No matter what stage of life you’re in, you need to know how to negotiate a job offer. These conversations help to identify your values and advance professionally. Work-life balance, health benefits, work flexibility, bonuses, and retirement are all important facets of an offer negotiation, and they’re investments in yourself and your career growth.
According to economist Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon, failing to negotiate your salary can lead to a loss of anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million over the course of your lifetime. How can you take control of your worth? Below are several guidelines to navigating a job offer. While it may be an intimidating conversation to have, it’s worth every penny.
Wait to Discuss the Salary Until You Have a Formal Offer
You want to avoid talking about compensation until the hiring manager is convinced they want to work with you. After they’ve invested time and thought into your candidacy, you’ll have the most bargaining power. But sometimes employers want to discuss the salary early in the interviewing process—or even when you first apply to a position.
Here are key strategies you can use to avoid committing to a salary range before receiving an official job offer.
When Job Applications Request Salary Requirements
Many job applications today ask you to include your salary requirements. In these cases, only fill out salary items on an application when the field is required, and use an unrealistically low round number, such as $0 or $10,000.
What if the Interviewer Asks About Your Salary Requirements?
If you’re asked to discuss your salary expectations, turn the question back over to your interviewer—leave the proverbial ball in their court. Your response might look something like:
“My requirements are flexible, and I would like to hear more about the company’s health benefits, paid time off, and average range for similar positions in this agency. I know there are many factors to consider, and I want to make a fair assessment of what the company offers before I set a salary range.”
What if the Interviewer Asks About Your Current or Previous Compensation?
If the interviewer asks about your pay history, stay calm. Here are a few ways you can deflect the question:
- Many companies have policies against publicly disclosing salary information to their competitors. Point to these guidelines if you want to avoid the question but still seem like you’re cooperating with the interviewer.
- In some municipalities, including New York, it’s also illegal to ask about your current or previous salary. If an interviewer breaks those regulations, it could be a red flag that you might not want to work in that environment.
What if There’s Pushback?
In the U.S., the unemployment rate is at a record low—which means job seekers have more bargaining leverage. You’re in a good position to work out a favorable outcome, so try to be firm about delaying salary negotiations until you’ve received an offer. While this may be a little awkward, it’s also a powerful moment.
Because you’re withholding information, however, you need to be careful about tone. Remember to be gracious and polite. When you respond to other interview questions, be as honest and cooperative as possible. It’s crucial to leave the interviewer with a pleasant impression.
You can view this exchange as an opportunity to learn about the company culture and how the business supports their employees. If they respect your wishes, the company probably values transparency and genuinely wants to treat their staff fairly. If they continue to push the issue, that abrasive attitude could transfer into other aspects of the job.
Once You Have a Job Offer, Be Prepared to Negotiate
Research your job title, region, and experience level to find a realistic salary range. Think about what you learned about the company and the open position during the interview. What contributions can you make to the organization? How does this factor into their bottom line? Use these points to guide your discussion.
Next, evaluate your priorities. How much health coverage do you require, for example, and how much would it cost to purchase that plan on the marketplace? If the company doesn’t offer insurance coverage that meets your needs, consider asking for a higher salary to cover those health expenses. You’ll also want to think about what you currently earn, including bonuses and benefits, and create a target expectation for your next career move. On average, most people make 10%-20% more money by starting a new job.
Here are common benefits you can negotiate during the offer stage:
- Healthcare, Dental, and Vision Insurance: Not all companies provide quality coverage. Ask questions about the company’s healthcare plans—are referrals needed? Will you have to change doctors to stay in network? If you’re not married but live with a partner, can the benefits extend to that partner? Some plans will only cover a partner if you are in a same-sex relationship, so you may need to find out these specific details. You may also need to know how long the waiting period is for you to receive coverage.
- Family Leave: If it’s a priority for you to raise a family without risking your job or losing pay, factor this into your decision. Outside of child care, you may also want to know the company’s policies for family leave, especially if you have a relative who is sick or aging.
- Work Flexibility: Having the ability to work from home, work on a different schedule, or work during vacation can create opportunities for individuals with family or who those who travel a lot.
- Vacation Days, Sick Days, and Paid Time Off (PTO): It’s important to know the company’s PTO policies. What happens if they go unused? If these hours aren’t used by the end of the year, they may be rolled over into the next year—or the balance could zero out when the new year starts.
Depending on your job offer, you can also ask about commission and bonuses, overtime, stock equity, payment for training, retirement options, and severance pay.