Negotiating salary for a new job is stressful. The chance to do so only happens every so often, and when the moment comes, it feels both high stakes and extremely personal.
People are generally most concerned with feeling unprepared or worrying about an unpredictable outcome, says Andres Lares, managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute.
These nerves are normal and healthy, but it could help to think less about what you could lose in a negotiation and more about what you can do to prepare, Lares tell CNBC Make It: "Even if you can't get everything you want, it's about doing everything you can to walk away knowing you've done your best."
He recommends thinking through all the possible scenarios that could come up in the negotiations process, and to have a script ready for how you'll respond in each case. Here are a few ways to do that.
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Discussing salary throughout the hiring process
First of all, when and how you should bring up pay during job interviews will depend on your situation. If the job description already lists the range, or if you're confident about your number and have a lot of interviews lined up, you might bring it up in first or second rounds, says Octavia Goredema, an author and career coach.
You could ask the hiring manager to share their budget for the job, or you might be strategic about naming your desired range. Tap online resources and your professional network to get an idea of your absolute minimum salary, your desired target and a stretch number you want to negotiate up to.
By the time you have that offer in hand, you have a lot of leverage to negotiate. "You wouldn't be in this room or on this call if you couldn't do that role. Recruiters wouldn't have time to waste if they didn't think you could deliver on it," Goredema says. "Now we're discussing not only what's required of you, but what you're looking for."
If the offer is way below your minimum
If HR makes you an offer that's significantly lower than what you want, like in the tens of thousands of dollars, Lares says it's worth pointing out.
Leading with gratitude can make a difficult conversation more palatable: "Thanks for thinking of me for this role and sharing the pay. Unfortunately, that's significantly lower than what I would have expected for this."
Next, gauge whether they can be flexible on the offer. Remind yourself, and the other party, that a negotiation is working together to reach a compromise. You can frame it as: "I want to be respectful and not waste your time, but I'm also interested and want to make this work. What's the flexibility on pay?"
Or, it's possible the hiring manager doesn't understand your qualifications or years of experience. Remind them of your candidacy and ask: "Is there a different title or level you're hiring for that's a better fit and aligns with my expected pay?"
If the offer is on the lower end of your range
If the offer is a few thousand dollars short of your actual desired number, it's time to make your counteroffer. At this point, you should have a firm number in mind based on market data and what you personally expect from the role.
Again, Lares says, first thank them for the offer. Express your interest in the role and the expertise you'll bring into it. It can help to focus on all the other reasons why you're excited to take the job, like the chance to grow a team or launch a new product, says Mabel Abraham, a Columbia Business School professor. You can mention how salary is just one component in your decision-making process, and then state (or re-state) your desired salary and why it's in line with the market as well as your qualifications.
Finally, emphasize that you want to work with the other person to find a mutually agreeable number, Lares says. You can keep it open-ended: "What can we do to bring the offer closer to my expectations?"
If the pay matches or exceeds what you want
Good news: HR makes you an offer, and it's in line with what you want. Congrats! But don't accept it right away. Thank them for the offer and say you need time to think it over, Lares says.
Consider if everything in the compensation package aligns with what you want. Is there room to negotiate beyond salary like a signing bonus, vacation time, work-from-home flexibility, health coverage, child-care support or something else?
This tends to be a major part of the negotiations process where women lose out, says Abraham, who studies gender inequities in the workplace. As much as a racial and gender wage gap exists for base pay, it widens even more when accounting for non-salary benefits, she says. For example, one recent analysis commissioned by The Wall Street Journal found women are less likely than men to own company stock, and when they do, they own fewer shares. The difference could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in "lost" earnings over time.
If you choose to continue negotiating additional non-salary perks, focus only on the benefits most important to you and understand how much you're willing to be flexible.
What to do if you think you low-balled yourself early on
Maybe you've gotten to the offer stage and realize the range you gave earlier was actually too low. But now the company is offering you that number. Is it too late to revise your salary expectations?
Lares says you can bring it up, but frame it less about the money and more about not fully understanding the job itself.
You can say something like: "At the beginning of the hiring process, this was my understanding of the job. Now at this point in the interview process, this is my understanding of the job. In light of that, I think this second role is worth Y. I want to be collaborative — am I understanding this correctly?"
Leave the conversation open to a possible misunderstanding, Lares says. "If you approach the conversation as, 'let's make sure we're talking about the same role,' it allows you to be more sensitive in the way of asking for more money when you do come to an understanding."
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