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8 Steps to Help You Negotiate a Better Salary

5 minute read

Asking for more money, can there be anything scarier? For many of us, the thought of having to negotiate a starting salary or a pay raise puts a pit in our stomachs. Rest assured: There are some things you can do to make the process less terrifying.

As negotiation consultants, we have spent countless hours studying the way people negotiate and advising them on their deals. In honor of Equal Pay Day, here are eight key steps to a successful salary negotiation.

1. First, recognize the opportunity to negotiate. Most companies have a regular schedule for performance reviews, and as such, most employees wait until those moments to negotiate a raise. But the best time to negotiate a raise is when there has been a change in either your responsibilities or the scope of your work. For example, if you’re asked to take on additional responsibilities due to downsizing, or you’ve been assigned bigger, more important projects due to your continued success, those are potential opportunities. If you recognize those moments, you may not have to wait until the company decides it’s time for you to have a raise.

2. Do your research. You should always keep track of your successes, and understand what the market will bear and what your job may pay elsewhere. More importantly, though, you need to understand what’s happening at your company, what motivates and drives your boss and who will make the decision about your salary increase. All of this information will help you be far better prepared when you ask for your raise.

3. Be specific about what you want. Saying, “I want a raise” is not good enough. What, exactly, do you want? If you are not specific, then you allow the other side to decide for you and to potentially establish a position that may be difficult to move away from.

4. Consider alternatives to money. Typically, a salary is a means to a lifestyle. When negotiating, think about other things your company could offer you to enhance your lifestyle. How about more vacation? Flexible work hours? Development opportunities? Enhanced benefits? These options might be easier for your company to provide.

5. Be flexible on approach, but firm on your objective. Negotiations can fail when people are inflexible on their approach. For instance, let’s assume you want a 20% increase in base pay, but the counter offer is the equivalent raise in a combination of a base pay increase and performance incentives. If you’re only focused on your objective of taking home 20% more, you should be able to make that offer work. However, if you’re fixated on the approach and only amenable to a straight monetary increase, then you might run into a stalemate — and never get what you want.

6. Speak in your boss’s terms. As part of your research, figure out how your boss sees the world. If he or she likes someone who brings solutions to the table, then when it’s time to negotiate, bring solutions. If they like to be the “hero,” then let them be the hero. The more you can speak in his or her terms, the more open your boss will be to your proposal. Don’t let your own ego get in the way.

7. Create commitment. Your negotiation will more than likely take place over a series of communications, from email to face-to-face meetings. At each step of the way, get a commitment to the next conversation or course of action. If your boss wants time to think about your proposal, get a commitment on when you can come back together to discuss. Otherwise, you run the risk of prolonging the negotiation indefinitely.

8. Don’t be afraid to hear “no.” It will happen — you will hear “no” at some point. Don’t fear it! “No,” is not the end. It’s just a signal that some portion of what you are asking is not possible. So, start asking questions: “Under what conditions could you do this?” “What part of my proposal do you like?” “What would I need to change to make this proposal more acceptable?” Asking questions will uncover the information you need to turn that “no” into a “yes.”

Negotiating your salary can be scary, but if you come prepared with a specific idea about what you want and a willingness to be creative and flexible in how you get there, then you’ll be in a position of strength. And that strength will give you the confidence you need to get what you deserve.

Jill Campen and Violaine Galland are negotiation consultants at Scotwork North America.

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