How to Handle 3 Common Salary Negotiation Situations

"If you don't ask, you don't get." This common quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi has multiple applications – but is especially relevant for salary negotiations. Talking about money before you take a job or when faced with an upcoming performance review can be very stressful for most. The good news is that you can excel in salary talks with a thoughtful strategy. Here are tips on how to handle the most common salary negotiations.


What to do when you don't know the salary range. Start with research. Use tools to get some ballpark ranges for your targeted role. If you are truly a novice for that position, assume you are likely to be at the low end of the range. Also, make sure you factor in if you are in an expensive labor market. Once you have a ballpark, now you are ready for salary talks.


When asked, "What are your salary expectations?" respond with, "Can you tell me about the typical compensation you offer for [your potential position] in the first year as well as in subsequent years?" If given a range, you can clarify with, "What criteria is used to determine where someone would fall in the range?"


These answers give you both what to expect as well as guidance for how (and how much) you can increase compensation. The questions communicate to the interviewer that you are thinking about more than just the immediate rewards. You are factoring in the longer-term advantages of staying with the company.


An alternate response is, "I am looking for the right opportunity and am open to the market rate for the role." You do not have to accept a role if the pay is too low. When you give a number first, there is a risk that the employer will offer you a wage close to that number even if it is much lower than fair market compensation. From an employer's perspective, if you have asked for $20 per hour and they can offer you $20 per hour – that seems like a win-win for everyone. If you are a relatively uninformed negotiator, find a tactful way to get the other party to give numbers first.


How to get more than what is being offered. Start with, "Can't you see I'm awesome and completely deserving of everything I request?" (That was a joke – just confirming if you are paying attention.) Most of the time, you will find yourself in this scenario because you have not previously discussed the intended range and how specific pay is determined. Questions to ask if the proposed compensation is too low include, "Do you ever make exceptions to the target salary?" or, "Are there any factors or qualifications that would warrant something higher than this salary range?"


You should be able to answer why you are worth more than the discussed range. This can entail discussing the research you have done that shows the offered pay may be "20 percent below market" or "slightly less than similar roles in the market." If you are a very competitive candidate who doesn't need to make a move, your response could be a polite, "I'm very intrigued by the role you have described. I am targeting a salary of X. I would welcome a continued discussion about the opportunity if that is an option for you." If the company has a hard line on compensation, you will quickly know and part ways. If the conversation continues, you have been clear about your needs and are less likely to have last-minute lowball compensation surprises.


You really want the role, but immediate salary is under your target. If you have been unsuccessful negotiating exactly what you want, but are close, you can ask for a 90-day or six-month performance and salary review. This works well if you plan on working really hard to demonstrate your value and if the company can (and will) actually pay the increased amount. You can say, "I am very interested in the opportunity. The salary we discussed is still a little less than my goal, but I am happy to prove that I am worth the increase. Would you be open to an increase to X if I am able to accomplish A, B and C by 90 days?" Or you can ask, "I am very interested in the opportunity. The salary we discussed is still a little less than my goal. What could I accomplish or contribute in the first 90 days that would warrant a salary increase at that time?"


If you use the "stair step" approach to compensation, make sure you get the details of what is required, what the increase will be and the date of the review in writing on your offer letter. Management can change in companies, so you want to make sure the commitment is in writing.


In short, negotiating does not have to be painful if you take a knowledgeable, polite and professional approach. Compensation is based on market value for your contribution – but employees do need to be their own advocates. If you can show a way that you can contribute at a higher level than others, most managers will try to make a reasonable salary request work.