Negotiate and reap the full rewards of a job offer

After all the hard work of a job search, you’ve gotten a job offer—congratulations! You have now moved from the role of fingers-crossed contender to that of chosen one. And guess what? Your leverage has improved. As tempting as it may be to zip past the topic of negotiation by simply accepting whatever is offered, this is your opportunity to demonstrate assertive communication, collaboration skills, and self-advocacy, and reap the rewards of a more attractive offer. 

Managers routinely report that they make an initial offer based on the expectation that candidates will negotiate. If you are a younger candidate, know that simply getting older will not make you more comfortable with this process—only experience will help you to develop that confidence. For seasoned candidates this is your reminder that salary negotiation is baked into the culture of the US labor market. Even if you are content with the offer, you may be unaware of current compensation amounts, or you may be underestimating your value in the marketplace. Further, in my experience coaching thousands of diverse clients on various aspects of career development over 18 years, I have never had a single candidate report back that they regretted negotiating a higher salary! Nor have any candidates had an offer rescinded due to negotiation attempts. It is part of the dance of securing a new opportunity.

Do Your Homework

Prior to the offer, make focused efforts to learn what is a reasonable salary for your qualifications, noting that salaries will vary based on the sector and size of employer and in response to the geographic region you are targeting. Note that organizations hiring remote employees may calibrate salaries to reflect the economic conditions of the home office location. Tools like Payscale and Glassdoor can help you get started. If you’re a recent grad, you should still negotiate! You can likely reference generalized salary and employment stats gathered by your university. Better yet, talk to professionals already working in that world, as they often have the best information about salary ranges by employer and location. Professional associations also conduct salary surveys, which may be published online. Take care to make sure you are looking at the experience level, market sector, and location that matches your situation.

On average, folks who negotiate end up with between 5% and 15% gain on the original offer, depending on work history.

Know Your Value

Once you receive an offer, it’s completely reasonable—and recommended!—to take some time to consider the terms and formulate or refine your negotiation strategy. Negotiation on the spot without planning or practice can be unsettling and may cause folks to hurry through the process simply to put an end to the discomfort. A phrase that may be helpful at this point may sound something like, “I’m delighted to receive the offer and thrilled by the prospect of joining the team! I’d like to take a couple days to review the details and discuss it with a couple of people who are important to me. Does [three to four days from today] work for a response timeline?” Research tells us that Thursdays may be a strategic day to have this conversation, as professionals are relaxing into weekend mode.

As you prepare for the negotiation discussion, list a few key talking points that help to support your position. Prior experience, previous salary, organizational knowledge, key skills, certifications, or educational qualifications are all elements to consider. Develop your arguments, but don’t go overboard. This is not a time for pages or spreadsheets of detail but rather a few statements, reinforced by brief but vivid evidence of your qualifications. 

Having the Talk

Elizabeth Hruska portrait
Liz Hruska

When you are ready to discuss the offer with your contact, decide what communication vehicle works best for your situation. Some candidates who are working with large organizations conduct every element of negotiation via email with their recruiter. Other candidates prefer phone conversation as an opportunity for real-time exchange and relationship development. Both vehicles have their pros and cons. If you’re not sure what to do, you can always ask your contact their preferences in an email, something like: “I’d appreciate the opportunity to discuss the offer terms in greater detail. Would a phone call or virtual meeting be possible, or would you prefer we connect via email?” 

On average, folks who negotiate end up with between 5% and 15% gain on the original offer, depending on work history. Candidates can present salary goals as 10% to 15% higher than what is offered, with the anticipation of compromise. Women especially benefit from negotiation knowledge and practice as research indicates that female job seekers negotiate less than their male counterparts, especially when it comes to a first full-time job. Not negotiating can have significant long-term disadvantages for anyone in terms of earning potential, retirement match, and future raises. Adapting a collaborative, win-win mindset can help bolster the confidence and comfort of candidates in the negotiation process. And take note of the research that indicates that odd numbers may be particularly effective. Once you are talking with your contact, an easy entry to this conversation, whether it’s via email or on the phone, may sound something like, “I was thrilled to be asked to join the team at X. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss some of the details you shared. I’m sure we can figure out something that works well for both of us. I’m wondering first, what flexibility do you have with the offer?”

The important takeaway is that negotiation is a normal and expected part of the process of accepting a job offer.

If the topic of salary comes up before the job offer, you have options. Many career coaches would instruct you to redirect the question back to the recruiter with something like, “I’m sure you have a salary range for the position, could you tell me about the pay structure?” or “I’m confident that we can find a salary that works for both of us; right now I would like to focus on making sure I am the best fit for the position.” Some employers engage in a bit of “pre-closing” in terms of job offers, estimating compensation numbers collaboratively and transparently by gathering information from candidates (such as previous or current salary and future offer expectations) while simultaneously surveying market data to arrive at an offer amount concurrent to interviewing processes. In general, you have a stronger position if you are knowledgeable about the salary range and you have an offer on the table.

Beyond Money

Beyond salary negotiations, sometimes other benefits are an option. If you were rebuffed in your efforts to raise your compensation, a salary review at six months may be a reasonable next step. Other benefits and perks candidates have successfully negotiated include an extra week of vacation, flexible work schedule, reduced hours, remote work options, waived health care benefits in lieu of greater annual compensation, stipends for parking, education/professional development, and even the opportunity to select your own computer equipment and office setup (desk, chair, etc.). It’s important to consider the whole offer package. 

The important takeaway is that negotiation is a normal and expected part of the process of accepting a job offer. It’s also worthwhile to note that, while this article speaks to those who are stepping into a new position, most of the concepts discussed here can be applied in seeking a pay raise as well. 

You can find plenty of tips and resources online to help you prepare for a salary negotiation. LinkedIn Learning offers several modules on the topic, to which University of Minnesota students, faculty, and staff have free access. You may also consider taking Negotiate for Agreement, a six-hour course offered through the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. 

Now go negotiate that salary—you’ve got this!

Liz Hruska provides career development support as the assistant director with Career and Internship Services in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies