Salary Negotiation Tips: Know Yourself, Know Your Worth

How do you ask your current or potential boss for more money? Most of us know that negotiating your salary is part of the game, but sometimes it’s easier to leave a potential pay bump on the table than initiate a dreadful talk. When you’re interviewing for a job, money is usually the last and most hand wringing-worthy topic of discussion; when you’ve already got a job, asking for a raise can make your stomach drop. Many jobs seekers don’t have any experience with negotiating for better pay, and there’s a weird taboo surrounding the name-your-price approach that leaves plenty of us working for less than what we’re worth for years on end. With all that in mind, here are a few salary negotiation tips to consider before meeting with your boss.

This Is Normal

The first thing to remember about negotiating your take-home pay is simple: This is normal; you’re not haggling inappropriately; and every other smart employee should be doing the same. If we follow our worries out in our minds the conversation might end in being laughed out of the office or, even worse, fired. But that shouldn’t be a fear as long as you’re respectful and reasonable throughout.

Do Some Research

One of the most important steps in the negotiation process is to prepare yourself. A little one-sided rehearsal on your end is a good idea so you’re not stumbling over your words while sitting across from your boss. But much more importantly, you should have a sense of what you and your work are worth. Look around online at average base pay for someone with a similar job title and amount of experience as yourself and determine from there if you’re due for a bump. Nonetheless, you should still be arguing for yourself as a function of your own work, not just what others in a similar position are making. If you’re going to ask for a raise in the first place, prepare plenty of ammunition to justify the ask. (You probably don’t want to ask for a raise a month into a new job, for example, and no matter how long you’ve been at your current position, you should be able to argue that your performance has been exemplary or consistent in some way that makes you deserve more money.)

Be Specific

One of the hardest parts about initiating a salary negotiation is bringing a fair number to the table, and it takes some ahead-of-time planning to even conceptualize how much of a raise to ask for at once. Generally, think about your potential ask in terms of percentage points first and actual dollar amounts second. A request for somewhere between a 5 percent and 15 percent salary raise is well within the ballpark of respectability and coincides with how many employers issue raises themselves. You probably don’t want to ask for much more than a 20 percent raise at once unless you’re feeling severely undervalued. Either way, you should be throwing out a specific number, not a range, even if you have a sliding scale of what you’re willing to accept.

Put It in Perspective

With the percentages in mind, apply the potential raise to your actual salary. A 10 percent raise on a $40,000 salary offers an additional $4,000 a year, which comes out to just a few hundred dollars a month. Whatever number you decide on, be specific and use the percentage to lead. So, instead of saying, “I’d like a $4,000-a-year raise,” go with, “I think I deserve a 10 percent annual salary raise.” Obviously you should be prepared to lower the actual number as well, but speaking about the raise as a percentage increase relative to your current salary makes the final number seem less arbitrary. In general, you should be cautiously aiming high: if you want that 10 percent raise, ask for 15 percent or even 20 percent so that you can negotiate your way to a common ground. Most importantly, don’t sell yourself short by playing it safe: If your manager immediately accepts your request you probably could have gotten more out of the conversation.

Keep It Professional

Finally, when you’re speaking with your supervisor about a raise, remember that this is a business conversation, not a personal one. You shouldn’t be bringing personal matters into a conversation about salary, and if you’re asking for a raise it should be as a function of performance, not because you’ve found yourself in a financial crisis or your bills are piling up.