• Alex Mizerski

Making money: negotiating your salary for career earnings maximization

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

Negotiating your salary can be a daunting task. For many, they are just happy to get offered a job and are ready to take it on the spot. This is where many folks go wrong. Salary negotiations are an important part of long-term wealth potential and should be thought of as a key opportunity to maximize your earning potential over time.


Over the course of this article, we will give you some guidance on how to have salary negotiation conversations, why this shouldn't be a scary conversation, and how it can impact wealth over time (hint: the impact is HUGE!!).


Salary negotiations can have a dramatic impact on your wealth over time. You should be thoughtful about your approach to salary negotiations and open with the hiring manager and recruiter about your salary expectations. While this candid talk may eliminate you from certain employers or careers, it is important to set a precedence that you expect to get paid like top talent because you believe you are top talent and perform like top talent.


If you navigate the negotiations with candor, tact, and thoughtfulness then you can dramatically impact your career earning potential.




How salary negotiations can build wealth

The average American changes jobs 7 times over the course of their career, spanning from age 25-52. Let's play this out with some real-world numbers based on the data I found on Indeed.com


Let's say you get your first job at age 25 (a bit late for a typical college grad, but again, we are working with limited data) and you are offered $45,000/year. That's a good salary and if you ask for $50,000, as part of your salary negotiation, and finally land on $47,000/year you are on your way to a much larger pool of wealth!


So let's play this out over the course of your career, ages 25-65 and we will make a few assumptions along the way. Assumption 1, you will get a 3% raise every year. Assumption 2, you will get a 10% raise with every job change. Assumption 3, 10% of the extra money you earn will be invested in a 401k and that will make 6% a year.


With all those assumptions being true here are the differences you will see over the course of a 40-year career.

  • $250,000 in additional salary earned

  • $75,000 in additional 401k savings

  • $110,000 in additional 401k savings if you are saving 15%

I mean, can you even believe that? Asking for approximately 5%-10% more at each stop in your career makes a huge difference in the end.


How to position your initial ask so you don't have to negotiate

If you are looking for a new role and don't want to end up having a salary negotiation conversation you can always position your initial salary to ask above where you are comfortable landing.


Many recruiters or hiring managers will ask you what your current salary is. The way you answer this question can have ramifications upon the salary negotiation process that may follow if you are offered a job. If you are looking to get paid in a new job, then make certain the hiring manager knows what your salary expectation is vs telling them what your current salary is. Most are inclined to answer exactly where your present salary is. Answering like this may limit your salary potential within the new role and within your offer, should you get one.


Answering this question with the salary you expect to make will position you to get the salary you are looking for. It may also eliminate you from contention for the role, but do you really want a job that can't pay you what you believe you are worth?


So, my advice, no matter how they phrase their question about your present salary, answer based upon your salary expectations within the job you are applying for and you could end up avoiding salary negotiations altogether.


How to negotiate your salary

The salary negotiation tips below are a guide and not a "must" when it comes to salary negotiations. You should think of a salary negotiation as a critical part of the job search and your career path. Unless you aren't interested in maximizing your earnings, which some people aren't, then just ignore this entire article and focus your attention on something that matters to you! No judgment here, as I know, people are motivated by all types of different things.

  1. Prepare and gain knowledge

  2. Know what sets you apart

  3. Compare the total package

  4. Ask about a salary range

  5. Do not use fear tactics

  6. A no today isn't a no tomorrow (or 6 months from now)

  7. Stay positive and open to anything

  8. Find a manager that is aligned with your worth


Prepare and gain knowledge

Knowing what others make for similar roles is critical to ensuring you are getting paid what you are worth. Sites like Payscale.com and Salary.com are good resources to help you get a sense of what you are worth.


In addition, it never hurts to ask someone else in the industry what they are making. In the past, this topic has been taboo to talk about, but there is no law against it. Today, more and more folks are comfortable talking about what they are getting paid. Having that knowledge can help you get a little bit more as you negotiate your new salary.


Know what sets you apart

If you have ever talked to a recruiter they will use the term "unicorn" when they find someone with just the right set of skills for a particular job. The reason they use this term is that unicorns are rare (hint: they don't exist) so when they find one typically they will make a strong offer.


Why do I bring up unicorns? Because you need to highlight skills that make you look and sound like a unicorn. Setting yourself apart during the hiring process and showing that you are the ONLY person they should hire helps your case when asking for higher initial pay.


Compare the total package

Many of us get hung up on the pay and measure that against where we think we should be. That falls short of a full evaluation of the role. It is critical to think about healthcare costs, dental and vision, the 401k match or lack there or, vacation, holidays, work from home, MATERNITY LEAVE and PATERNITY LEAVE for that matter, and much more.


If you are struggling to compare your current job vs a current offer, or are comparing two or more offers just think about what matters to you most. If you are someone who really values saving in your 401k, then a company that has an amazing 401k match might be more your style. If you only care about the salary and expect that everything else will fall in to place, then focus on that. And if you just want a lot of time off, or a ton of freedom about where you work, then you will value vacation and remote work much more than other things.


In the end, it is up to you to determine what matters most to you, but make sure you are comparing the total compensation AND benefits package to find the most value out of a job.


Ask about a salary range

Many employers won't share this information. It's no big deal if they won't and I would suggest your respond by providing a range you would prefer to be in. Ultimately, the more knowledge you can gain about their ability to pay you what you want the better off you will be.


As an alternative, just provide them with your range and ask if that is aligned with the range available in the role. If so, you know there is probably some room to increase your salary vs their initial offer.


Do not use fear tactics

Negotiating for a better starting salary isn't a war. The person you are negotiating with is most likely the person you will be reporting to in the future. You want to get that partnership off to a great start from the beginning.


Ensuring you and your future manager are aligned will be critical to your happiness. As many of you know, the person you report to is the main component of employee happiness. Threats and fear tactics will either get an offer revoked or leave a bad taste in your future manager's mouth which won't be good for any pay raises or future negotiations.


A no today isn't a no tomorrow (or 6 months from now)

There might be circumstances that prevent you from getting the salary you want today. You might be entering at a Jr level and are maxing out the pay grade. That pay grade might change, you might move up to a Sr level by proving you are worth it, or some other circumstance that may limit an employer's ability to pay you more.


If you want a higher salary, be open about it and don't let the conversation die after you are hired. In 3 to 6 months, remind your manager about the salary you initially asked for. If you are performing above expectations they may be able to get you what you asked for. The critical piece in this is performing above expectations. You have to be doing that to warrant a pay increase. Another critical piece would be to identify what expectations are in advance so you can compare against them in 3 to 6 months.


Stay positive and open to anything

In some instances, your future employer may not be able to provide you with a bump in salary. They might be able to give you additional vacation days, or more flexibility about work from home. If they are offering stock options, they may be able to bump those up, or some other benefit that I've never thought of.


As I mentioned above, salary isn't the only thing you should consider when being offered a new job and if they can't move on the salary you should ask if they can move of some of the other parts of the compensation and benefits package they are offering.


Find a manager that is aligned with your worth

By now many of us have heard the old adage, employees quit a manager, not a company/role. That is as true as ever. Therefore, you should ensure, during the hiring process, that you find a manager that is aligned with the value you place on yourself and your skills. If you are in the middle of salary negotiations and the hiring manager doesn't believe you are worth what you are asking then maybe they aren't the right person to work for.


Why the conversation should be easy

Most employers are open to salary negotiations. This is why HR builds salary ranges because some people come into a role with 5 years of experience and others come into the same role with 8 years of experience. They might be the same age, have the same number of years in the workforce, but one has more direct experience and therefore "deserves" to get paid more from the start. This range allows for some wiggle room when trying to fill a role. It also makes negotiations more common.


Knowing that negotiations are common should help ease your mind about asking for a higher salary. Basically, everyone is asking for more money, so you aren't doing anything out of the ordinary. Most likely, you deserve to get paid more than they are offering anyway. An employer will very rarely offer the max they can pay a person within a role, so there is almost always room for them to go up. Further, it usually takes 5-10 interviews for an employer to find the right person for a job, a person they want to offer the role to. Therefore, they have a lot invested in hiring you (you are their choice for the job). If it takes a little bit more money to finish the hiring process they are typically happy to oblige and pay you what you are asking or something close to it.


Ways to position your ask

While there is a ton of good information above, it might be hard to find the right words. Not to worry, we have taken care of that part for you. Below are some ways to position your ask for the best possible outcome.

  • It's so exciting that you are offering me this role above other candidates and I thank you for that. The confidence you have shown in my ability to get this job done feels great. Would you be open to exploring a higher initial salary? Based on the research I've conducted a number closer to $XX,XXX is more in line with someone that has my experience and resume.

If you have already attempted to rebut their offer and the hiring manager stated they couldn't go higher try the following, or some similar form.

  • I understand that budgeting for a higher salary in this role might be challenging, but would you please check with your team and see whether it is possible

Or this.

  • If there is no additional budget for the salary in this role, if there something else we can work on? Are you able to add additional vacation days? Work from home? Additional company stock options? Or some other change to the benefits package to account for the lower salary?

If you truly believe that you deserve a higher salary, then asking for more shouldn't be challenging. I'm here to tell you that you DO DESERVE MORE!!! Most employers offer the least they possibly can vs your original salary request and their budget or salary range for the role.


Summary

You deserve to make more money, you deserve to get paid what you believe you are worth. Don't go overboard, but asking for $3,000-$5,000 more early in your career, then $8,000-$10,000 later in your career can make a huge difference in your retirement and present lifestyle. I mean, just think about how many more amazing things you can buy with a $2,000 salary increase for an entry-level job?!?

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