How to Negotiate Your Salary

Negotiating can be overwhelming. These tips can help.
By Louise Jackson, MA’10


Read time: 4 minutes

When Joshua Torres received two competitive offers from two large accounting firms, it was a dream come true.

As the first in his family to go to college, he had completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees. But when we spoke about the two job offers and negotiation, Joshua balked. Why negotiate when the offers were so exceptional and he was, to put it simply, grateful?

“I had worked so hard to get to this point and get the offer that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it. The idea of negotiating my offer seemed like more of a risk than an opportunity,” he said.

According to the Journal of Applied Psychology, first-generation college graduates are more likely to accept offers that pay less than their peers and take positions for which they are overqualified. But research shows that eight out of 10 recruiters are willing to negotiate with job applicants. Still, few job applicants feel comfortable enough to have the conversation. So Joshua and I worked through this negotiation. Here is what we talked about:

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Negotiating a job offer and negotiating a salary are not the same thing. Knowing your internal values and priorities allows you to enter a negotiation taking the whole job offer into consideration, not just the salary. Your career is a lengthy journey, and you want to be sure this is the right step. Step back, consider the whole opportunity, then negotiate because you understand what is important to you and why. 

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Research as much as you can. Read about the employer, speak to internal connections, and read websites such as, Glassdoor, or Payscale. Some states have salary disclosure laws that require salary listings for all job posts. Contrasting your position and offer with an equivalent role and salary can give you a good sense of what your compensation should be. The more you understand, the more confidently you can enter these conversations.

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Wherever possible, avoid negotiation over email. The opportunity for miscommunication is too high. A phone, Zoom, or in-person conversation allows you to build trust by addressing your concerns in a prioritized fashion. 

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Explain your interest in the role beyond the salary. Maybe you have always wanted to work for this company or in this city, or maybe the benefits align with your personal goals. This multifaceted demonstration of your interest may strengthen your relationship before the negotiation even begins. 

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Whether the person with whom you are negotiating is an internal HR professional or an external recruiter can affect their drivers and constraints. Your prospective boss will have a deeper understanding of the role and may be more likely to make a special request than recruiters who might have less wiggle room. Either way, negotiate respectfully to create strong, professional relationships as you go.

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Don’t accept the offer in the moment. If you are dealing with a recruiter, you may feel rushed as they aim to meet internal deadlines. Give yourself the time to make a calm, deliberate decision based on the information provided. Ask yourself if you will regret this decision in one year. Oftentimes, your intuition will do the rest.

Negotiating isn’t as scary as it seems. HR professionals and recruiters negotiate often, and you should feel empowered to ask for what you deserve. When tracked over your career, even the smallest increases can significantly alter your lifetime earnings. Even if the outcome is imperfect, crystalizing your understanding of yourself, your motivations, and your professional worth can move you one step closer to your career goals. No matter what, that is a win. 

*Names have been changed to respect the subject’s privacy.

Louise Jackson, MA’10, is the director of the University of Michigan’s Career Center.

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