Very few of us have enough self-confidence to approach the topic of salary negotiation with ease. To most, it is an awkward - if not outright uncomfortable - matter. Even if we know our worth and are 100% convinced we could be earning more money for our hard work, there is still that little voice in our heads holding us back from asking for it. Whether it’s a lack of confidence or fear of rejection that’s keeping you from knocking on your boss’ office door, keep on reading!
This guide is for everyone who finds negotiations - and not just those concerning salaries - difficult. We hope to cheer you up by saying that even though a relatively small percentage of people try to negotiate their salary, a vast majority of HR Managers actually expect them to do so. The first step, then, is to understand that asking for a raise is not something uncommon or unwelcome.
There are two basic situations when we can negotiate our salary: when receiving a new job offer or after having worked at a certain company for a while. Those cases differ slightly, but the process remains the same, for the most part.
Before we go through the salary negotiation tips for 3 different stages, here's what a professional Career Guide, Eli Bohemond, has to say about the topic in his webinar for ELJ:
Nobody (wise) marches onto the battlefield unarmed. There are a few things you need to do in preparation for your negotiation talk.
First of all, you will need to base your request for a raise on something. That something will be the achievements you have accomplished in this company when you negotiate with your current boss, or in others if you’re trying to secure an attractive job offer.
Remember that your worth for the employer doesn’t end with what you have already done - it stretches out to what you can still do in the future. For that reason, rather than pausing at stating your accomplishments, demonstrate your future goals in your position and explain how the company will benefit from them.
The key is to base everything on a hard example - don’t simply list things you have done and plan to do. Highlight their significance and emphasise how, exactly, they contribute to the company’s development. Recall specific situations that won’t leave a single doubt in the employer’s mind as to why you’re a valuable asset to the team.
If you’re planning to walk into the negotiation without a specific number in mind, then don’t even bother. Asking for a raise without stating your goal in the form of a concrete figure will be a waste of time - both yours and your employer’s.
Websites like Glassdoor allow you to get an understanding of the salary range you can expect for your position, in your current location and your level of experience. Aside from the general statistics, it is sometimes also possible to get an insight into the average pay at a given company for a specific role.
The salaries will usually be presented as a range, but do stick to a specific number. What’s more, choose one that’s closer to the upper scale, rather than the lower. Your negotiator will always try to push your demand down, so the higher you start, the less you can worry about losing in the process.
Do stay realistic, though. Always pay attention to whether the salary range you’re looking at applies to your current level. You will lose all leverage if you lead off by asking for a sum meant for a senior role when your position is clearly a junior one. Know your worth, but don’t overdo it - stay within the brackets provided by official sources and don’t make things up.
Another good way to conduct research is to ask people in a similar position about their earnings. Of course, the topic of money can be delicate, but chances are, if you’re close enough, they will share at least a range. Make sure to ask both men and women as, unfortunately, the issue of the pay gap between genders still exists and may impact the facts.
You may feel like you perform better under pressure, but difficult topics - money being one of them - have a knack for robbing us of our breath and thoughts. Even if spontaneity is your cup of tea, do go over what you’d like to say in advance.
The preparation is mostly meant to ensure you won’t let your emotions get the best of you and end up saying something you would regret. Successful negotiations are based on mutual respect - especially if you’re the one coming with the initiative of receiving a raise, you need to remain polite and balanced.
Rehearsing the potential outcomes of the conversation and the various turns it may take will leave you better prepared. Don’t assume the answer will be negative, but do prepare for it.
Negotiations don’t finish with a “no” - they start with it. If every employer’s reaction to an employee asking for a raise was enthusiasm, everybody would be earning millions, and promotions would be handed out left and right.
You can - and should - anticipate counterarguments on your negotiator’s part. Just like they don’t expect you to just accept an offer without trying to improve it, you shouldn’t expect them to approach your initiative with no objections. Negotiations are about reaching the middle ground, which is achieved through discussion. The world would be too beautiful if everyone just agreed with everyone straight away.
Timing is everything. When negotiating a job offer, you won’t bring up the issue of money until the very end. It’s okay to ask about the expected salary for the position in the middle of the recruitment process, but it’s out of place to ask if it’s possible to lift it until you’re offered the position.
Similarly, when planning to ask for a raise in a company you’re already working at, you won’t do it at a time when you know money is tighter than usual. Even if leaner months are usually the ones when you’re expected to work harder and understandably may feel like you deserve the raise right now and then, the chances you’ll receive it are low.
Instead, wait it out. Patience is a virtue. Wait around for a time when the company kicks up from the bottom - and use the role you played in it to your advantage. During a crisis, everyone’s focus will be on staying afloat and keeping all the employees on board. Staying adrift and entering clear waters once again will no doubt put your employer in better spirits, and may therefore result in a bigger willingness to indulge your request for the hard-earned raise.
You know how much you can earn, you have your arguments ready to justify it, and the timing is just perfect. You’ve practised the negotiation with your mirror or a trusted friend enough times that you finally go knock on your boss’ door… What now?
As you have seen, the sole fact of asking for a raise requires a lot of preparation. You’ve done your research, picked your brain for specific situations when you shone as an employee, and spent hours formulating sentences the right way. It’s clear you will want your boss to appreciate all that effort… and get upset if they don’t.
The first thing you need to understand is that their initial refusal to give you a raise doesn’t necessarily have to result from them not valuing your work. Sometimes, even our bosses have bosses, and the iron clutches of upper management don’t leave much wiggle space.
Losing your temper won’t help your case - if anything, it can only work against you. If the employer is to promote someone, it will be a collected, mature, responsible employee; not a crybaby. This is why preparation is so crucial - you need to make sure you remain as cool as a cucumber and bite your tongue when things you don’t really mean are trying to escape.
In all the haze of previous preparation, combined with the stress you’ll start feeling on the spot, it is easy to start perceiving the negotiation as a performance and your involvement in it - a role.
Anxious that you’ll stutter or lose your nerve if you take a break, you might spit out your rehearsed speech at the speed of a machine gun. The negotiator might squeeze in a word or two when you pause to catch a breath, but what they said won’t really register. All you want is for it to be over, to get it all out and wait for the verdict.
Sadly, that’s not how negotiations work.
Negotiation equals conversation. And conversation implies an exchange between people. A speech where only one part talks is called a monologue, and is highly valued in a theatre, but much less so in an office.
So remember to listen and process what your boss is saying, even in your drive to make sure you remember everything you want to say. They might make rational comments, and will not appreciate it if you start repeating yourself without taking them into consideration.
No amount of training can help us predict everything the other person might say. That’s why you have to remain flexible and play off their reactions, using them as an indicator of where the conversation might be going.
Again, if all negotiations ended after the first refusal, humanity would have never achieved anything. Jesus wouldn’t have been born if Mary hadn’t heard the Archangel out, the Cold War would have finished tragically if politicians hadn’t listened to reason, J.K. Rowling wouldn’t have published Harry Potter after she’d been rejected thirteen times.
If you have enough courage to start the conversation, you also have enough of it to finish it - and not when the first “no” comes up. If you were comfortably seated in your favourite chair in your jammies, streaming an episode of a trending TV series and your child came up to you asking you for a lift, chances are, you wouldn’t be thrilled. That’s exactly the way your employer feels about giving out a raise.
They’re comfortable, things are working, everyone seems happy, so why not keep it that way? Why not stay in their jammies instead of putting effort into changing into jeans? Of course, their initial thought would be “are you kidding me?”.
You not wanting to leave your chair doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t end up driving the kid wherever they want, though, does it? If they prove to you that wherever it is they need to go and whatever they need to do there is important, you’ll eventually cede. If their arguments are convincing enough, you’ll be sliding your feet into those uncomfortable shoes you hoped to not see today, admit it.
But if it turns out all they want to do is go grab a hot dog, you won’t be impressed. You’ll sit back down in that chair and turn up the volume. Probably send the culprit away. Tell them to stay in their room. Warn against bothering you again - or else.
It’s exactly the same when it comes to an employer’s reaction to a demand for a raise. Was it on their agenda? No. Does it top their personal list of things to do? Of course, not. But if you play your cards well, they might just make room for it.
“Don’t give up” is not synonymous to “be annoying”. You definitely shouldn’t be leaving the office after the first “no” - but after the fifth one, you might consider it.
Let’s continue with the example of the child who needs a lift. Even if you don’t want to indulge them, you may be swayed if they’re civilised about it. You definitely may not if they decide to follow you around the house, jiggling the car keys. You will probably be even more discouraged if they, say, threaten to run away if you don’t get in the car, now.
This is an extreme case, but it illustrates our point: threats are a no-no, too. Try to refrain from dangling quitting over the employer’s head if you see you’re not quite achieving your goal. When you’re trying for a new job, you may, of course, inform the recruiter that you are considering other positions that offer higher pay. Let them know you’re sought-after, but don’t make it seem like money is your only motivator.
In that case, try highlighting how, despite having other offers pending, you would still rather choose this particular company. Their ethics, work culture, and activity please you and you would love to be a part of their team, but simply believe your work is worth a bit more than they’re currently offering.
Always judge the situation as you go: if you see the employer getting annoyed, drop it. If their mood is already spoiled, the chances of you getting that raise are dropping, while those of you stepping over the line are increasing.
But even if you don’t manage to talk your boss into giving you more money, there is still something you can do…
Basically, there are two things you can do after your salary negotiation, based on how it went.
Congratulations! You got your raise. Now, remember about all the things you had promised to do in order to receive it, and all the ways you’ve shown you can contribute to the company. The pesky thing about promotions is that they go much easier than they come. If you don’t prove yourself and give your boss reasons to believe your assurances were just empty words, they can take away your reward just as easily as they had given it to you.
If you have already gotten the raise you’d asked for, though, you probably have nothing to worry about. You are a hard-working, motivated employee, and you have succeeded in proving it to your employer. You’ll be just fine - keep up the great work, and keep improving!
Rome wasn’t built in a day - don’t worry. You could have prepared perfectly and handled the conversation well; if there’s nothing your boss can do for you at the moment, no amount of input on your side can change that.
However, the good news is, not everything is lost! There is still something you can do to make things work.
Remember that salary is not the only reward for your hard work. If a raised salary is a no-go, your boss can acknowledge your value for the company in other ways:
One-time financial bonus
Increased benefits (health, childcare, discounts)
More flexibility in working hours
Possibility to work from home
Projects or tasks that will give you an opportunity to prove your worth and increase your chances for a raise in a foreseeable future
*Help with relocation or a signing bonus (in case of pursuing a new job offer abroad)
Chances are, one or more of those options will be on the list of the things your employer can do for you today. If so, enjoy your small victory for now, and remember you can always go back to the topic at hand in some time!
Do you feel ready now to face the challenge of asking your boss for a raise? We realise that no amount of advice can make this rather daunting task easy-peasy, but we did our best to make it at least bearable. There is nothing wrong with knowing your worth and trying to prove it - quite the contrary!
If you never try, you will never know, and what’s even worse than rejection is living with the awareness that you could possibly be earning more, but you don’t really know as you haven’t asked!