Negotiating Salary: Top 10 Keys To Earning What You Deserve
Ross Macpherson MA, CPRW, CEIP, CJST

Every time I coach a client on interviewing skills, or give a presentation on interviewing techniques, one burning question always comes up: "How should I handle salary?" Well, admittedly it's a tricky topic and a skill that requires some finesse, but one thing is certain: it's a skill that can pay enormous dividends over the course of your career.

To help you get a better handle on the process, and help you to negotiate and earn what you're worth, I've compiled ten key points to keep in mind. Any one of these points merits an article in itself (and probably will in future newsletters), but even mastering a few of them can help you add significant $$ to your total compensation package.

  1. Know your value

    It is absolutely critical to have an idea of your market value BEFORE you walk in the door. Quite simply, the more prepared you are, the more successful you'll be. This first step is where you assess your bargaining position - if you don't do it, or you do it poorly, everything else falls apart.

    Things you need to consider include:

    What is the salary range for someone in this market doing this job?
    What additional value can I bring to the position?
    What is the absolute minimum I will accept?
    What range am I prepared to quote if absolutely pushed to do so?
    Do your research, network within the industry, and work out a realistic market value for your skills in this position.

    Note: Be cautious with online salary surveys ( and, for example). Make certain they cover your industry and geographic area and use them only as a rough guide.
  2. Timing is everything

    There is only one good time to discuss salary: when there is an offer on the table. At his point YOU have the most bargaining power because they've already stated that you are the one they want. So, your job is to postpone salary as long as possible. The problem is, the employer will want to discuss salary as early as possible, so try to keep the discussion focused on the position, their needs, and how you can meet those needs.

    Also on the topic of timing: let the employer quote a figure first. If you go first, no matter how you slice it, you lose. If you absolutely have to give a figure, give a range (see the Success Tip at the bottom of this newsletter for a great tip).
  3. Make your case

    No company is going to increase your salary offer out of the kindness of their heart, so it's up to YOU to build your case and back it up. Re-state the contribution you can make, the specific value you can bring as an employee, discuss the current market value for the position and your expertise (from your research), and consistently build your value. Your case should be entirely business-related (no personal reasons) and founded on your research, value, past successes, and potential contribution.
  4. Look at the total package

    Salary is just ONE component to your compensation package. Others things that can be negotiated, and that can add value to your overall package, include:

    one-time signing bonuses
    performance bonuses
    performance reviews
    salary reviews
    stock options
    healthcare benefits
    retirement plans
    paid vacation time
    working conditions
    work-at-home options
    relocation expenses
    start date
    non-compete clauses
    exit clauses

    And of course, don't forget to consider the value of your happiness in the position. If this position is exactly what you want, for yourself and your career, then maybe that's worth much more to you than that fancy parking space or an extra $2000 (given that most people are currently unfulfilled in their careers, don't underestimate the value of a job you'd love).
  5. Shoot for the win-win scenario

    Like any good negotiation (especially when you will soon be working alongside the person with whom you're negotiating) the goal is for both parties to walk away from the table satisfied. Your objective is to negotiate the best total package you can while also convincing the employer that they are getting the right person for the job at a fair price. This is your chance to demonstrate the kind of communication and negotiation skills you may have to use on the job, so shoot for the win-win and know when to quit bargaining.
  6. Use "strategic silence" to your advantage

    This is a very tricky skill to learn, but it's one that effective sales people use all the time (because it works). When an employer puts forward an offer, fight the urge to start talking. Repeat the figure out loud, maybe follow it with a "hmmmm", look contemplative, and then go silent. Feel free to weigh everything in your head, compare it to your researched value, but don't say anything out loud. In many cases, the employer will feel obligated to fill the void, sometimes with an explanation, sometimes with a compromise, sometimes with a better offer ("Of course, that's not written in stone").
  7. Separate salary requirements from salary history

    Your market value is based upon a number of criteria, and your salary history is only one indicator of your market value. If the employer asks for your salary history, don't be fooled - this is virtually the same thing as asking you to name a salary. Stick to your guns, remember your research into your true market value, and try to politely redirect the conversation.
  8. Take time to consider the offer

    Once an offer has been made and even negotiated, feel free ask for more time to consider everything "in light of the importance of the decision." Consider each item carefully. With more senior or complex negotiations, you may even want to consider seeking the advice of a compensation specialist, an accountant (for tax implications), and/or a lawyer. The key here is that you don't want to make an impulsive decision.
  9. Accept graciously

    Once the negotiations are complete, and you have agreed to the terms, accept the offer with a smile and stop negotiating. If you didn't get absolutely everything you wanted, let it go. There's nothing that can be done about it right now, and if you come across bitter, then your professional working relationship is off to a rocky start. Thank them, express your enthusiasm for joining the company, and start off on the right foot...if for no other reason, it can help with the next point.
  10. Don't forget your performance review!

    Now that you have your new job, the way you approach your subsequent performance and salary reviews is very similar to how you handled your initial salary negotiation. Keep a record of your achievements, feel free to subtly bring them to your boss' attention now and then, and when it's performance and salary review time, build your case.

Negotiating your salary requires preparation, creativity, finesse, and confidence. However, if you know your value, you can communicate it effectively, and you understand some of the key dynamics of negotiation, you should be able to negotiate a great compensation package.


Ross Macpherson is the Founder and President of Career Quest, a Certified Professional Resume Writer, and professional Interview Coach with over 12 years' experience in career development and training. You can reach Ross by emailing him at

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