Dani is a full-time, Human Resources (HR) professional, often on other end of the negotiation, so she was the perfect person to sit down and chat to about this.
According to a survey by Glassdoor.com, 2 out of 3 women do not negotiate their salary. This leads to massive losses in income over the course of one’s lifetime.
Negotiating your salary can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Not only do recruiters usually EXPECT you to negotiate your salary, but if you don’t negotiate, there will be people doing the same job as you who are making more money than you – all because they negotiated and you didn’t.
Being too nervous or not knowing what to say or do isn’t a good enough excuse for you not to negotiate. I know this sounds like tough-love, but you deserve to make as much money as possible for the great work that you’ll be doing for your company. Now, there may be instances where you can’t negotiate (like if you work at certain hospitals or non-profits) but if negotiation is possible, you should absolutely try.
I’ve negotiated many times and it’s always been at least a little uncomfortable – that’s normal! And if you’re worried about not knowing what to say when negotiating, this blog post will tell you exactly what to say (and not say!) the next time you have an opportunity to negotiate.
So let’s get into it. I polled my Instagram audience for questions, and these are Dani’s answers! If you’d prefer to watch the Instagram Live video between Dani and I instead of reading this post, you can find it here.
This post is all about how to negotiate your salary with Dani from @DollarsWithDani.
Answers are paraphrased for print.
Question #1: Let’s say someone is in college right now and they are looking for their very first job. Is it appropriate for them to negotiate their starting salary?
Dani: I think it is appropriate, it just might be harder than if you’ve already worked a little bit because you have less negotiating power.
It depends a bit on your situation – I know some jobs have a hiring class (for example, hiring 40 people starting in the same summer). That will be harder to negotiate because everyone’s coming in making the same rate, at the same time, with the same type of experience (which is typically no experience if they’re right out of school!).
That’s harder to negotiate only because there’s internal equity and if they raise your salary, now you’re making more than everyone else who started at the same time as you which becomes a little bit more complicated. There’s no harm in asking, but it might be harder to get that “yes”.
Whereas if you are just a one-off (for example, when I started out I was the only HR assistant on my team), it might be a little bit easier because you’re not pegged to a whole group of other people with the same role, starting at the same time.
Taylor: So, it’s okay to try. It might not totally work out, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Dani: Yeah, exactly.
Question #2: It’s no secret that salary negotiation can be super uncomfortable. It’s definitely challenging for most people. For someone who has never ever done it before, what is the first step that you think they should take?
Dani: The first thing is to normalize it. The answer might be “no”, but there’s no downside to asking as long as you’re okay with the answer potentially being “no”. So I think that’s the first thing – a mindset shift to know that it’s okay and that you should just be doing it.
The second thing to make it a little bit less nerve-wracking is I’ve been seeing a trend of more and more people negotiating over email. That’s way less scary than negotiating over the phone because you can draft how you’re going to phrase it, have a friend look it over, and it’s way easier.
It’s actually a little bit easier on the recruiter and HR side, too, because normally if you have a phone call, they have to take notes and type it up in an email to get it approved by someone else.
If you type it up in an email, they can just forward it to someone else and say “Hey, is this okay?”. So in some ways it’s actually easier for HR and recruiters if you negotiate over email and that’s way less scary for you as the person negotiating as well.
Taylor: I remember you told me this when we had an Instagram Live months ago, and I was like “oh my gosh, you can negotiate over email?!”. That’s such a good thing for everyone to know.
Because I think you kind of assume you’re going to be on the phone with your recruiter and you’re going to have to choose all the right words at the right time and the timing of what you say needs to be just right, but not necessarily – you can make it easier on yourself and the recruiter by just shooting an email.
Dani: I just saw someone say in the comments that you’ve heard of people losing their job offer because they tried to negotiate. If a company were to pull the offer because you negotiated, that’s a huge red flag and I think it’s a blessing in disguise because that’s not the kind of company you want to work for in my opinion.
Question #3: Let’s say somebody gets an offer for $50k, but they really want to make $55k and this is their chance to negotiate. What are the words that they should use when negotiating?
Dani: Well, I think the first thing is that you should never negotiate on the fly. You can, but I feel like it’s better to say, “Thank you so much, I’m so excited about this offer. Can I get back to you in 3 days?” or whatever the time frame is.
You then have that time to think about it, look at the full benefits package (because that is part of your offer, too!) and read the details of your offer letter. Don’t just hear the salary and say “Okay”.
And from an emotional standpoint when you’re negotiating it can be really heightened, so this gives you time to calm down, compose your thoughts, think about how you want to frame it, and then go back to them either over email or phone to have that conversation.
Then, when you go to have that conversation, you can frame it in a couple different ways. I like to frame it in terms of your expectations.
For example, “Thank you so much, I’m so excited about this opportunity and to work at this company… yadda yadda, stroke the ego a little… my expectations were closer to $55k. Do you have any flexibility?”
You can just say this, or add the WHY you were expecting the $55k.
I think it’s a little bit more compelling to add the WHY you were expecting the $55k. For example, “Because of my extensive experience in X, Y, Z, OR because of my internship experience OR because of my studies at this university, my expectations were $55k.
Then I like to frame it as, “Do you have any flexibility?”. If you say “Does that work?”, the answer is “Yes” or “No”. It’s either $55k or it’s nothing. Whereas if you say, “Do you have any flexibility?”, they might say, “We can’t bring you up to $55k but we can get you to $53k”. Or… “We can’t bring you up in base salary, but we can give you a sign-on bonus.” It allows for more options if you ask for flexibility.
Taylor: There were so many gems in what you just said. Whenever I negotiate, the first thing that I say is, “Thank you so much for this job offer, I’m so excited for this opportunity” – expressing thanks and gratitude for the opportunity first and foremost is respectful but also a good way to stroke the ego. It puts you in their good graces right off the bat.
Dani: And I see tons of emails from recruiters being like, “This candidate is super interested in the company and I think if we were able to give them [insert dollar amount] they would accept because they are really excited about it.”
You want to come across as really excited about it because HR will work hard to get you the number you want if they know you’ll accept it. Really stressing how excited you are about the company and the opportunity can really go a long way.
Taylor: I think saying, “Thank you so much. $55k is about what I was expecting because I think I can add so much value to your company because of my experience in X, Y, and Z. Do you have any flexibility?” is SO good because, if you say, “Can you do $55k?”, the recruiter can just say, “No, unfortunately we can’t” and then you’re stuck! You gave them a quick out.
But if you say, “Do you have any flexibility?”, that recruiter is like ding ding ding ok, this person is trying to negotiate and then they’ll probably just say, “Let me get back to you on that”.
Question #4: “My manager is moving me from one team to another. I might be taking on more responsibilities. Can I negotiate?”
Dani: Yes. You absolutely can negotiate. Depending on the nuances of the situation, they might not give you more money…
But if you are taking on more responsibilities, that’s what you want your argument to be. Say – “Hey, I’m so excited about this. Because I am taking on more responsibilities, my expectations for my compensation are X. Is there any flexibility there?” And see what they say.
If it’s truly lateral and there’s no increase in responsibility, you may have a harder time because you’ll have to justify why you deserve more money. But if there’s any increase in scope or responsibilities, that’s a great negotiating point. You can say, “Hey, I’m taking on more with this new role, let’s talk about my compensation.”
Taylor: One thing I want to mention – when you’re negotiating and you say the amount that you want, make sure you don’t say, “I would really love $55k but if not, no worries!”. Don’t say the “no worries” part. There’s a way to be firm, kind and respectful.
If you say “if not, no worries!”, the recruiter is going to be like, “well, she said no worries!” and you’re out of luck.
Dani: Yes! I get the nervousness around negotiating. 9 times out of 10, the recruiter or hiring manager or whoever you’re talking to is expecting you to negotiate or at least isn’t surprised if you do. So definitely don’t caveat it with something that takes away from your argument.
Question #5: What about when you’re getting promoted? Let’s say Rebecca over at IBM is getting a salary increase of $3,000 because she got promoted, but she’d like to negotiate for $6,000. Can she do that?”
Dani: There’s nothing wrong with asking. If you don’t ask, you definitely won’t get any more money. There’s a possibility that they would increase her salary.
I’ve worked at four companies now. Two of them were like, “This is the promotion increase, this is what you get.” By the time you’re getting your promotion, everything on the backend has already happened and is set in stone.
I worked at two other companies where it was negotiable and people had successfully negotiated for more. I think it really depends on the company.
If you are someone who is thinking you might be eligible for a promotion soon, start asking your boss things like, “What’s the compensation process here?”, “When someone gets promoted, is there room to negotiate salary?”, “What is the process to determine salary when someone gets promoted?”.
Those are questions you can ask preemptively so that way you have a better sense of if by the time you get a promotion your comp is set or if there’s potential wiggle room based on the situation.
Taylor: I negotiated a promotion increase once. I think it was set in stone and I didn’t know that and I negotiated any way. I was able to get more money, but I think it was very difficult for my manager and their manager to swing that for me.
It was a stressful experience. Salary negotiation is uncomfortable naturally, but that added an extra level of discomfort. I like what you say about getting an idea of how the promotion cycles work, when they are, and what goes on before going down that route.
Dani: Yes and depending on your relationship with your boss, if you’re already having conversations about the fact that you’re performing well and they’re hoping to promote you soon, I think it’s fair to be like, “My expectations for this next level would be a salary of around X, is that expectation reasonable, or is that way off-base?”.
Your boss might have to check with HR, but they might have a sense of if that’s way higher than what anyone else in that position makes or, “Yeah, that’s super reasonable, we might actually be able to give you more than that”.
You can even start having these conversations before you are formally promoted.
Taylor: I think that’s such good advice. Because let’s say you know you’re getting promoted and you’re so excited about it, and then you find out how much your salary is going to increase with your promotion.
If I’m getting promoted, I’m more excited about the money than the increased job responsibilities. So if the new salary is way less than what you were expecting because you didn’t ask any questions, that kind of stinks.
Dani: And if they do say “No” because it’s set in stone, ask if there’s a way to get an adjustment the next raise cycle. You can always counter it with, “I understand it’s set in stone at this point but can we revisit it in 6 months?” or something like that.
Question #6: Can you give examples of things that are negotiable besides just your salary?
Dani: Yeah, a big one when you’re starting at a company is a sign-on bonus. If you’re getting an offer somewhere, a sign-on bonus is very negotiable and employers use this a lot to make up the difference if they’re not able to give you the full amount that you’re asking for.
I’ve seen your annual target bonus being negotiable. Sometimes it’s tied to your job level, but if they tell you that you’re eligible for a 10% bonus each year, you can potentially negotiate that and maybe get 12%, for example.
So then every year your bonus is that much more. This is hit or miss depending on the company.
PTO can be negotiable. Other perks like tuition reimbursement, parking reimbursement, things like that if they don’t have formalized programs.
Again, they might not always say “yes”, but these are things that can be negotiated. Pretty much anything except your 401k match and health-insurance-related things are negotiable. But almost everything else can potentially be negotiated.
Taylor: I negotiated PTO for the first time. I didn’t end up going with the job, but I negotiated 5 extra PTO days – a whole week of work. This is one of those things that’s like “the more you know”. I wonder how much I’ve missed out on just because I didn’t know what I could negotiate!
Question #7: Can you negotiate as a contract employee?
Dani: So definitely when you’re converted to full-time is an opportunity to negotiate. And when you are hired as a contractor at the beginning is time to negotiate. In both of those instances, you can make an argument for why you should make more.
If you’re being hired as a contractor for the first time, I think the big way to negotiate is saying, “Look I’m not going to be on your benefits, I’m not on your PTO” because as a contractor you’re not an official employee.
Your hourly rate should be higher to account for those things because you still need to pay for health insurance and things like that. Typically, contractors make more as an hourly rate than they would if they were an employee.
So I think when you first sign on as a contractor, you can say look, “I’m not going to be on your health insurance so can I get X as my hourly rate?”. And then when you convert to full-time, your argument is, “You just had me on as a contractor for a year, and look how much value I bring”.
You’re not an unknown entity as if they were hiring someone entirely externally. That can be your negotiating tool to say, “Hey, as I’m joining now, I want to revisit my salary.”
The trickier one is if you’re currently a contractor and you want to increase your rates. I think the best way to go about it is probably as an annual thing. Like, if you’re approaching the end of the year and you want to revisit your compensation for next year. You can talk about the value you bring.
I think in that instance the market is a little bit more helpful. Because you’re an independent contractor, you can talk about the fact that your rates are increasing and mention the value you bring them.
I think it’s a little harder once you’ve already signed your contract and depending on the length of your contract and terms. There’s no harm in asking that, but I think that’s the harder of the three scenarios to successfully negotiate more money.
Question #8: Is it rude to negotiate a merit increase or annual raise? Or can you do it?
Dani: You absolutely can. It’s not rude. As long as you handle it in a professional way, there’s nothing rude about that. Women are often so worried about coming across as rude, or aggressive, or pushy when they negotiate. As long as you’re being a professional human being you won’t come across as rude.
I rarely see people negotiate their annual raise, but the times where I see it happen, they get more money almost always. You have to really stress the impact you’re making (ex. your company hired someone else on the team and now you’re going to be mentoring them) and why you deserve more money than what they originally gave you.
The answer might still be “No.”. I’ve only seen people ask a small handful of times, but it can’t hurt to ask.
Taylor: Knowing that it’s a possibility – that’s going to open doors for so many people. Let’s say your manager says you’re going to get 3%. How do you start the conversation to negotiate this with your manager? Do you shoot them an email asking if they have time to chat?
Dani: Yeah, I think that’s exactly it. Have the conversation live, but give them a heads up. Depending on how the company is structured, they might not have a lot of information on what goes into compensation.
So that gives them time to do some background research and talk to their HR person before the conversation so they can go in with more information for you.
And in terms of having it be better received, sometimes just giving someone a heads up is helpful, so I would do exactly what you suggested and say, “Hey, I want to set some time aside for us to discuss my compensation. I’ll put some time on your calendar”.
And then in that meeting you can give your rationale for why you are hoping for more than a 3% raise. Mention that you were hoping for an X% raise, and then ask if there’s any flexibility there.
This post is all about how to negotiate your salary with Dani from @DollarsWithDani.
If you want to watch the full interview between Taylor and Dani, click here.
And check out Dani on Instagram!
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