How to negotiate a starting salary

You bossed the application process, nailed the interview and now they’re ready to recruit you. There is just one final hurdle to get over – and it might just be the least comfortable and successful of them all – the salary negotiation. Here are seven tips anyone hoping to secure a decent pay deal needs to know. 

  1. First, do your homework

You should never enter a salary negotiation without knowing the going rate for someone doing a similar job in your industry, at a similar sized company in your location, and in the current economic climate. The closer the comparison the better. Look for job ads online or in the press for advertised roles similar to your own to see what salaries they are attracting. If you are in the South East and particularly London, also remember that companies will usually weight salaries to compensate for the higher cost of living. Unions that represent specialised workers (for example, journalists) may also have recommendations on appropriate pay rates that would be worth checking out.

  1. Know your worth

Research will help you work out the broad wage range you should be aiming for, and many bigger employers will put you in a pre-defined pay bracket in any case (which should be made explicit when you apply). But to get paid at the top end of the wage scale, you’ll need to have what extra you bring to the job down pat and be ready to convince the employer of it. Take all the good points you made at interview and see what else you can add. 

Think: What are your professional skills? What are your personal qualities? What can you offer them that no one else can? Can you put a value on it? (for example, can you pinpoint exactly how much money or tangible benefit you brought to your previous role or employer?) Having a bunch of well-rehearsed arguments ready to counter the sharp intake of breath from your would-be employer when you name your top price is vital.  

  1. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes

There’s something you should know about your employer. They don't find recruitment easy. They dread inadvertently landing the employee from hell and having to do it all again in six months. They are far more interested in getting the right person for the job than the false economy of saving a couple of grand a year on someone second best. Keeping this in mind and being confident that you are the one they really want will help you negotiate from a position of strength.

  1. Be a bit cheeky

Now is not the time to be terribly polite and… well, British. You should always feel just a little bit embarrassed about your request, but not to the extent that it is laughable. At a small stretch, you could already be worth that much to them – and will be in next to no time. Play nice by aiming too low and, ironically, they might actually have less respect for you – if you don’t value yourself and your skills very highly, why should they?

  1. Know your limits

It’s a good idea to set yourself some limits – ‘ideal’, ‘satisfactory deal’ and ‘no deal’. Start with your ‘ideal’ salary. You are unlikely to get the first figure you name, and negotiations only go one way – down. Aim high and this sets the frame for the rest of the negotiation. Stick to your guns and you might just end up coming down just a little and agreeing something satisfactory. Start with ‘satisfactory’ and you will end up talking yourself into something less than satisfactory. Always be clear what your bottom line is and don’t go below it.

  1. Enjoy the silence

Seasoned recruiters may try all sorts of ways to get you to agree to a lower salary than you are prepared to accept. They may use tough economic times as an excuse, or they may want to make your current salary the starting point of the negotiation. This can put you in a tight spot: you want the job so much, but you feel rushed and pressured to agree to something you don’t want. Instead of saying ‘yes’, a non-commital ‘hmm’ can be your best response – followed by as long a silence as you can bear! Buy yourself 20 seconds to check your gut feeling and formulate a response. Meanwhile, assuming they really want you, the uncomfortable silence may make them realise they’ve overstepped the line and revise their offer – upwards.

  1. But, don’t play it too cool

Driving a hard bargain is one thing, but an employer will think twice about recruiting someone who doesn’t appear to care that much. In your efforts to be firm, make sure you remain enthusiastic and polite throughout the negotiating process.

See workSMART’s Careers Advice section for more advice and information on finding work and getting on in your career.