Hurdles to Successful Salary Negotiation — and How to Tackle Them

These four smart strategies will help you successfully negotiate your pay.

Talking to an employer — or a prospective one — about money is never easy. Some people find it so challenging, in fact, that they quickly accept the first salary offer that comes with a new job. Or they hesitate to ask for a raise, even when they’re 110% certain they deserve one.

That’s not the wisest way to go. Most employers fully expect to negotiate and build funds into their compensation budget for just that reason. That’s why it’s critical to face your fears and tackle them head on.

Here are the four hurdles to overcome when negotiating salary — and advice on how to do it.

Hurdle: Determining What You’re Worth

Tackle it: This may be the easiest of all because, thanks to the almighty Internet, there’s plenty of information at your fingertips. Start your research by looking at websites like PayScale, or the one run by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Professional associations are a good resource, as is asking colleagues and co-workers for “ballpark” salary info in your company or field. (While discussing salary is no longer as taboo as it once was, some companies still have rules that prohibit workers from talking about wages. So be sure you know the relevant laws and policies.) When figuring out an appropriate salary, consider your education, training and credentials, years of experience and geographic location (pay varies from place to place). Aim to come up with a “salary range” for your specific job, and be realistic — but a bit ambitious — in setting your target salary.

Hurdle: Articulating Your Value

Tackle it: Being a self-promoter doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. But if you don’t appreciate what you bring to the table, how can you expect someone else to? When preparing to negotiate with an employer, start by making a list of your skills and qualifications. Be ready to offer specific examples of what you’ve accomplished in past roles and what you believe you’ll be able to achieve going forward. Don’t exaggerate, but this isn’t the time for modesty either. Once you’ve finished your list of skills, experience and achievements, commit it to memory. Then practice, practice, practice so you will feel comfortable talking about how great you are. Ask friends or family to role-play so you’ll feel super confident making your case when the time comes.

Hurdle: Knowing What (and What Not) to Say

Tackle it: When interviewing for a job, it’s best to delay conversations about compensation until you actually have an offer. But this can be tricky. A prospective employer might ask what you’re currently earning (though inquiring about salary history has been outlawed in many states.) Or, more commonly, you might be asked for your salary expectations. If that happens, do your best to deflect the questions — and avoid being the first to name a number. (If you do, you could end up with an offer of less than what the employer was prepared to pay!) Instead, respond by asking what the position pays and waiting for a response. If you’re pressed, give a range and an explanation of how you came up with it. Say something like, “According to my research, the market rate for a Marketing Manager with my level of experience in this city is $60,000 – $70,000. I would like to be considered for a salary within this range.” Then reiterate the value you bring to the company and the expertise and skills that you have.

Hurdle: Thinking Only About Your Paycheck

Tackle it: Salary is only one piece of your total compensation package, so don’t focus exclusively on that. While benefits like health care and matching 401K tend to be standard, employers sometimes have more flexibility when it comes to negotiating paid time off, flexible schedules and remote work options. Think about the benefits that are most important to you, then confidently and politely ask for them. Remember, the worst that can happen is that you’ll be turned down. Once you do get an offer that’s satisfactory, ask for it in writing. Take a day or so to think it over before signing on the dotted line. This is standard business practice, so no one will be put off.

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done, so make sure to put time and effort into preparing as best you can. Do that by taking the AAUW Work Smart Online, a free and easy course that will give you all the information and tools you need to get the salary you deserve.