Salary Talk: Your Ultimate Salary Negotiation Guide

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Salary negotiations! Did we scare you? We swear we saw a shiver run up your spine…

During your interview process there will come a point when you must have the salary talk. Only 11% of people are satisfied with their original salary offer (Houston Chronicle), but nearly half (49%) will accept the first offer given to them (CareerBuilder). Without negotiating, you risk getting less than you want, or worse, less than you deserve. Unless you ask, the answer will always be no.

As one of the nation’s leading staffing companies, we secure thousands of jobs for our Ambassadors every week – both permanent and temporary. That means we have thousands of salary negotiations a week!

We’ve compiled a guide to help you through this spine-tingling, life-changing conversation.

First things first…

It’s important to remember that this conversation is not personal, for you or the interviewer. It’s an objective discussion about the necessary exchange of currency for services, it’s just simple math. The organization has a finite salary budget. Even if the organization gives you an appallingly low offer, do not assume that it is malicious.

There will be offers and positions that you will have to walk away from. In other words, it’s just business.


Luck favors the prepared. Don’t let this conversation take you by surprise, walk in feeling prepared and confident.

It’s easy to feel like you have to go into these conversations rigid and aggressive. There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want, but there’s a lot of things wrong with being a jerk – especially with people you don’t really know. In reality, it’s best to have a balance. Find the sweet spot: be firm, be likable.

Here are a few things to do to prepare for this conversation:

Know where you’re willing to compromise

Ask yourself:

  • What do I value?
  • What am I willing to compromise on?
  • What am I not willing to compromise on?

A job offer doesn’t solely consist of salary. If an offer comes in too low, is there anything that can bridge the gap? How low is too low?

Consider factors like benefits and perks, company culture, flexibility options, and other salary benefits (stock options, bonuses, etc.).

Most importantly, don’t negotiate for the sake of negotiating. Fighting for just a little bit more can really rub some people the wrong way, especially if they’ve done a lot to accommodate you. Prioritize necessities and save your energy for what aspects truly matter to you.

Do your research

Once you have your very first interview on the books, do your research. You never know when they’re going to bring up salary, so you want to be prepared with a reasonable request.

It’s best not to base your new salary on your old salary, you could low ball yourself. However, on average, employees earn a 5.2% pay increase when changing jobs (Glassdoor). If your role and responsibilities are similar, then you can expect an approximate 5.2% increase. Combine this increase with a more objective view.

Pro-tip: While you can use your past salary as a reference point, it may be illegal for interviewers to ask about your salary history. We talk about this later in this guide.

Check out websites like LinkedIn Salary,, and Glassdoor to get a feel for what you can expect. Websites like Payscale allow you to enter in various factors, like education and experience for a more specific number.

Note that these websites can often predict a little higher than is the industry average. However, this can be helpful as the interviewer will likely want to negotiate down. Also, note that most of these websites list only by the name of the position, and that other factors will influence the salaries you see, like management responsibilities, tenure, and more.

Get specific

Do not mention ranges (at least not at this stage), they will likely immediately go to the low end. Be ready with a specific number, like $43,500 – it will make it sound like you’ve done more research (just don’t make it too crazy).

Be sure that you are basing your request on logic and facts, rather than what you feel you deserve. You want this to be a back and forth dialogue.  A good question to ask is: “Should we get to an offer, what is the range you (the employer) are seeking to pay?”

Be prepared to defend your worth

If they start humming and hawing you must be ready to state why you are worth that much. The answer will not be, “Well, that’s what I saw online” – they will immediately roll their eyes. However, it is okay to mention industry trends. Have examples of past successes, particularly quantitative ones to justify your salary request.

Strike a Power Pose

Take a tip from psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy. In her TEDtalk (and subsequent book), through her research she found that posing like a powerful person before an interview led participants to feel less stressed, more powerful, more authentic, and more likely to land the job.

In the days leading up to your interview, practice power-posing in private. For two minutes at a time, pose like Wonder Woman, Superman, or make yourself as big as possible. Then, continue to practice good posture – general good posture will produce more of those good hormones that make you feel confident.

Practice, practice, practice

This is a tough conversation. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll feel. Be sure to anticipate their questions, and practice your responses.

What are your salary expectations?What did you earn in your last position?How did you arrive at this number?Is there any wiggle room?Do you have any other offers?

If we make you an offer tomorrow, will you say yes?

Are we your top choice?

Don’t lie, it never ends well. Maintain the practice of being both firm and professional.

There are a few questions you should ask as well. Physically write these down, keep them in your notes, and bring them to all interviews.

Here are a few questions you should ask:

Can I negotiate this offer?Besides the base pay, what other benefits are negotiable?How did you calculate this number?What metrics do you use to evaluate the success of your employees?What does career and salary growth look like with this position?

What benefits are negotiable?

Can I get the salary offer in writing?

Pro-tip: It is imperative that you get an offer in writing, especially if you had to do some negotiating to get there. Again, don’t assume mal intent, but be prepared should anything go awry. Ask for offers in writing and keep a paper trail.

The Talk

Now that you have all your tools ready, it’s time to get down to business.

There is no designated time to begin the conversation. Typically, the process will be ongoing, starting with them presenting a number in the beginning, and getting more defined as the process goes. But you never know, it’s best to be prepared to negotiate no matter when it comes up.

It is important to not wait until the end to bring up your number, especially if it’s radically different. Ideally, the timing will be late enough in the process to have demonstrated your value, but early enough to not totally waste time.

Here are a few ways to begin and conduct the conversation:

Stay friendly, yet unapologetic

As you enter the talk you can feel tempted to get aggressive or apologize for what you are asking for. Do neither. Remove “sorry” from the conversation and stand firm in what you are asking for. Just remember to stay pleasant.

Reiterate your interest

Throughout this process it is important that you demonstrate your investment in the organization. Do your research and flatter them. Being likable can get you far, and they will be more eager to meet your needs. Mention their programs, culture, and successes – and how you plan on contributing to them.

If they make an offer…

And it’s not what you want, it does not have to be their final offer. Here’s a way to begin the conversation.

“Although you mentioned $50,000, I would be more comfortable if we could settle on $57,500. I think that number reflects the role, region, and my qualifications, while meeting the demands and responsibilities of the position.”

But if they haven’t brought it up, don’t be afraid to take the lead…

If salary has not come up by the second interview, it’s up to you to start the conversation. There can be a lot of reasons why they may not bring up a number, but championing the conversation yourself can work in your favor. When you establish the anchor, you establish the expectations. It’s up to them to talk you down, rather than you talking them up.

Try a few of these conversation starters:

“Are you the right person to talk with about salary?”

“I want to bring this conversation around to salary.”

“In the interest of respecting both our time, I’d like to make sure we’re on the same page for salary.”

“In terms of salary, I was thinking _______ — but you have more insight on this particular role. What do you think?”

Or if you have a competing offer…

You’ll likely be interviewing for more than one position. While you don’t necessarily want to pin organizations against one another, you want to lead with transparency – especially if you’re really interested in the position.

“Thank you for the offer. As I mentioned during my interview process, I am interviewing with a couple of other organizations, who have made me an offer. I really like what I’ve seen of [the company] thus far, and I am excited to work with an organization that values giving back. If you can meet me at $47,900, I’d be eager to accept.”

Don’t forget about other benefits and perks

You’re not just negotiating a salary, you’re negotiating a full job offer. As you make your ask, don’t leave out any special perks. Open up the conversation for the standard on perks and benefits, and adjust your salary request accordingly.

“I want to make sure I have a full understanding of our potential offer. Can you tell me more about what kind of benefits you offer?”

Or you can use perks to bridge the gaps:

‘I understand the best you can do is $53,000 and you can’t come up to $56,500. If you can do $53,000 and offer one remote day a week, I’m willing to accept.

But don’t make threats

Ultimatums will rarely work in your favor. And even if they do, they will likely be reluctantly given, and that can damage the rest of your relationship. However, you should feel prepared to walk away if an offer is truly not up to par. You can respectfully bow out of the conversation.

“Well, I really appreciate the offer and your willingness to discuss my salary. However, I don’t think we can arrive on an arrangement we can both agree on. If anything should change, I hope that you will consider me in future.”

Give them time

Often times, the person you are talking with may not have the authority to say yes or no. Give them the opportunity to check with respective parties.

Get it in writing

Like we said earlier, it’s imperative you get the offer in writing. If anything is “up in the air” or “to be determined later,” this position is not for you.

This conversation is never an easy one, but it’s a necessary one. Go in prepared and empowered and ask for what you want.