Three Essentials for Negotiating Your Salary

Tips that negotiating pros use to de-stress the process and help you get compensated commensurate with your worth, while building a positive interaction with your new boss.

Negotiating your salary can be one of the most stressful parts of taking a new position. A lot hangs in the balance: your financial future, your relationship with your new boss, the expectations of your family and much more. Negotiation over compensation is generally expected. You aren’t being pushy or demanding by not simply accepting the first offer you are presented.

Most people are not trained in the art and science of negotiation, which increases anxiety about getting it right. Here are tips that negotiating pros use to de-stress the process and help you get compensated commensurate with your worth, while building a positive interaction with your new boss.

Many people believe that the first party to set a number ultimately loses in a negotiation. That can be true, but it needn’t be.

1. Have a win-win mindset. Framing the negotiation is the most important step. Many people view salary negotiation as you against them. In fact, the best salary negotiations use interest-based negotiation: you with them. Positional bargaining has  one winner; interest-based negotiation seeks a win for both parties. In the end, the compensation has to work for both. Through the interview process, you will have developed an understanding of what the organization wants from you and why they see you as a good fit – how they define the “win” and see hiring you as victory. Use that knowledge and reinforce your value and what you bring to the company in discussions that lead up to pay.

2. The best negotiators come prepared. You will have met at least one and perhaps several people in the new organization during interviews or you may have friends who work at the organization. What did you learn about the culture of the organization from those interactions? Are you fully familiar with the reporting structure, room for growth, and advancement and expectations for your position? Have you investigated what other companies pay people in similar positions? (Try,, and – all excellent resources.) What is this organization’s compensation profile in the market – generous, competitive or frugal? Doing your homework so that you have answers to these questions puts you in the best position to start the negotiation. Be knowledgeable, not nervous!

3.  Be ready to get more than money on the table. Compensation is more than salary. You are also negotiating other benefits, which may include lifestyle factors such as time off or flexible working arrangements, advancement opportunities, non-salary pay such as a signing- or performance-based bonus, education reimbursement, relocation allowance or stock options, level of responsibility and work environment, including perhaps a private office or support personnel. What value do you put on each of these? It should never be only about the salary, because you create more room for both of you to negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome when you consider the full range of a potential package. If salary is the only issue, there is very little to negotiate. With many elements in play, it becomes much easier to craft a mutual agreement.

When it comes time for the actual negotiation, make it face-to-face. You’ll be better able to read body language and other non-verbal cues. Don’t dress to impress – dress to fit in. You want to look like one of the team – an insider – not someone alien to the organization. Let the employer make the first offer and note how it is framed. When it comes, don’t respond immediately. Ponder it and then respond with some of your ideas about the appropriate compensation.

What if you are pressed to be first to put forward a number? Many people believe that the first party to set a number ultimately loses in a negotiation. That can be true, but it needn’t be. Offer something on the high side. If the employer objects, ask its negotiator for a number that he or she believes is reasonable. You’ve turned the table when your first number is plausible but not an accurate reflection of what you want. You have, in essence, made the employer put the first serious number into discussion.

As the negotiation moves forward, try to avoid back-and-forth counteroffers as it can put you back into positional bargaining. Instead, try to settle on a salary range in which you both seem comfortable and then try to build on with other non-salary elements. Ask about where there is flexibility and where there is none. Perhaps the employer will support you as you seek speaking roles at industry conferences that raise your profile and its own. Or you may be offered a salary review after six months on the job. Perhaps you can agree to delay your start date so that less of your salary falls in the current fiscal year.

If you have done this well, you will find that as the negotiations come to a close you are both working toward a common solution. The employer wants you to be happy with your compensation and you want it to be comfortable with what you are getting. You have moved beyond self-interests to create aligned interests – and aligned interests are the basis of any enduring negotiated agreement.

Barry C. Dorn, MD, FACS, MHCM, is associate director and Eric McNulty, MA, is director of research and professional programs for the Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

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