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The Ultimate Guide to Negotiating Your Job Offer

Updated: May 8


Two women engaging in a job offer negotiation

So you just got a job offer? Congratulations! Now should you accept right away, or should you negotiate?


60% of Americans chose not to negotiate their salary the last time they got hired. But that is actually a huge mistake.


In this article, we’ll explain why in most cases, it’s a good idea to negotiate, and then we’ll go over everything you need to know to have a successful negotiation conversation.


Should You Always Negotiate a Job Offer?


In most cases, it’s best to give an attempt at negotiation once you get a job offer. There’s usually nothing to lose and only benefit to gain.


But as we mentioned before, most people don’t negotiate their job offers. Many folks feel hesitant to negotiate because they don’t want to lose the offer or they’re afraid of offending the company.  


Gender plays a role, too—more women than men don’t negotiate, and the study shows that this is primarily because they feel uncomfortable asking for higher pay.


Let’s dispel these fears.


According to one survey, 84% of companies expect applicants to negotiate salary during the interview process, and nearly 9 in 10 employers say they’ve never taken back a job offer because of negotiations.  


In most cases, the hiring manager is coming in thinking that you are going to negotiate! They are ready and prepared for it, so you don’t have to hold back. Nothing bad will happen. And actually, some good might come out of it.


One study tracked the salaries of 149 tenure-track professors and part-time MBA students and found that when these professionals negotiated with a collaborative mindset, they bumped their job offer salary up an average of $5,000. And while the salary boost on a job offer for executives would be larger, $5,000 is nothing to sneeze at. 


As Harvard Law’s Program of Negotiation writes, “For a new employee, successfully negotiating a salary offer up by $5,000 could make a huge difference over the course of her career. A 25-year-old employee who enters the job market at $55,000 will earn about $634,000 more over the course of a 40-year career (assuming annual 5% raises) than an employee who starts out at $50,000.”


So, while it might feel scary to ask for a better job offer, remember that the recruiter probably expects you to do so; likely, nothing bad will happen, and you might get an income boost, the impact of which sustains throughout your career. 


Should you ever not negotiate?


There are two situations where you might be better off not negotiating and instead accepting the job offer on the spot.


  1. If they were clear in the offer that it’s the very best they can do and can’t offer anything more

  2. If they’ve been 100% transparent with what your offer is compared to all other hires, and you are getting paid what everyone is paid


In both of these circumstances, there won’t be room for flexibility, so if you are excited about the job, you can accept it on the spot.


Don’t negotiate too early in the process


Timing also matters. Don’t negotiate before you’ve received the job offer or after you’ve accepted the offer. The time to negotiate is after they’ve made you an offer and before you’ve said yes (or no).


Don’t start discussions about compensation during the interview process. If they bring it up, reply accordingly. But do not negotiate until an offer is in hand. You want to create as frictionless of a “user experience” for the company as possible. Not to mention, the only time you have any leverage is once an offer is made. 


Negotiating before you get an offer is an easy way to make the deal fall apart before you get it.  


Some companies do a "soft close," where it sounds like they're making an offer, but they’re really just testing the waters. If you take the bait and start negotiating, more times than not, the deal will fall apart.


What to Do When You Receive the Job Offer


You might receive a job offer on a call or over email. Instead of negotiating right away, the usual sequence will be something like this:


  1. You receive the official job offer (see sandwich effect below)

  2. You ask any questions you have to make sure you fully understand the offer

  3. You schedule a time to meet again the next day (or over the weekend) in a few days to talk about the offer

  4. In that time, you carefully review the details of the offer and prepare your “ask”

  5. Once the scheduled conversation call rolls around, you present your ask in one sitting (do not drip your requests over time)


In the moment that you receive the offer, I recommend reacting with the “sandwich effect,” where you sandwich your questions and scheduling requests between sentiments of excitement. Let’s get into more detail.


1. Express excitement


After you get your job offer, you want to approach the situation in a way where the recruiter doesn’t sense that you’re going to decline the offer. If the recruiter feels like you might say no or that you’re stringing them along, they aren’t going to want to put in extra effort for you, and they’ll also share your “coolness” with the hiring manager to keep them in the loop.


If they feel like you’re excited and just about to accept the job, then they won’t need to look at the other candidates they interviewed. They’ve put a lot of time and energy into you already, and they want to work with you. So show that you want to work with them too!


Start off by saying something positive like, “This is great news! I feel incredibly excited about this position with your team.”


2. Gather information and review the job offer


You should have learned everything you needed to know about the position in your interview process. But if you have any questions about the offer, now is your time to ask.


And it’s important to know that the job offer is far more than just salary. Here is a list of what could go into a job offer. Think about which ones are important to you. You can even pull out this list while you’re on the call.


Job Role/Responsibilities:


  • Title

  • Job description and role details

  • Role expectations


Compensation:


  • Base pay or base salary

  • Other incentive pay (stock options, stock grants, restricted stock options, and long-term incentive plans)

  • Sign-on bonus


Benefits:


  • Vacation days and paid time off (some companies have unlimited PTO)

  • Major benefit plans (like life, health, dental, and vision insurance). Do you want healthcare that covers mental health or long-term care?

  • Retirement plan deposit matching for 401(k)

  • Relocation assistance if you have to move for the job

  • Paid parental leave

  • Access to financial planning services/advisors 


Work Arrangements:


  • Start date

  • Remote work options

  • Flexible work hours

  • Four-day workweek


Supplemental Income/Funds:


  • Funds to cover the cost of childcare or elderly care

  • Funds to make a home office suitable for work

  • Transportation funds for vehicle allowance, paid parking, public transit passes, etc.

  • Wardrobe allowance (compensation if you need to wear specific clothes for a client-facing role)


Professional Development:


  • Paid trainings

  • Mentorship opportunities


Other Perks:


  • Gym membership or monthly wellness stipend

  • Severance package (for executives) to ensure proper compensation if they get laid off in an IPO or spin-off. Here’s an article if you’re an exec and would like to read more on negotiating your exit


3. Schedule a time to meet


Once they’ve given you an offer and you’ve clarified everything you need to know, let them know that you want to take a few days to sit with it before you get back to them.


Then, schedule a time to meet again.


4. Express excitement again


Here’s the last part of our excitement sandwich. End on a positive note!


Remember you want to give the impression that you want to say yes; you don’t want them to start looking back at other candidates.


You could close with something like, “Thank you again for this offer, I feel genuinely thrilled and am looking forward to connecting again in a few days.”


How to Prepare for Your Negotiation Conversation


Now that the “ask” conversation is on your calendar, it’s time to prepare for it! Here are all the key steps to keep in mind.


Determine what you want to ask for


As we mentioned above, salary is one of many negotiables in a job offer.


The hiring company might not have room to budge in paying you more, but they very well may be open to remote work for example. 


Look at the list above and clarify what matters to you and what you’d like to ask for to sweeten the deal. If salary is something you’d like to negotiate, clarify what number you want to ask for before going into the call.


And just to reiterate, these are asks that you are making. You don’t want to draw a hard line in the sand; just ask what is possible.


Combine all of your negotiation requests into one package


If you do indeed want to negotiate for more than just a salary bump, it’s a good idea to get clear on everything you want to ask for and to ask for it all at once.


Let’s say you ask for an extra $5,000 in the salary, and they agree. Then you ask for life insurance, and they agree. If you then ask for more vacation days, they may feel like you’re pulling too much out of them.


Don’t drip your requests. Be clear and combine all of your requests into one asking package.


Have a “why” for every ask


Did you know that people are more likely to say “yes” to your requests if you provide a reason why you’re asking?


Social psychologist Robert Cialdini wrote a well-cited book called Influence. In the book, Cialdini cites a study where participants would ask another person if they could cut them in line to use a copy machine. He had the participants ask to cut the line in three different ways:


  1. "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?"

  2. "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I'm in a rush?"

  3. "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?"


The researchers found that the people who were about to use the Xerox machine were significantly more likely to allow someone to go ahead of them in the queue if that person provided a reason compared to if no reason was given. Even when the reason was a redundant one like, “because I have to make copies.”


What this tells us is that making a request with any reason will up the odds that it gets accepted.


So if you ask for a different title, for example, the recruiter is much more likely to agree if you follow up with “and here’s why I deserve it.”


And while any reason is better than no reason, a good reason is better than a bad one! Below are a few data points you can bring into your justification for why you deserve each item you are asking for.


1. Industry standards for the role


Look at what other companies are paying for this role in your area. 


Check out Glassdoor or LinkedIn Jobs for self-reports of how much people make. But bear in mind that people tend to give themselves a pay raise even when it’s anonymous. You could also look at Salary.com for more objective data, though consider that their free data is a few years old.


You could even reach out to peers in your field to get a clearer sense of the market value of this role.


If competitors are consistently paying 10% for the same position, this could help your case of asking for more.


2. Quantify how you can save them time or money


Two of the most valuable resources you can provide to an employer are money and time. If you can use your track record to show why you can help the business make money or save time, you’ll be in good shape.


One of the best ways to express this is through quantifiable metrics that you’ve achieved in the past.


For example, you might say, “I’d like to ask for a $5,000 salary increase. I think this is deserved, and will pay for itself because in my current role, I created a marketing campaign that 5x’d website traffic in six months, which bumped sales by 10%. I feel confident I can use these skills with your team to help increase our bottom line.”


3. Years of industry experience


If you’ve been in the game for a while, let this be known. 20 years of industry experience means a lot. So does 10. And so does 5.


One way to weave this in might be, “In the offer, I’m wondering if you’d be open to compensating me for taking trainings for continued professional development. I’ve stayed at the forefront of this industry for a decade through education, and I believe that is the reason why I’m leading my team in monthly sales. I really believe that if you invest in my education, it won’t just support my growth but will help me boost the company’s profit.”


4. Education and credentials


Do you have a Masters or PhD? Or maybe you have a project management professional certification. Education and professional certifications can all add to your case.


5. Current salary (if it’s higher than the offer)


If your current salary is higher than the new job offer, it’s worth bringing up. 


Cialdini, the aforementioned author of Influence, writes about the “reciprocity principle.” This psychological term describes the instinct to reciprocate when people are given something. 


For example, if I buy you lunch, the reciprocity principle says that you will feel an impulse to reciprocate and do me a favor in return. Similarly, if you know that I’ve taken a salary cut to make this job work, you’ll feel an impulse to make a sacrifice for me.


Obviously, you shouldn’t do nice things so that other people will feel indebted to you. And, of course, taking a salary cut could be worth it for a job that’s a better fit in other ways.


But if this new offer is indeed a lower salary than your last role, bringing this up could help your case to negotiate other benefits.


Prep for difficult questions


“Is this role your top choice?” the hiring manager asks.


You wince, then freeze, then sputter out, “well…um…I mean, it’s a good option.”


This is a situation you want to avoid.


The recruiter might ask you some tricky questions in the negotiation. Questions that make you squirm or give you pause.


If you’re not prepared, it’s easy to stick your foot in your mouth.


Before the interview, take some time to practice answering the following questions with honesty and tact:


  • Are you considering any other offers?

  • Is this your top choice?

  • How much are you being paid for your current role? (And note that while this question is illegal in 22 states and DC, they could still ask, "Would you be willing to provide tax records to support your statement that your salary was higher?")

  • How important is (specific benefit) to you?

  • If we are unable to meet your asks, would you decline our offer? 


Practice with a friend or coach


Studies suggest that people who practice negotiation in classes increase their self-confidence in negotiations, up their perceived skill, and improve their ability to find win-win situations. Just like everything else, practice makes you better.


Before your scheduled negotiation call, consider asking a friend to help you practice for twenty minutes.


Have your friend role-play the part of the recruiter while you ask for what you want and talk it out. Going through this activity a few times will help you feel more confident and prepared when you step into the actual conversation.


If you don’t have a friend to turn to for this one, you could also consider hiring a career coach to help you practice negotiating and give you real-time feedback to sharpen your skills.


Get in the right headspace right before the negotiation


A top athlete is about to enter into a championship game. What do you think they’re doing right before the match?


It’s unlikely that you’ll find them eating Cheetos and watching YouTube minutes before the event. It’s common sense that before an important game, an athlete would prepare themselves mentally and physically.


Michael Phelps, who has more gold medals than any other Olympic athlete, relies heavily on visualization. And he actually starts visualizing a month before a swim meet!


You don’t need to visualize a month before your negotiation conversation, but there is a simple activity you can employ minutes before to increase your confidence.


Spend a few minutes before your conversation writing about a time when you felt powerful. That’s it!


Researcher Adam Galinski of Columbia Business School found that when people wrote about a time they felt powerful before a mock job interview, they were rated as significantly more confident, more persuasive, and better candidates. And when folks wrote about a time they felt powerless, they got rated as worse candidates.


Use this research to your advantage in your pre-interview prep.


Remember to ask for a written offer


Once you put all your cards on the table, the hiring manager will say one of three things:


  1. They say yes right away.


If they say yes on the spot, it means you might have left something on the table. But it’s no big deal. You still got a better offer for yourself and put yourself out there!


One: They say they’ll get back to you.


This is good. It means they are checking to see what they can give you. You might not get everything you asked for, but you did a good job.


Two: They say they can’t change the offer.


If this is the response you get, no biggie! You asked for what you wanted, and that will help you build confidence in the long run.


If they agree to a new offer, make sure you ask them when you can expect to see a new written offer. This will make it official and ensure you’re both on the same page.


Bring in a third party (if you’re an exec)


Because executives’ job offers are complex, nuanced, and high-stakes, it can help to bring in a third party. Be it an agent or an employment lawyer, having an expert by your side can ensure you get the right deal and give you an extra dash of confidence.


Avoid These Common Negotiation Mistakes


You know everything you need to do to prepare for your negotiation. But there are a few key mistakes that people often make. 


Make sure you avoid these pitfalls.


Don’t come in entitled


If you come in with the stance that their original offer is beneath you and you have a right to a better offer, it might be a put-off for the recruiter.


It will go a long way to receive their offer with appreciation instead of disdain. Even if the offer isn’t the right fit for you, try to view it as just that. A mismatch rather than something beneath you.


Don’t give ultimatums


The top reason that recruiters cite for rescinding the offer is that the applicant gave a demand and not an ask. Approaching a negotiation with a “my way or the highway” mentality could create some unnecessary tension. People don’t like ultimatums because they feel harsh and limit people’s sense of agency.


Do your best to come off as flexible and collaborative instead of giving off threats of leaving.


Don’t get too personal


You may very well have good personal reasons for wanting a higher salary. You might have a sick parent to take care of or daycare to pay for. 


But bringing your personal story into the negotiation can muddy the waters of the agreement. The recruiter might feel like you’re guilt-tripping or emotionally manipulating them. 


And then you are starting to ask them to leave the confines of a business deal to meet you in your sob story. This will also create the frame that they are doing you a personal favor instead of entering into a mutually beneficial business agreement.


It’s much better to come out of a negotiation feeling like you are both helping each other, instead of the other person sacrificing themself to save you.


Don’t apologize


For people who come into an interview with lower confidence, it might feel automatic to apologize at different points. This might be especially true for all the people-pleasers out there.


It’s understandable to feel this way. You are asking the other person to give you something valuable.


But apologizing not only diminishes yourself, it also sub-communicates that by asking for a higher salary or more perks, you are doing something wrong. 


One simple mindset and communication hack is to substitute “thank you” in where you otherwise want to apologize. 


Remember, you’re trying to create the best business deal possible that benefits both parties. Improving your job offer will make you a more engaged worker who helps the company.


So, when you want to say, “I think $180,000 would be a reasonable salary, sorry,” try “Thank you for being open to this discussion. I think $180,000 would be a reasonable salary because xyz.”


Don’t be needy


Researchers have found that the most effective way to get power in a negotiation is to have alternative options. If you do have other job offers, that’s not to say you should lord them over the hiring manager. But what this research really suggests is that when we have alternatives, we aren’t desperate.


Neediness and desperation are some of the best repellents out there. Can you imagine someone asking you out on a date with an underlying tone that they need your attention to be happy? Or is a salesperson pitching you on their service where it feels like they are desperate for the sale?


Eek!


You’ll come off as way more attractive (and have more leverage) if you don’t need this job. 


You can create that feeling by actually lining up other job offers for yourself. Or you can cultivate a mindset of abundance where you recognize that no matter what happens in this negotiation, you will still be happy.


Takeaways on How to Negotiate Your Job Offer


Best of luck negotiating your job offer! Just remember these tips, and you’ll do great:


  • Identify your negotiation items: This is more than just a salary negotiation. Consider negotiables like remote work or insurance options

  • Package your ask: Combine all of your negotiation requests into one comprehensive package

  • Justify each request: Explain why you deserve what you are asking for. Make sure to research industry standards. 

  • Prepare for tough questions: You don’t want to get caught off guard

  • Practice! Rehearse your negotiation pitch with a friend or coach

  • Mental preparation: Right before the call, spend a few minutes writing about a time you felt empowered

  • Get a written offer: After negotiation, ensure any agreed changes are confirmed in writing to avoid misunderstandings

  • Consider third-party help (for execs): For executive-level negotiations, involving an agent or lawyer can help get your best offer


If you would like support from a career coach to ace this negotiation conversation or to generally help you build the career you want, check out the International Association of Career Coaches’ directory of coaches.

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