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Negotiate a higher salary in 4 simple steps

Asking for a higher salary after a job offer is intimidating. You feel like an employer has low-balled you in their initial salary offer and you want to request a higher amount, but how do you actually go about negotiating a higher salary? Here are four steps to help you through the process of negotiating a higher salary that is more in line with your expectations.

1) Recognize that salary isn't determined by your worth as a person, but by the worth of your experience, skills, and education as related to the job.

The first step to salary negotiation is recognizing that the amount offered is a reflection of how much the employer thinks your experience, skills, or education are worth in that role. The salary is NOT a reflection of your general worth as a person (assuming the hiring manager does not have any gender or racial biases.)

This means that regardless of the amount you counteroffer to negotiate a higher salary, that amount needs to be backed up by solid reasons for why you deserve that higher amount.

But first, let's find a baseline for the salary average you should be shooting for.

2) Identify the national and local salary ranges for positions in that field

While it would be great if employers told us up front what the pay range is for a posted position, that happens too infrequently to be something on which to depend. Instead, you'll need to do a little sleuthing. Lucky for us, the Department of Labor has done a lot of the legwork for us! If you visit O*Net Online, you can use the search bar in the top right corner of the page to look up your general position. You'll then be presented with a list of jobs to choose from. Try to choose one that is the closest (or exact) match to your position. Once you narrow your selection down, you'll then be presented with a summary report all about that job (here is an example of a Summary Report for a Medical or Health Services Manager) .

Scroll down that summary report page until you find the Wages and Salary Trends section. You'll be able to see the national median wage in that section. If you want to see a breakdown of average salary ranges for your state, look for the Local Salary Info button (located below the national median wage info. Click that button, select your state, and you'll then be shown a page with a list of High, Median, and Low salary averages for that job.

Here is an example of the local salary average for Medical or Healthcare Service Managers in Maine.

These numbers are a great place to start when trying to find a baseline for what salary you should ask for. You can then determine whether you fall into the Low, Median, or High end of this range based on your experience in this field. If you're just starting out, you'll probably land on the lower end of that salary range. If you have a few years (at least 3) under your belt, then shoot for that median range. If you have a lot of experience in your field, then you'll want to aim for the higher end of that range.

Having at least a baseline for the salary amount will help keep you from accepting a low-ball offer. And if a hiring manager low-balls you, your first reason for a higher counteroffer will be: "While I'm excited about the position, I do feel that I should be starting at a higher salary, especially since the national average median salary for employees with less experience than I have in this field is $X."

Now that you've hit them with research, follow up with the next step.

3) Determine the top 2 reasons why you deserve to be paid more than the initial offer

The next step to convincing a hiring manager that your experience, education, and skills are worth a certain amount is to first convince yourself that your experience is worth that amount.

To do this, you need to review your past accomplishments, experience, education, and skills as related to this job. You're going to need solid reasons with actual examples to back you up here. It's not good enough to just say, "Well, I'm really good at closing the deal, so I should get paid more. " Instead, it should be, "I feel that I'm worth $X amount a year since, in my last position, I regularly closed 20% more deals than my peers. Applying that skill to the Sales Executive role, I know I'd be able to boost your overall business-to-business sales which would make my desired salary more than worth it for your organization."

Even if you don't work in a field that lends itself to metrics or quantifiable accomplishments, you should still be able to give two solid reasons for why your experience, skills, education, or past accomplishments put you at a higher salary level. To identify these two reasons, you might ask yourself:

  • Did I regularly complete projects/tasks within timeline or under budget?

  • Was I the "Go to" person other employees asked for help?

  • Was I regularly asked by management to train new employees or take on extra projects?

  • Did I improve any processes, procedures, or policies that improved safety, increased customer retention, boosted sales, streamlined production, etc.?

Use the above questions to help identify your major accomplishments. If you're still stuck, review the job description in order to identify any duties, responsibilities, experiences, or skills that the employer listed as highly desired in the job description. An even better option is to think back over the interview process for that position. Did you notice the hiring manager's eyes light up when you discussed any particular experiences? Or did they outright express what made you a top candidate? If so, then this is something you'll want to bring up during the salary negotiation.

See if the following fill-in-the-blank sentences help you craft a counteroffer:

"With my experience in ______________ in which I __(talk about solid accomplishment from last job)___, I'd be able to help the organization/department/team _____________ which I feel is worth $X amount a year."

Follow that up with:

"I also feel that $X amount is more in line with my __(X Years of Experience and/or X Level of Education)__."

Note: Having these phrases handy (along with knowing your baseline salary) before you even go into the interview will not only help you feel less nervous while negotiating a salary, but will also make you feel more confident before the interview by reassuring you that you're a great fit for the job.

And while a hiring manager is unlikely to make an offer at the end of the first interview, if they do, you'll be prepared with a response!

4) Follow the hiring manager's directions when giving a counteroffer

This may sound trivial, but it's important to follow the hiring manager's directions for how to submit your counteroffer. If they ask you to respond via phone, then call them with a counteroffer (and keep notes on hand that details your reasons for counter offer.) If the hiring manager asks you to respond via email, then take the time to craft a professional email which explains that you're excited about the position but would like to negotiate the salary to a number more in line with your experience. Make sure to include why your experience, education, and/or skills are worth that higher amount.

If you're not given specific directions on how to submit a counteroffer, I tend to lean toward email since it allows you to create a comprehensive response which lays out your counteroffer argument.

Good luck out there!

Need more help in negotiating your salary? Or want to see a template for how to submit a counteroffer response via email? Buy my book, Cut the Bullsh*t, Land the Job: A Guide to Resume Writing, Networking, Interviewing, LinkedIn, Salary Negotiation, and More! The guide comes with over 30 resume templates and is available in both Ebook and print formats.

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