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Career Connection: How to Negotiate the Perfect Salary

by Linda Matias of

A company is interested in hiring you for a new opening. You feel as if you are in high demand, because ythis is a position that requires skills you possess. If you are considering any new position and you currently are already employed, you should be seeking higher wages, a better working atmosphere, and an overall improvement in your career. 

Not asking about your wages upfront is a mistake. The typical prospective employer is going to ask, ” What wages are you asking for, if you were to come to work for us?”

While this can be a difficult question to answer point-blank when you don’t know the current rate of pay in the company, you can come prepared for the question and negotiate a higher rate of pay. Never act surprised when that big question is asked.

Come prepared.

Make a list of questions that are always asked during interviews, such as:

  • Are you new to the area?

  • Do you have a degree in this industry?

  • What did you like best about your last job?

  • What did you like least about your last job?

  • Can you name three strengths you have, and that would apply to this position?

  • What are your weaknesses?

Being prepared is going to help you get through the interview. As it comes time to negotiate your salary you are better prepared, not only with good conversation, but also in selling yourself to this company--which is essentially what you are doing!

You want to start out with a base-level salary, but you are expecting a review of your performance in 60 days, or 6 months. In stating you are asking for a base salary and then expect a raise as you show you can perform and be beneficial for the company, you will show the potential employer you are confident in what you do and in how you complete your job.

Editor's note: Don't lowball yourself on the base salary. Studies show that you will never make up for what you give away at hiring time. Many people think they will dazzle the employer later and get a raise, so they offer a low salary to get the job. This is a huge mistake:

  • The low salary can actually cost you the job.

  • The low salary can position you out of future advancement.

  • Raises are controlled by formulas, not merit or reality. There are percentage caps on raises, and the lower your initial salary, the lower each subsequent raise--based on that salary--will be.

Yes, ask for a higher salary right from the start. Also be willing to say you are prepared to accept a set dollar amount per week, but you also would require additional benefits. Many times, the benefits are going to be easier for the company to provide--even with a base salary, overall you are getting paid a higher rate. Examples of benefits include a laptop computer so you can work from anywhere, a cellular phone, a gas card for traveling, and perhaps an expense account for dining with customers or dealing with marketing needs.

Editor's note: Salaries are often controlled by HR policy, formulas, and set amounts for given job classifications. Managers who want good people are hamstrung by this stupidity, so they have to work around it. Don't focus on salary while ignoring the other things a manager can provide for you. These things can be substantial.

You may be permitted a clothing allowance, a tool allowance, or perhaps you could start out with two weeks of vacation per year instead of one. But you need to remember that the perfect salary is going to be one that you are happy with and one with which you feel you can support yourself and / or your family. You don’t want to give up too much of your salary to get the benefits that will not be cash in your pocket.

Preparing your answers up front before the questions about salary are asked during your interview will show you are confident in your abilities, and that you know what you are worth. Never be afraid to ask for another $29 per week, or another $200 per week, when you know what the salaries are in the industry you are working. This is especially true if you have the experience and track record to back up the negotiations for additional salary.

If the employer states that your price is a little out of their range, remind the employer they are going to save money by hiring you because you are trained, you are bringing years or months of experience, and you have ideas for the position that will boost your overall levels of input and productivity that will benefit the company almost immediately. Never be afraid to state what you know, and what you can do for the company.

Editor's note: Employers are not so easily impressed by "years of experience" today, because they have caught on to the fact that many people have 6 months experience 40 times over. Before you talk to an employer, take the time to quantify what you've accomplished. Write up a list of things you have done and how much money each has saved or how much revenue each has created. Memorize this list and be able to tick off the items one after the other in a conversation. That is what will allow a hiring manager to go to HR and get you reclassified for a higher starting salary. Just be sure you don't exaggerate or take credit for the accomplishments of others, because HR will investigate your claims.

Negotiate with the employer before the first day of employment.

If wages were not discussed during your interview, make an appointment and discuss your salary before you start working anywhere for anyone. While you may have a set wage in your mind and what you know you should be paid, the employer may have a scale, stating you are paid X dollars per week, and raises are given yearly. If you are not sure what your salary will be, then nine times out of ten you are not going to get the wages you expected. 

Negotiate with confidence

When you are negotiating your wages, you need to be confident in your answers, and in what you are asking. If the question never comes up during the interview, then you need to initiate the topic. Look the employer in the eye, showing you are not afraid of any topic, any time. Ask what the salary is. If the answer is not high enough for you, ask additional questions. Looking the person in the eye, with a strong voice, ask:

  • What the benefits are

  • When reviews for raises are considered

  • What the range is for raises (2% to 5%, for example)

  • What the criteria are for raises

If you are not happy with the answer, make a statement along the lines of: “I was expecting the position to pay $X.” If you are not satisfied with the beginning salary, set expectations about when you expect reviews, or find out what the company has in their policy for reviews and raises in compensation.

Editor's note: Don't fall for the "We start you low and then pay for performance" trick. Employers who say such things don't pay for performance. They simply pay low and expect high turnover.

Things you can do if you find the employer is not going to budge on the salary being offered: 

  • State that you will have to think about it, and then don’t call the employer for a week. If you are not calling the employer and they need to fill this position right away, there is a chance they will call you and offer you a higher wage.

  • Ask for additional benefits, such as the gas card, expense account, cellular phone, or extended vacation time.

  • Inquire about the company's paying full medical benefits, more personal days, and similar types of benefits. Editor's note: be careful about asking for more sick time--this indicates you have a penchant for being absent and employers do not like absenteeism.

If you are interviewing at more than one location, for more than one job, don’t be afraid to bring up the fact that another company is interested in you and is, in fact, offering you a much more competitive salary (if it is true, of course). This will reveal to the employer that you are valuable and perhaps they should rethink the salary offer they put on the table.

Editor's note: Be prepared to walk away from this job or the offer. If you aren't prepared to do so, the employer will sense this and you will just have to accept the salary they offer.


Visit for free resources, articles, and advice on how to answer top interview questions, write a compelling resume, embark on a successful job search, and find a satisfying career.

Certified in all three areas of the job search—Certified Interview Coach ™ (CIC), Job & Career Transition Coach (JCTC), and Nationally Certified Resume Writer (NCRW)—Linda Matias is qualified to assist you in your career transition, whether it be a complete career makeover, interview preparation, or resume assistance. She is also the author of "How to Say It: Job Interviews" (Prentice Hall, August 2007). You can contact Linda Matias at linda @ or visit her Website for additional career advice and to view resume samples.

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