How to negotiate your salary

Money is often the last thing to be mentioned and when it is, the negotiator will usually have two figures in their head. One will be the salary they’d like you to accept, and the other is the salary they will go to if they have to, in order to secure you.

They will offer you what they think you will accept based on many things, including your experience and qualifications, the length of the contract, whether you will need to relocate and so on, but mainly how they think the conversation is going.

You can be happy and excited, and still have a little steel in there – you can still be careful with your words so that, although the conversation is positive, you haven’t yet said, yes, I’ll take the job, which keeps the pressure on the negotiator.

If they open the bidding

When a figure is mentioned, if you don’t feel it is high enough, say: ‘Actually, I was hoping for something more like x amount’. Wait to see what the reaction is. It may be that this is an acceptable figure, so there is no need to sound apologetic about it.

If you’re asked to name your price

If you are asked what salary you hope to get, pitch a figure either 10% higher than the established pay range for that job, or, if there is no established pay range, 20% higher than the salary you realistically expect to get. It’s probably higher than the top end they were expecting to pay you, but it means you won’t inadvertently negotiate yourself out of a nice salary surprise, if it should be in the negotiator’s mind to go that high.

If you’ve done your research well, your opening bid might prompt some surprise, but it will also bump their starting figure up because they will immediately be concerned that what they were going to offer doesn’t come anywhere close to the figure you’ve mentioned. The calculation for the negotiator then, is: ‘how far up am I going to have to go to get this person?’

Finding middle ground

What you have now is a ceiling price and a floor price, and this is the arena within which you are going to negotiate. If you are face to face, write down the top and bottom figures, one above the other. By doing so, you are creating a ‘picture’ of the two figures, so psychologically you are inviting the other person to meet you in the middle.

If it’s your turn to bid, and you don’t feel the offer is high enough, say so. Say you’d like to settle on something between those two figures. If their offer is very low, say you would like to settle on something closer to your figure. You are telling them you’d like to ‘settle’ – ie holding out the possibility of agreement – but you have your price.

“When the director called me back in and made the offer I noticed he had a figure written on his pad, and I can read upside down… He offered me £3,000 less than that figure so I asked for £3,000 more, and I got it.”

Don’t be afraid to let there be some silence. Silence in conversation puts pressure on someone to say something, and you need that pressure to be on the negotiator.

You may find that the negotiator will divert for a while and talk about the other elements of the package. This may be in part to sell the job to you, but it may also be to buy them some time. If there are specific elements of the package that you are willing to negotiate on, ask about them. It may mean you can more easily reach a salary figure when you return to the subject.

Usually, you can trade figures three or four times before the negotiation begins to place strain on the conversation. If you feel that the conversation is becoming strained, ask for some time to consider, and say when you will give your decision. It could be that some reflection time on both sides promotes more flexibility. It may be that you are pushing too far over a limit that this manager has been set by his boss or HR, which could be solved by further internal negotiation on their part.