address possible versions of “I’m not telling you.”


Please let me know about my salary pay scale.
I have done in civil engineering with 6.89 CGPA. I have more than one year of experience. Presently working as Supervisor under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Housing for All. I am feeling that my salary is not up to my mark. Presently I am receiving only 16500/- (in hand 15182)

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