Welcome to my guide on how to negotiate salary in a job interview.
Long before the employer makes an offer, they’re asking questions to determine how much to pay you.
And not having a strong salary negotiation strategy in your interview can cost you thousands of dollars when you start the job.
Plus, if you don’t talk salary before the end of the interview process, you could end up with a lowball job offer and then have to negotiate even more.
So use these salary negotiation tips to get the highest possible offer (and benefits) in your new job:
Salary negotiation is the area of the job interview that candidates are least prepared for, based on my experience as a recruiter. And it’s important to be ready ahead of time.
You don’t know when the employer will bring up salary. I’ve seen it happen at the beginning of a first phone interview.
So the negotiation could start within minutes of talking to an employer, even before you’ve spoken to the hiring manager, and you need to know some basic salary ranges for the role you’re discussing.
Benefits of conducting salary research before a salary negotiation:
To conduct your salary research, I recommend websites like Payscale, Glassdoor, and Salary.com.
Sometimes, the interviewer will ask, “What’s your desired salary?” in a phone interview or other early-stage interview.
It’s not in your best interest to share a specific number yet, and it’s not going to help you get a higher salary.
In the first few interviews, you have no leverage to negotiate with. The employer isn’t even sure they want to hire you yet.
So if you share a number that’s too high, you could scare them off before they’ve had a full chance to see your skills and potential value in the job.
If you share a number that’s too low, they’ll offer that amount later, even though they may have been willing to offer thousands of dollars more for this position/job title.
So I recommend sharing some basic research you’ve done, giving a broad range that you feel most jobs fall under, but then stopping short of saying an exact number you’d accept.
“At this point in my search, I’m focused on finding the role that’s the best fit for my career and I don’t have an exact salary target in mind. However, I’ve done some research into positions with this job title here in the Dallas area, and most roles seem to fall into a salary range of $50,000 to $85,000. I think if this position fits somewhere in that range, then it makes sense to discuss the job in more detail.”
Notice how the range is very broad. That’s how I recommend handling salary negotiations in the first one or two interviews.
Sometimes employers will ask for your current salary, too. If you feel you’re well-paid, it can be to your advantage to share this number. If you’re currently employed and don’t want to waste your time on roles that pay less, it can make sense too.
For example, I once took a phone interview and within the first five minutes, I said, “I have a question. Normally I don’t discuss salary so early but I don’t want to waste your time, either. I’m currently earning $65,000 with a 10% bonus and would be hoping for some type of salary increase in order to make a change. Does that fit within the salary range you’ve budgeted for the position?”
In this case, the recruiter told me, “No,” which saved us both a lot of time. Better yet, she told me that the company did have a higher-level position that fit my salary needs and then we discussed that instead.
However, if you are unemployed and/or feel you weren’t paid very well in the past, it’s fine to decline to share your salary history. In fact, it’s illegal for employers to ask in some US states.
You can say:
“I signed a confidentiality agreement with my last employer and I believe that the amount they chose to pay me falls within that agreement. I’m not able to share past salaries. However, I’m happy to discuss what this job pays and some of the salary research I’ve done into the overall market.”
One of the best tactics to use in your salary negotiations is asking open-ended questions.
Asking open-ended questions is a friendly, non-threatening way to understand the other person’s point of view in a negotiation.
A negotiation isn’t a battle or argument. It should be viewed as a collaborative discussion where both sides are aiming to get what’s fair/reasonable. This is the best way to approach a negotiation to earn a higher salary and start your new job on great terms.
Here are examples of open-ended questions you can ask:
Questions such as these can help you gather more info, get past negotiation “roadblocks,” and address the hiring manager’s concerns and limitations without seeming confrontational.
If you don’t understand their point of view, you can’t properly address it. That’s some of the best career advice I can give you… both for negotiations and for acing the job interview.
So new job salary negotiation isn’t just about talking; it’s also about listening.
This is one of the most crucial new job salary negotiation tips that I can share. Negotiating salary is not about talking over the other person, trying to persuade or pressure them, or anything like that.
In fact, some of the best negotiators, salespeople, and expert persuaders I’ve met were great listeners first and foremost.
As you prepare to negotiate, commit to listening at least as much as you talk. The tip earlier about asking open-ended questions can help you with that.
The bottom line is: Talking over the other person or trying to “steamroll” them by pushing past their concerns is not going to get you a better salary. You need to truly hear their concerns, try to understand their viewpoint, and have a collaborative discussion.
That all starts with great listening.
As you get peppered with salary questions in the interview, like, “What’s your desired salary?” and, “What are you currently earning?” it can be helpful to turn the question back at them, too.
After answering one of their questions related to salary, consider asking how much they’ve budgeted for the role.
Or if you provide a range you’re targeting, ask, “Does that fit into what you’ve budgeted for the position, and can you tell me more about the compensation package that’s been set for the role?”
The bottom line is: Every company has a general compensation range or “salary band” for various roles and groups. So if they tell you it’s completely open and there’s no structure in place, they’re either misinformed or lying.
If you’re midway through the interview process and salary negotiations seem to get stuck, it’s okay to say, “Would it be alright if we discuss the role and my skills in more depth, and then perhaps we can return to discussing the salary for the position after this?”
There’s no harm in asking, and sometimes exploring the role a bit more will then make the discussion of salary range and job offer a bit easier for both sides.
This is yet another tip/tool in your arsenal that you don’t have to use but can utilize if needed.
Any time you negotiate salary, whether it’s in a first interview or just before a job offer, you should focus on selling your value and your skills. That’s what the employer is paying for and what your negotiations should be based upon.
It’s best to leave personal reasons out of the negotiation (such as commute length, student loans, car payment, etc.) and it’s also best to take a logical, business-focused approach instead of getting emotional.
I’m not going to tell you that I’ve never seen someone negotiate for more pay in their job search by using personal reasons… because I’ve seen it. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and bad strategies do work occasionally.
But on average, you’ll do much better by selling your skills and value.
The more you can sell your skills and experience and explain how you’ll be able to help them in this role, the better your compensation package and salary will be.
If you’re lucky enough to be interviewing while you already have a job, you can use this as leverage in negotiating.
Employers understand that you aren’t going to leave your current job for less pay and that you’re going to be selective and careful in choosing your next opportunity.
So by reminding them that you’re happily employed and simply exploring other options, they may begin negotiating against themselves. What I mean by this is that they’ll feel internal pressure to up their offer, provide a better compensation and bonus package, etc.
You never want to give an ultimatum or sound rude, but you can say phrases like:
“I’m currently earning a base salary of X and would need some type of increase to consider making a move.”
“I’m very happy with my current employer, but I was eager to discuss this role to explore whether it might be a career-advancing opportunity.”
Remind the company throughout the hiring process that you’re not unemployed and that it’ll take a great opportunity (and great money) to get you to make a move.
When talking to the potential employer about your job offer, don’t forget that you can negotiate more than just starting salary.
You can negotiate bonuses, stocks/equity, vacation time, work-from-home, and much more.
So if you hit a dead-end when negotiating for more money in your base salary, consider turning to other areas of the benefits package to see if there’s further opportunity for negotiation.
I recommend focusing on base salary, first, though. This is typically what you can build on from job to job, and it’s also what determines your bonus in many positions (because employers often structure their bonus as a percentage of base salary). Read this article for more info on base salary vs. bonus and which is better.
And I don’t recommend focusing heavily on negotiating job title, however. For more info on why, I wrote a full article on whether job titles are important.
It’s worth asking the company how soon you’ll receive a performance review and potential raise after you accept their offer and start this new job.
While this isn’t as important as maximizing your starting salary and benefits, it’s still a good final piece to consider when negotiating, and a topic worth exploring and asking questions about in the interview.
For example, the hiring manager may tell you that they can’t offer a higher salary, but they’d be willing to do your first performance review in six months rather than a year after you start.
This can always change in the future, though, so it’s not the first area I recommend focusing on in a negotiation. It’s more of a last resort or a way to gain a bit more if you don’t love the basic salary offer.
Also, consider getting this in writing if they do agree to a faster-than-normal performance review. That way, you have proof of what the employer agreed upon.
Sometimes the hiring manager will make you an offer during the job interview or before you’re sure whether you want the job. You may have had the chance to negotiate a bit, or not at all.
The most important thing to know here is: You never need to accept a job offer on the spot. And as a former recruiter, I recommend never doing so.
By asking for time to think about the decision and look over the job offer, you’ll avoid having to make a rushed decision and you’ll demonstrate confidence.
This is how the most in-demand candidates handle receiving an offer. They ask for time and then they come back with an answer later.
So I recommend you ask for at least 48 hours to discuss the offer with your family, read the fine print, and then respond and decide if you’ll accept the first offer, decline, or try to negotiate.
You can tell the company:
“Thank you so much for the offer. I’m thrilled and the role seems fantastic. I always weigh important decisions like this with my family. Would it be alright if I take 48 hours to look over the details, talk to my family, and then reconnect with you on Wednesday morning?”
Be wary of any employer who isn’t okay with this. This is 100% normal and accepted in the corporate world and I wouldn’t trust a hiring manager who isn’t willing to give you time to look at an offer in detail and think about such an important decision in the privacy of your own home.
Negotiating your salary is completely professional and expected. Depending on the source, somewhere between 60-80% of hiring managers expect it. That means they may even be surprised if you don’t try to negotiate.
So consider it a normal, professional part of the process, and don’t be apologetic about asking for the compensation you’re worth… whether it’s in the interview or after you’ve received an offer and have had time to look it over.
As long as you make logical, business-based arguments, you’ll be fine.
Negotiating salary doesn’t have to be the scary part of your job search. Candidates who go into their negotiations with salary research on industry averages, and who take a calm, collaborative approach to the conversation, will feel more confident and get higher compensation.
With the salary negotiation tips above, you’ll also start your new job in great standing with the company and your boss/manager. That’s the other big benefit of treating your negotiation like a back-and-forth conversation rather than only trying to persuade them to pay you more money.
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