Salary Negotiation

Getting a job offer is exciting!  Before you accept, evaluate the total package you are being offered: salary, vacation/leave, benefits (e.g., student loan repayments, health insurance, retirement plans) and other perks. In the United States it is acceptable and encouraged to negotiate the best deal for yourself.  

Four steps to negotiate your compensation

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1. Know your value

Knowing your skills and what value you bring to the organization will help you negotiate. Be confident in your:

  • Accomplishments
  • Skills
  • Education
  • Personal and professional experience (including awards and recognitions)

Your value can come from a lot of experiences, including:

  • Paid
  • Unpaid
  • Part-time
  • Full-time
  • Volunteer
  • Academic

For more information about communicating the value you will bring to an organization, review our Interviewing page.

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2. Research the market

Knowing the market means finding out what people are being paid to do the kind of work you want to do in your preferred geographic region. Don’t rely on the job title alone - look at specific responsibilities and expectations.

You can find salary information for different careers or job roles on the following sites:

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3. Identify your goal

Identifying your salary requirements and preferred salary range based on your research and your budget is best. Think about the following:

  • What you want: the most you can ask for based on your research
  • What you need: the least you’d accept. If you haven't already, develop a budget to understand your financial picture
  • What else you value: Consider  benefits  that you might want to negotiate beyond salary. For instance, the employer may offer tuition reimbursement, computer equipment, gym memberships, or free parking.
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4. Make the ask

Negotiating is as simple as asking a question. Many employers will negotiate to find a mutually agreeable salary and benefits package.Use data from your research and reiterate your value to the organization instead of focusing on your needs and wants. Sample language could include:

  • According to my research, a fair salary range for people doing this job in this area is from $XX, XXX to $YY,YYY. Can you meet that?
  • Given my previous experience doing _______and my _____ skills, I believe $XX, XXX to $YY,YYY is a fair salary range for this position. If you cannot increase the salary to meet my expectations, can you offer another benefit of equal monetary value such as student loan repayment or coverage of childcare costs?
  • In my current job, I get three weeks of paid time off annually. Can you match that?

Accept the offer

When you are satisfied with the package you have negotiated, it is time to accept the offer. Use your acceptance letter to document the details, including your start date, agreed upon starting salary, and other benefits.


What if they ask me about salary before I have an offer?

If you are asked early in the application or interview process (e.g. before getting a job offer) about your salary expectations, try to deflect those questions until you have an offer. Here are some ways you might respond to these questions:

What are your salary expectations?

  • What do you usually pay someone in this position?
  • I’d like to learn more about the role before I set my salary expectations. As we move forward in the interview process I would hope and expect that my salary would line up with market rates for similar positions in this area.

What is your salary history?

  • This position is not exactly the same as my last job. So, let’s discuss what my responsibilities would be here and then determine a fair salary for this job.
  • I’d appreciate it if you could make me an offer based on whatever you have budgeted for this position, and we can go from there.

*NOTE: Some cities and states prohibit asking for someone’s salary history. Research pay equity laws in your area before the interview.

Will negotiating salary make me look bad?

Compensation negotiation may feel uncomfortable the first time or two you try. Do it anyway! Most professionals agree that you should negotiate compensation when starting a new job. It is the easiest and most crucial time to talk about money, and you will not get more if you don’t ask for it.

In the long term, raises are often based on a percentage of your base salary. This could mean the difference of thousands of dollars over your career. Be your best advocate: make the ask respectfully, using your research and the strategies above, to reiterate the value you bring to your new organization.

What if an employer is not open to negotiating?

While many employers will try to work with you to find a compromise you can both be comfortable with, not all employers can or will negotiate. Some organizations (e.g., government agencies and nonprofits) may have limited flexibility in salary. Others may reject your request. In that case, you need to decide if you are comfortable accepting the offer as it is. If you need time to consider the offer, ask for it. You can say:

“I appreciate you considering my concerns. The offer is lower than I was expecting. Will you give me a day or so to evaluate and get back to you?”

If you are not willing to walk away yet, you can keep the conversation going:

  • Remain gracious if you hope to maintain the relationship – for this opportunity or possibilities in the future
  • Reiterate the value you will add and how your ask aligns with market standards. You can say, "I understand where you’re coming from and want to reiterate my excitement at becoming part of your team. I think my skills are perfectly suited for this position and are worth $XX,XXX
  • Revisit other benefits like additional paid time off or flexible hours if the salary is non-negotiable
  • Ask about possibilities for compensation growth in the future (e.g., a raise or formal salary review after Y months)

If you decide you are not able to accept the offer because of the salary, let them know. Keep it simple and respectful. Try: "I appreciate the offer and your time, but I can't accept this position at the salary you're offering. If the salary range is something that can be negotiated in the future, please let me know.”

Are there some industries where I should not negotiate?

There is no industry in the U.S. where it is inappropriate to negotiate your compensation. There are some organizations (e.g., government agencies and nonprofits) where there may be less flexibility in salary. This does not mean you shouldn’t ask, or that you can’t negotiate for other types of compensation or benefits

Is there such a thing as asking for too much?

If you go into the discussion well-informed, using data, and ready to compromise, the employer will see your request as reasonable. However, this still does not mean they can meet your request.

What if an employer asks for my salary history?

If you are asked this question by an employer in a geographic area where it is allowed, emphasize that you expect to be paid based on your new role and responsibilities, and your market value (the “going rate” based on your research), not what you were making previously. You can say: 

My current salary is in X range. Considering the additional responsibilities and skills associated with this role, my research suggests a fair salary range for people doing this job in this area is from $XX, XXX to $YY,YYY.

While some employers may ask about your salary history, an increasing number of state and local governments prohibit employers from requesting your salary history information. Learn more about state and local salary history bans in the locations you plan to apply.