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How to Negotiate Your Salary

When you’re a teenageer, $7.25 to $8.00 an hour or about $363-$400 a paycheck seems like a ton of money, especially when you may not be used to earning any money until you got your first job. But, once you start going to college and begin looking for your career, how do you know what you should be paid? Anything above $10 - $15 per hour around here seems sweet when you are used to getting closer to $8.  As a college graduate, while $25 an hour sounds like an amazing wage, other professionals in your same field could be earning double what you are. So how do you determine your worth as a pro? And how do you even talk about wages without sounding like you’re asking for more than you should or that you only care about money? This week, we had our first presentation for our February Professional Development events where professionals Linda Leeuwrik, Pocatello City Councilwoman and Ann Swanson, the Director of the Small Business Development Center, covered this very topic.


The first step is to research yourself and your degree/qualifications before you start applying. Find out how much other professionals with your experience, degree and qualifications are being paid and that is generally a good benchmark for how much you should be paid. Make sure to note where you would like to work, as salaries vary by geographic area as well as what type of entity you wish to work for. For example, public University or government employee wages may have a lower salary than industry, but may offer more competitive benefits.


Swanson and Leeuwrik recommend identifying your minimum target salary, your ideal target salary, and your “bolstering” salary range before you enter the interview. The women recommended as a great resource for finding salary ranges based on the location you would like to work in and the best fitting job description for what you want to do. “Always think of your target salaries within a range, not a specific number,” Leeuwrik advised. “By narrowing yourself to a specific number, you could have missed out on a couple thousand dollars if the employer was thinking $65,000 and you mention $55,000.” Swanson and Leeuwrik also noted the importance of factoring benefits into the salary negotiation. “Although the salary may be good, the benefits could be very poor,” said Leeuwrik. “You have to determine what is most important to you and if a salary increase is worth more to you than more vacation time, a lower insurance deductible, etc.”


“Always think of your salary as total compensation plus your benefits, not just annual salary alone,” said Swanson.


The women recommended another tool for coming up with this objective data, “This website allows you to identify take-home pay based on your salary and geography, after taxes and other deductions,” Swanson said the site also includes a budget tool for identifying your minimum pay needed for living expenses and other expenses you may have. On this note, Leeuwrik advised to never factor your personal needs into your salary negotiation with potential employers, “When suggesting a higher wage, never indicate that their offer would not cover things like your student loan debt, or the rent for the great apartment you don’t want to give up. Make the negotiation about your worth as an employee, why you feel that you deserve more for the quality of work you will put out.”  

Then, negotiate your pay after you are offered the job. “The time to negotiate salary is after you have a job offer,” said Swanson. Leeuwrik said, having been on both sides of the table during an interview, asking about salary before an offer has been made puts a bad taste in the interviewer’s mouth and makes it appear that you are in it for the money. “Once they have made you an offer, a salary offer that is, you know that they want you. Now, the ball is in your court to counter that offer using the objective data and reasoning you have gathered.”  However, the women advised that it is still important that you never be the first to discuss salary or mention a number. Doing this could create a potential loss for you. As Leeuwrik previously mentioned, by discussing an amount first, you could be asking for much lower than the employer was thinking and chances are they won’t offer that much to you after you have already said the number.


This brings us to identifying a strategy for how you will negotiate. As previously mentioned, don’t make the negotiation personal, don’t talk about an amount first, but also don’t make an ultimatum, don’t compare yourself to others, always consider benefits, and most importantly- get it in writing. “Nothing is final and official until it is in writing,” said Swanson.


But, how do you go about avoiding the mention of a dollar amount when the interviewer is asking you questions like “What do you want for a salary”? Here, the presenters had a few different options for avoiding a direct response such as:

“I’ll consider any reasonable offer.”

“What do you feel the job is worth?”

“My research tells me that someone with my skills, education, and qualifications doing this job earns between ___ and ___ . What is your offer?”


Their last piece of advise in this process? “Practice, practice, practice,” said Swanson. “Make and use your notes, always do the research before you interview, and in addition to practicing the interview itself, practice the negotiation.” It may not even hurt to bring your research with you if it will help your negotiation case.


It may seem like an awkward thing to talk about when someone just offered you a job (beggars can’t be choosers, right?). Especially if you are more excited about the job itself then the salary. But, in the long run you will be happy you did the research and practiced a tactful way to professionally discuss your benefits and salary with your future employer. “It’s much harder to increase your pay once you already have the job,” said Swanson. “Doing the research, feeling confident about your worth and needs before you accept the job and asking for what’s fair will benefit both you and your employer in the end. If you feel that you are being fairly compensated once you get into the work, then you are more likely to feel happy about your career and therefore produce higher results.” The pair also noted that, some benefits can be negotiated as well. If there is no room to budge on the salary, there may be some negotiating space in the benefits. For example, you could ask for less vacation time in exchange for a higher income or vise versa.