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Frequently Asked Questions About Salary Negotiation: The Complete Job Offer and Salary Negotiation FAQ for Job-Seekers
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
This article seeks to answer the most common questions job-seekers face when job-hunting. In creating this salary negotiation FAQ, we have developed a list of 20 of the most frequently asked questions about salary and job-offer negotiation -- and provided expert answers to each.
- Can any job-seeker negotiate a job offer?
- How do I know my market value to prospective employers?
- Since I don't like confrontation and conflict, should I even bother with salary negotiation?
- I don't even know the salary/pay for the job I am seeking. Should I ask about it before I go on an interview?
- When is the best time for job-seekers to bring up salary in a job interview?
- How should job-seekers handle salary history requests from prospective employers?
- What's the best way to respond to a salary requirement request from a prospective employer?
- When should a job-seeker begin negotiating salary?
- Why should I even bother reviewing the benefits of a job offer?
- How should a job-seeker respond when the interviewer asks about salary expectations?
- I've been underpaid by my current employer and worried that the trend will continue with my next employer. How do I avoid this happening?
- If I receive a job offer that seems perfect, do I need to do anything more than simply accept it? What's wrong with saying yes right there in the interview?
- How should a job-seeker handle an employer who demands an immediate answer to a job offer?
- Why is getting an offer in writing so important? And what should I do if the employer refuses to provide the offer in writing?
- I just received a better job offer than the one I accepted a few days ago. Can I rescind my acceptance of the first offer and accept the second one?
- Do all employers negotiate salary?
- I received two job offers from different employers. How do I choose the best offer?
- I received a job offer from one company, but I really want to wait to see if I get an offer from my dream employer. What are my options?
- What is the best strategy for job-seekers who want to negotiate salary? In other words, how do I successfully negotiate a better offer?
- Can I make a counter job offer by email, or do I have to do it in person or by phone?
Can any job-seeker negotiate a job offer?
The short answer is that every job-seeker -- from entry-level to executive -- has the option to negotiate a job offer.
That said, salary negotiation is much more common with professional positions and at higher levels.
But any job-seeker has the power to request a better job offer -- as long as that request is supported by evidence showing why s/he should be paid more.
We know of entry-level job-seekers who have requested -- and received a higher hourly wage of $.50 to $1 more an hour, which seems small, but adds up quickly (especially when you consider future raises will be based on starting pay).
We also know executives who negotiated tens of thousands of dollars more in annual pay, bonuses, and other compensation.
A few employers simply will not negotiate on salary -- but even these employers are open to negotiating other parts of the job offer, such as relocation costs, tuition reimbursement, vacation time, healthcare options, pension options, and more... See more in Salary FAQ #9.
How do I know my market value to prospective employers?
Understanding your value in the employment marketplace -- including in your current organization -- is critical information you should have at your fingertips.
You may think you need or deserve a certain salary -- but no employer cares about your wants and needs. What employers WILL listen to is evidence of your value -- proof that validates your salary request.
You can gather research on your value from multiple sources. The two best sources are salary sites (such as Salary.com, SalaryExpert.com, and the like) and professional organizations. The salary sites provide employer salary data based on job title, years of experience, education level, and location. Professional organizations often conduct salary research for your particular industry, and can also frequently provide insights on how you can increase your value to employers.
One other factor that affects market value is supply and demand. Regardless of your overall value, if a glut of people has similar qualifications to yours, you should anticipate a drop in your value. On the other hand, if few people have your qualifications, your market value can rise dramatically.
Once you have a general sense of your value, your last bit of research should focus on your target employers. It makes sense to discover whether each employer pays near your market value -- because why expend all the energy of applying for a job that will not pay you what you're worth? The best method for this type of research is your network of contacts -- and finding an insider within each prospective employer who can provide you with information on the pay scale for the position you seek. (Another good Website for researching is Glassdoor.com, a site that offers an inside look at jobs and companies.)
Since I don't like confrontation and conflict, should I even bother with salary negotiation?
We've never thought of salary negotiation as confrontation -- but we do understand the notion of not enjoying haggling.
Why doesn't an employer just offer the best possible salary and be done with it? Of course, sometimes they do their best... but it all comes down to budgets and limited resources and a desire to get the best deal.
What should you do -- especially if you dislike the process? Do it anyway. If you don't like the process, conduct your salary negotiation in writing (see Salary FAQ #20).
Here are the main reasons you should negotiate the salary you deserve (or get as close to it as possible):
- Future raises will be based on your initial salary, so you will continue to earn less than your market value for as long as you stay with that employer.
- Pension and 401K contributions are often based on your salary, so the smaller your salary, the smaller the contribution to your retirement funds.
- Future employers may ask for a salary history -- and some will base their salary offer on what you are earning at your current employer.
- Your mental well-being and attitude can be seriously dragged down by feeling undercompensated, undervalued -- which could eventually affect your performance.
I don't even know the salary/pay for the job I am seeking. Should I ask about it before I go on an interview?
For job-seekers, information and knowledge are always key to a successful job-search, but if you don't know the pay, do NOT contact the hiring manager because you'll be seen as ignorant at best, and overly focused on money at worst.
You should have some idea of what a prospective employer pays employees in the same or similar positions to the one you are seeking -- otherwise you are wasting both your time and the time of the prospective employer.
Your options are to conduct research to uncover the salary/pay information or call the HR (human resources) department of the organization. Contacting HR should be a last resort. It's much better to use your network or dig via the Web to find at least a ballpark figure of what to expect.
When is the best time for job-seekers to bring up salary in a job interview?
Never early in the process; rarely in the first interview. The only possible exception to this rule is for sales positions, as employers want to hire people who will aggressively close deals.
In subsequent interviews, experts are split about the best method for dealing with salary.
The old rule was that the job-seeker should NEVER raise the subject until the employer makes the first move, usually by asking a question such as, "what kind of salary are you expecting?"
But salary guru Jack Chapman suggests the rules have changed, stating that the first person to mention salary wins. By stating your desired salary first (assuming it is within the salary range the employer is willing to offer), you stand a greater chance of receiving it or something just below it than if you wait for the employer to offer a lower salary -- forcing you to work at justifying something higher and closer to your desired salary level.
The best advice is to use your judgment based on the job you seek, the employer's reputation, and the feel of the interview. If you sense you are the top candidate -- the best candidate -- be proactive in about the salary you seek. If you are unsure, it's probably best to play it safe and wait for the employer to make the first move.
How should job-seekers handle salary history requests from prospective employers?
Unless you want to have your application discarded, you have to provide it.
Most job-seekers do not want to provide this information because most of us are not the best salary negotiators and often feel underpaid -- and we want to break the trend by receiving a salary based on our value, not on what we have been paid.
Having your salary history gives employers a strong upper hand in salary negotiations, which may result in your again being underpaid.
How can you break the cycle? First, don't rely on job postings. Instead, use your network to get insider information on job openings and apply directly to the hiring manager. Second, disclose your salary history, but also state your salary requirements (based on your market value). Third, state that your salary history is confidential and you will only disclose the information to the hiring manager -- but know that by not disclosing, you will probably be screened out.
Never lie about your salary history, but do include your total compensation -- which may include salary, bonuses, and other incentives.
See our articles, Responding to Requests for Salary Requirements or Salary Histories: Strategies and Suggestions and Negotiating Salary After Disclosing Salary or Salary Expectations.
What's the best way to respond to a salary requirement request from a prospective employer?
Salary requirement requests, like a salary history requests, is a tool employers use to either screen out job-seekers (those requesting either too little or too much) or to gain an upper hand in eventual salary negotiations.
We don't see much harm in a salary requirement -- because if the employer is unwilling to pay you your market value, it would be a massive waste of your time and energy to go through the entire process and receive a low-ball offer.
But -- and this piece of advice is critical -- you MUST have an accurate idea of your market value. (See Salary FAQ #2.)
Your best response is to provide a salary range to the employer, starting with your salary floor (the minimum salary you would accept) and continuing to a higher level. ("Per your request, and based on my research, I expect a salary in the range of $45,000-$55,000.")
There are other options, but these may or may not screen you out since you are not directly answering the employer's request: First, suggest you know the employer pays competitive wages (thus praising the organization but not giving it an upper hand). Second, state that your salary is flexible and negotiable. Third, state that you prefer to discuss salary in the interview.
See our articles, Responding to Requests for Salary Requirements or Salary Histories: Strategies and Suggestions and Negotiating Salary After Disclosing Salary or Salary Expectations.
When should a job-seeker begin negotiating salary?
In all honesty? Before you even start job-hunting. Why? Because good salary negotiation requires knowing your market value and an understanding of the jobs you are desire and are qualified for.
You should also consider every aspect of contact with the employer -- emails, phone calls, interviews, company visits/tours -- part of salary negotiation because as you are building your case for being hired, you should also be subtly building your case for the salary you seek. Acting professionally and showcasing your personal brand will not only get you the job offer, but should also help you achieve the offer you seek.
In terms of actually negotiating your salary or job offer, you should only do so once the offer is on the table -- and only after you have had time to digest it. Once you receive the offer, thank the employer and express your enthusiasm, then request time to consider it.
Once you've had time to consider the entire package (salary, other compensation, benefits), then -- and only then -- should you enter negotiations, which can be done in person, via phone, or by email. To learn how to negotiate at this stage, see Salary FAQ #19.
Why should I even bother reviewing the benefits of a job offer?
While salary and other compensation are very important, how a prospective employer handles benefits can make or break a great job offer.
Employers offer many types of benefits, but the key ones to review are health insurance, life insurance, pensions, and vacation days.
Probably the biggest consideration for job-seekers these days is health insurance. Most employers offer healthcare coverage as a perk to full-time employees, but the key elements to examine include the extent of the coverage and how much the organization contributes to its cost. You could actually end up with a lower net salary when you factor in how much you have to pay for healthcare.
Life insurance is another fairly standard benefit -- and often extended to not just the employee but also to family members. Again, examine how much the company contributes to the life-insurance premium.
The days of big corporate pension plans are long over, but many organizations do offer a 401k or IRA plan to help employees save for retirement. Review how much the employer contributes and whether the organization matches employee contributions.
Finally, examine vacation and personal-day policy. Taking time away from work -- no matter how much you love your job -- is essential to mental health. How much time will you get on joining, how will it accrue as you advance within the organization, and can you carryover time from one year to the next.
For salespeople and others who travel for business, the other consideration to review is compensation for car travel -- whether you receive a company car or get reimbursed for personal vehicle use.
Besides these major benefits, other benefits that could be part of your compensation package include: disability insurance, profit-sharing, stock options, relocation and moving expenses, tuition reimbursement, dependent care, and club memberships.
See this section of our Salary Negotiation Tutorial: Evaluating the Entire Compensation Package.
How should a job-seeker respond when the interviewer asks about salary expectations?
This is a tricky one for job-seekers, and it partly depends when the interviewer asks you the question.
If it's at the beginning of an interview -- especially a screening interview -- then the question is not as much about negotiating salary as it is about whether your expectations are within the employer's salary range. Your answer, of course, should fall within that salary range. You can also provide a rough salary range that you know falls closely within the employer's salary range. If you have not done salary research, your best answer is to say something like, "I'm looking for a competitive salary, which I know your company offers its employees."
If the question comes later in the interview -- and especially in a second or subsequent interview -- then the question takes on much more importance, and you should be prepared to have your salary-negotiation hat on. At this point, you should have a few salary numbers in your head -- including the minimum salary you would accept, as well as your ideal salary. If you're confident in your standing, respond with the ideal salary. If you're not as confident, pick a number between your ideal and your minimum. Remember that the employer will NOT negotiate higher, so it's always better to start the negotiation at a higher number in case the employer has a lower salary in mind.
I've been underpaid by my current employer and worried that the trend will continue with my next employer. How do I avoid this happening?
By the amount of emails we receive from workers and job-seekers, you would think the vast majority of us are underpaid -- and it's certainly possible many of us are.
You can attempt to break the cycle of being underpaid -- and help secure yourself a better future -- by conducting thorough salary research and knowing your market value.
But knowing your market value is not enough -- you have to be able to document that value, not only through salary studies and other documentation but also through your previous workplace accomplishments (focusing on revenue generation, cost savings, and the like).
If the prospective employer knows your previous salary history, your battle will be even harder, but there's no harm in documenting your market worth... regardless of your previous pay levels.
If I receive a job offer that seems perfect, do I need to do anything more than simply accept it? What's wrong with saying yes right there in the interview?
Well, of course, if it really is the perfect offer with the perfect employer, you could accept it on the spot, but it's always best to take time and reflect on the offer -- and make sure you know all the details of the offer, including compensation and benefits.
You should graciously thank the employer for the job offer, then ask about getting the details in writing (which should automatically grant you some time). If the offer is already in writing, then request a few days to review the details.
All reasonable employers understand the complexity of these situations and are willing to grant you the time. In fact, some employers might view you as rash and impulsive if you don't take the time to carefully review the offer.
Just make sure you reply with your answer (unconditional yes or with a counteroffer) in the allotted time period.
How should a job-seeker handle an employer who demands an immediate answer to a job offer?
Walk away. Better, run away.
Employers who demand an immediate answer from you are trying to bully you into a decision -- a decision that should be evaluated when you have a clear head and not in the moment of excitement about getting the offer.
This employer -- and the one in the next FAQ -- are the worst.
Why is getting an offer in writing so important? And what should I do if the employer refuses to provide the offer in writing?
The biggest reason to get a job offer in writing is so that you can review all the details. Most hiring managers, for example, can tell you the salary and provide an overview of the benefits, but it's unlikely s/he'll know all the details about co-pays and vacation time, and when the health insurance kicks in.
Having the offer in writing gives you the information you need to determine if the offer is one you want to accept, negotiate, or reject.
Just as with the previous FAQ, if the employer refuses to put the offer in writing, walk away because you'll probably have many more headaches and heartaches to follow. Employers who refuse to put an offer in writing are hiding something... or perhaps just plain lazy or sloppy.
I just received a better job offer than the one I accepted a few days ago. Can I rescind my acceptance of the first offer and accept the second one?
Of course you can, but you are treading on thin ethical ice. You made a commitment to the employer and if you retract your acceptance, your name may be mud within your industry and town. You never want to burn bridges as a job-seeker -- because you never know when doing so will come back to haunt you.
If you are participating in job interviews with multiple organizations, and you receive a job offer that is acceptable -- but not from your ideal employer -- request as much time as possible to consider it. See more information in Salary FAQ #18.
Do all employers negotiate salary?
No. Some employers adhere to strict salary guidelines for hiring, while others simply offer the best salary possible. Either way, these employers will not negotiate salary.
That said, these employers (and most others as well) will typically be open to negotiating other aspects of the offer, such as vacation time, bonuses, and other benefits.
I received two job offers from different employers. How do I choose the best offer?
Lucky you! Nice job!
Some job-seekers would immediately accept the offer with the higher salary -- and there is nothing wrong with doing so, but it makes sense to review all aspects of a job offer -- as well as a few other intangibles, such as the reputation and culture of the organizations, room for personal and professional growth, and the like.
Assuming both organizations and offers are similar -- and you would be equally happy working at either of them, then we suggest a very simple model of putting the offers side-by-side, comparing the details, and weighing the results.
Read more in our article, Comparing Two or More Job Offers.
I received a job offer from one company, but I really want to wait to see if I get an offer from my dream employer. What are my options?
You basically have two strategies you can enact -- one for the company that made the offer and one for your dream employer.
For the company that made you the offer: As all job-seekers should do with any job offer, after thanking the employer for the job offer, request to get it in writing -- and ask for enough time to review the details. Most employers will give you a few days, especially over a weekend.
For the dream employer: As soon as you have the offer from the first company, contact the hiring manager from the dream employer and provide an update, prefacing the news with something like, "I am not trying to change your process... it's just that I know my expertise and experience are a great fit for you -- and I know I can hit the ground running and get great results... but I have received a very attractive job offer from another organization and I only have so much time to give them an answer. Do you have any idea when you folks plan on making a decision?"
If it works out and the dream employer comes through with an offer -- no harm, no foul. But do remember to still put the offers side-by-side to make sure the dream employer's offer is what you really want. (See Salary FAQ #17).
If the dream employer will not budge, you have to make the decision whether to take the offer on the table or decline it and wait for the dream employer to complete its interviewing process. We strongly oppose taking the offer from the first employer on false pretenses, jumping ship to the dream employer if it eventually makes you an offer. (See Salary FAQ #15.)
What is the best strategy for job-seekers who want to negotiate salary? In other words, how do I successfully negotiate a better offer?
First a caveat: There is always some level of danger in an employer retracting its offer if it is offended by your negotiation tactics... so proceed carefully.
Most hiring managers typically make the strongest offer to job-seekers -- after the long process of finding the ideal candidate, the goal is to hire that person.
That said, there are often items overlooked in the offer process that can be fixed through salary negotiation.
The key to successfully negotiating a better job offer is to carefully pick the one or two elements of the offer that you want to improve. Do not thank the employer for a great job offer and then present a 10-point counter-proposal that basically rips apart the original offer. (Amazingly, the job-seeker was stunned when the employer pulled the entire job offer.)
Here is where, again, the depth of your research will pay off for you. In making your case to the employer, focus on industry, professional, and local data. Showing an employer data that a person with your education, training, and years of experience should have a salary in a different range than the offer will go much farther than telling the employer you simply must have -- or need -- to have a higher salary.
Use any network contacts you have within the organization to also gain insights into its policies regarding salary and benefits. For example, we know one organization that starts ALL employees with two weeks of vacation for the first year, and then compensates for years of experience in the following year.
To summarize how best to negotiate a better offer:
- Thank the employer for the offer
- Use insider information to help you decide what to negotiate
- Chose just a few items of the offer to negotiate
- Use hard data to justify your request
- Always be professional and courteous during the process.
How you negotiate is up to you -- see the next Salary FAQ.
Can I make a counter job offer by email, or do I have to do it in person or by phone?
Choose the method that is most comfortable to you.
Some people like negotiating over the phone or in person -- usually these are the folks who are good talkers and enjoy negotiating.
Others do their negotiating in writing -- feeling more comfortable negotiating with the written word. For those who prefer writing, see our article: Salary Negotiation Techniques for a Counter Proposal Letter. You can also review a Sample Job Offer Counter Proposal Letter.
Whichever method you choose, remember that the key to successful negotiation is to know what you want, prove that you deserve it, and ask for it professionally.
Final Thoughts on Salary NegotiationThe time to negotiate salary (and other parts of the job offer) is when you are in a position of greatest power -- right after the job offer has been presented to you. Once you accept the offer, you cannot go back and ask the employer to make changes. Remember to enter your next job-search with the salary number you desire in your head -- and your salary research completed.
Test your salary negotiation knowledge with our Salary Negotiation, Compensation, and Job Offer Quiz.
Finally, find additional salary and job offer negotiation tips in these articles:
- Achieve the Job Offer You Deserve by Avoiding These 10 Salary Negotiation Mistakes
- Top Myths and Realities of Salary/Job Offer Negotiation
- Salary Negotiation Do's and Don'ts
Have questions about other aspects of job-hunting? Find our entire collection of answers to the most frequently asked questions in the Quintessential Careers Career, Job-Search, and Job-Hunting FAQs for Job-Seekers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.
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