Don’t leave money on the table – tips to help you negotiate your next salary offer

If I had a quarter for every time a student said to me, “I’m just so glad to get the offer, I don’t want to mess anything up by asking for more,” I’d be rich but unhappy about it.  Students often don’t even know they are allowed to negotiate, let alone that they can and should. The reality is that the majority of employers expect you to negotiate. In some circumstances, it’s the first project of your new job – to demonstrate that you can create and present a compelling argument.  Below we’ve outlined several steps to help you feel confident and prepared when negotiating your next job offer, promotion, or graduate teaching assistantship position.

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Research and compare: In order to effectively know your financial value in the job market, you have to know what other people with comparable positions in similar locations with comparable qualifications are getting paid.  Use these sites to begin your research:, &

  • Look for job descriptions that closely align with the skills, education, experience and location of the position you’re negotiating.
  • Determine your target salary (where you’re hoping to land), target salary range (a salary range you can share that includes your target salary as the basepoint) and your walk-away point (this is the threshold at which you would choose not to accept an offer because it would not be financially feasible for you based on your living expenses [rent, food, gas, student loan payments, retirement fund contributions, car repairs, etc.])
  • Consider the total compensation package (including all of your benefits – find values of benefits here) and where you might be able to negotiate for benefits if the salary is fixed.  Things like cell phones, transit/commute reimbursement, continuing education, etc. may reduce your expenditures and make the salary offered more feasible.

Develop your value statement: While it’s sometimes a bit uncomfortable to talk about oneself in terms of accomplishments, it is crucial that you can comfortably share your achievements and talents with the people who are hiring you.  Ideally you’ve practiced this skill during your interviews, but you can continue to prepare.

  • Consider all of the transferable skills and significant accomplishments you’ve accumulated during your time at Whitman.  How have those experiences prepared you for the job at hand? Be specific about what you’ve done and what resulted from it.  
  • Develop language to articulate how those attributes will allow you to contribute to the organization.  
  • Repeat the above steps until you have 2-3 value statements that resonate with you.
  • Rehearse the statements you’ve created (in your head, with a mirror, with a friend) until they’re easy to say.

Establish a strategy: There are several points during the negotiation (or even before) where you can set the stage for success. 

  • When you apply – If an application asks for your target salary or past salaries, do not supply this information.  At this point it is way too early to begin talking about what you’re to be paid for a job that you haven’t discussed with anyone.  You can use the good old N/A on the application or $0 to deflect the discussion until later.
  • In the interview process – While you may be itching to know what they are intending to pay this position (or better yet, pay YOU to work in this position), it is still not the right time to address compensation.  You can ask questions about the types of benefits the company offers, but you will want to avoid talking salary until: 1) you are certain that you’re interested in the position and 2) they are certain that you’re the right candidate – that’s when your ability to impact their decision is strongest.
  • After interviews, but before the “official” offer – The ideal scenario is for you to understand their total compensation offer (including all benefits) before discussing your salary goals.  That way, you can calculate the value of the offer and determine how well it suits your needs and goals. Deflection for a question about salary at this point could sound like, “I’d like to see the complete offer before we discuss salary specifics.”

Practice, practice, practice! The key to success in your negotiation is confidence — confidence in your value, confidence in your research, confidence in your strategy.  It is crucial to practice beforehand.

  • Consider the language you will use to start your negotiation–you’ll want to begin by communicating your excitement about the opportunity and the organization.  Then utilize what you know about the “market value” of comparable positions to ask about negotiation.
  • Write out deflection answers that highlight your value statements, which you can use in the event of questions or pushback.
  • Ask a family member or friend to role play with you so that you have tried saying different words aloud and figured out which phrases you prefer.

Make sure you:

  • Use notes from your research so you negotiate to your goals.
  • Keep it objective and be patient.  They have a salary range they are approved to offer, so if their offer is outside your researched target range, there may be some back & forth to arrive at the final solution.
  • If you’re negotiation takes place in-person, don’t forget to breathe and remember to smile.  This should be a friendly discussion because you both ultimately want the same thing.
  • If you must negotiate via phone or email, ensure your communication is infused with a positive and congenial attitude.

Remember, the Student Engagement Center staff is available to you in your first few years after graduation. If you need help with negotiating a salary offer, schedule an appointment through Handshake!

** This piece is based on AAUW StartSmart techniques.  If you did not get a chance to attend an AAUW StartSmart Salary Negotiation workshop on campus this year, look here for a StartSmart or WorkSmart workshop in your area.



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