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10 Negotiation Tips That Will Save Your Salary — and Your Career

Topics: Career Advice
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Ever experienced the soul-crushing realization that you’re not getting paid as much as you should? Do you find yourself swimming through extra work, without the buoy of a title bump to match? Sounds like you need to negotiate for a change. If the thought of asking your boss for a raise, or countering a prospective employer’s initial offer gives you the shivers, there’s hope: negotiation doesn’t have to be scary.

Too many professionals avoid negotiation because they don’t want to seem too aggressive, offend anyone or look ungrateful — or because they simply don’t know how to effectively ask for what they deserve.

Do yourself a favor and forget all of that. Negotiation isn’t a privilege — it’s a right. It’s also a symptom of good business. Negotiation shows that you take yourself and your abilities seriously. And truth be told, how can you expect anyone to respect you if you don’t respect yourself enough to ask for what you deserve? The next time you’re prepping for a negotiation, read through these tips to make the whole experience a little less painful (perhaps even a little exciting).

1. Ask for the highest number you can say out loud without laughing.

This piece of advice comes from negotiation guru Cindy Gallop: push your ask as high as you possibly can before it sounds ridiculous. Say it out loud to a friend if you need to. Does it feel crazy? Why? Is it because you’ve been systemically underpaid for years, or because your number is too high? Do your research — odds are, it’s the former option. Then when you make your ask, do so confidently.

2. Competence is key.

When it comes to negotiating, negotiation literacy and financial competence are two of your most powerful weapons. If you want to be taken seriously during a negotiation, negotiate like you know what you’re doing.

Keep your ask straightforward and your pitch simple, don’t over-complicate it or weigh it down with emotional language, and above all, appear confident. My brother used to tell me, “If you’re asking for a raise, there shouldn’t be any doubt in your mind that you’re getting it.” While that’s a nice sentiment, it doesn’t always translate to employees who are underpaid getting what they deserve. When it comes time to negotiate, do your homework, bring data for support, have a clear ask ready, and above all else, be confident. If there’s no doubt in your mind that you’ve earned it, there shouldn’t be in theirs, either.

3. Know your worth.

Make sure the number you’re asking for is in line with what you should be making. (Not sure what that is? Take PayScale’s Salary Survey and get a free report based on your skills, education, and experience.) Also, always have a concrete number in mind. A simple, “I feel like I need a raise,” isn’t going to get you anywhere. If anything, it just makes you look entitled and misguided.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

4. Take emotion out of the equation.

When it comes time to request a raise, take phrases like, “I feel,” “I need,” and “I want” out of your pitch. These words subconsciously suggest that you’re negotiating out of necessity or emotion, not worth. And truth be told, this is business, and nobody cares about what you need, feel, or want. This is about compensation, and the going rate for the services you provide. It’s normal for that number to go up as you get better at your job and as the market changes. So, be calm, don’t overshare, and state your case.

5. Start out strong.

If you’re negotiating your compensation package for a new job (and you should always, without fail, negotiate your offer), do not undersell yourself. The reality is many people can do your job. Odds are, you both know that — that’s why they had such a tough time deciding between you and someone else for the position. But this is not about your ability to simply do the work. It’s about your dedication, and the value you’ll bring to the team both through your role and beyond it. When you frame the conversation like this, it makes perfect sense that you’re asking for a number that’s higher than what they’re offering — you’ll be giving them as much in return.

6. Know when to ask.

To be specific, on a Friday morning in Mid-October. Data suggests that the best negotiations come through during the fall. Why? It’s right around the time when many companies will be finalizing budgets for the next year. If you’re asking for a promotion, the new year is a great time to kick it off — especially when you consider that December might be on the slower side, you’ll have plenty of time to get things in order and get ready for the new challenge.

7. Bring your data.

Whether you bring hard numbers or prefer to present gushing, qualitative reviews from satisfied clients, don’t show up without data. If you can present a strong case for how you’ve added value to the company (bonus points if you can tie a number to it), it’ll be harder for them to deny your pitch. If you don’t have any data at the ready, hold off until you do. Comb back through your emails to find shining reviews from customers, coworkers, or clients, check back at tracked time for your average output, look through your calendar for projects you facilitated, new business you’ve pitched, or buzzer-beater wins you’ve made at the last minute, and start compiling a deck of data. It’s worth it.

8. See the bigger picture.

Recognize that your salary is just one piece of your overall compensation package. If they’re unable or unwilling to budge on a number, ask to negotiate other elements of the package. Can you have more equity? How much paid time off are they offering? Can you negotiate a guaranteed bonus or performance raise year over year? If they’ve maxed out on the salary, tell them you’d be able to consider the number in the context of a more robust compensation package, and go from there.

9. Don’t show your hand.

Negotiating is all about how you frame the situation — in other words, even if you have another offer, don’t lead with that. Keep that intel in your back pocket and bring it out after you’ve started the negotiation conversation. Wait for them to make an offer, then let them know that you’ve got a few other competitive offers, but that you’d really like to end up on staff with them with some negotiation. If you’re negotiating for a raise and have another offer to consider, same advice: wait to bring that up after they come back with a number for your raise. Leading with the, “I’ve been offered a job with XX that pays XX. Can you match it?” is dangerous territory because it tells your employer that you’ve been looking elsewhere right out of the gate. Keeping that info to yourself gives you a bit more bargaining power down the line.

10. Be willing to walk.

And of course, if you ask for a raise or title bump and aren’t given either, or any plan for how they’ll get you there, be prepared to start looking for your next gig.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you negotiated a higher salary, a better title, or both? Tell us how you did it in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Megan Shepherd
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