When employers send out a job offer, they usually expect a prospective employee to negotiate the initial offer. If done well, your negotiating skills could earn you some credibility points (plus maybe a salary boost).
But negotiating too fast or too much can lead to negative consequences. You may come across as unreasonable or even rigid. Worst case scenario: you can lose a job offer by pushing your luck when you negotiate salary.
It is legal for an employer to rescind a job offer. You have little leverage regarding employee protections if you have not formally accepted the position. If you drag out the hiring process by over-negotiating or if you aim too high in your counteroffer, an employer can decide to move in another direction.
How to Negotiate
Learning to negotiate well takes practice. You need to be confident yet polite, informed, but humble. Recognize that the opening offer is likely flexible, and you're entitled to request what your time and expertise are worth.
Come to the negotiating table with a researched salary figure. Use vetted, reliable data from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or comparable job descriptions for your area. Analyze an extensive data set so you can infer an average range. This way, you'll feel more confident that your counteroffer is appropriate.
If a potential employer cannot raise the first offer, asking them why is okay. Be flexible and think outside the box—could other benefits or perks compensate for the underwhelming pay? Consider supplemental requests, such as a relocation reimbursement, extra paid time off, a commuting stipend, or a more flexible schedule.
Avoid ultimatums and form your counter offer as a request. Remember, even though your employer has made an offer, you still need to make a good impression.
When to Negotiate
Wait to negotiate until your employer makes an actual offer. If the hiring manager calls and makes you a verbal offer, don't accept it until you receive written confirmation of the initial salary. You'll seem unprofessional and fickle if you verbally commit to the position and then try to push for more pay. Instead, wow your employer during your probation period and wait until your next formal review to request a salary adjustment.
How Not to Negotiate
Don't lie—if you'd prefer one position, but have a better-paying offer, be transparent. It's helpful to have a competing offer to leverage your request. However, don't fabricate a competing offer. You're entitled to negotiate with or without a second offer in the wings. It's more important that you demonstrate professionalism and flexibility.
Your communication style sets the tone. Be open, positive, and respectful. Negotiating is not supposed to be argumentative. Your hiring manager is not trying to swindle you, so leave your defenses at the door. Instead, trust that all parties have the same goals.
Be prepared to make some sacrifices. Otherwise, you better be okay with walking away from the table. Negotiating means getting only some of the things you want. You should be comfortable meeting the other party halfway.
When Not to Negotiate
Avoid discussing salary during the application stage, interview period, or hiring process. If you jump the gun and throw out a number too soon, your employer could decide that your expectations are unreasonable and pivot to a more flexible candidate. Plus, you've left yourself little wiggle room to increase your salary request.
You also need to understand and respect your employer's limitations. If others work at the company with more experience than you, your employer can't in good conscience present you with a higher offer than your prospective colleagues. Some professional fields also face strict salary limitations (such as government-funded positions). This may be outside of your employer's control. Moreover, companies have budgets, and your employer has to stay within the company's fiscal parameters.
Don't push against these firm limits. If you genuinely believe you deserve a paycheck higher than your employer can reasonably offer, you might want to consider another position (or a different field entirely).
Ultimately, it's okay to negotiate a job offer. However, stick to the rule of two—according to some hiring experts, you should limit your negotiations to two counteroffers. Come to the table with reasonable salary expectations and a positive attitude.
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