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Exactly What (Not) To Say When Negotiating Your Salary

Follow this script and you can’t go wrong.

Exactly What (Not) To Say When Negotiating Your Salary
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Salary negotiations are stressful, but that doesn’t have to leave you grasping for the right turn of phrase or stammering something you’ll live to regret. Here’s a guide to getting it right no matter which twists and turns the negotiating process takes.

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When You’re Establishing A Number

“I’ve done some research, and it looks like the typical pay for somebody at my level is ________.”

“According to Salary.com [or source of your choosing], the standard rate is ________.” (Makes it about market rates, not what you’re worth. Walk into the meeting well researched.)

“I typically get ________.” (Useful because it provides a frame of reference.)

When Making Your Case

“I feel great about what we accomplished this year.” (Such a team player, aren’t you!)

“Based on [insert your best evidence for why you deserve it], I’d like to propose ________.” (Still nice but to the point.)

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“The standard inflation rate is ________. Based on my performance over [period of time] I’d like to discuss an increase of ________.” (Great, you’ve done your research.)

If you feel you are doing the work of someone at a higher pay grade than you, make that your basis of negotiation. “I’m a second-year associate doing the work of a third year. I’d like to make my compensation commensurate with my output.”

Remember: Keep emotions out of it. Stay data driven and fact based.

When It Starts To Get Heated

“I’m confident we can get to a place we both feel good about.” (Collaborative, not confrontational.)

“I think we are close.” (Stays positive and keeps everyone engaged.)

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Don’t Say This

“I can’t afford to live in ________.” (Your boss doesn’t care.)

“I have student loans.” (Ditto.)

“I’m getting married.” (Nope.)

“I’m trying to get pregnant.” (Noooo!)

“I’ve been working overtime.” (We all work hard.)

“This is what I want and I’ll take nothing less.” (Negotiation is about compromise.)

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“I need ________.” (Okay, but do you really need it? Try “I’d like” or “I propose.”)

“I’m sorry, I just want ________.” (Do not—repeat: do not!—apologize for talking about money.)

“I haven’t had a raise/asked for anything since . . .” (Complaining will get you nowhere fast. If you really haven’t asked for a raise in five years, mention this after you’ve made the case based on your work.)

“But I’m doing the work of three people.” (If that’s true, then kudos, you’re killin’ it. But try framing this as an accomplishment instead of a complaint. You need a raise to be made “commensurate” with your workload.)

What To Say If They Say . . .

. . . “This is higher than what we’ve budgeted for this role.”

“I understand. I also believe I bring more to the table than the average candidate. [Insert how].”

. . . “We don’t think you’re ready for that role.”

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“Help me understand what I can do to be ready.”

“We are thrilled to offer you (gut-punchingly lower amount than what you wanted)!”

“Thank you so much. I’m really excited about the opportunity, but—”

“What I’d need to feel comfortable accepting this role is ________.”

“If you’re able to match ________, I’d be eager to accept right now.”

“I know that the typical salary range for this role is ________, and I’m really looking to at least match that figure. Are you able to get to that level?”

After an initial round of negotiation: “Unfortunately, we can only go as high as ________.”

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Stay silent for long enough to take a breath. Then say, “I appreciate your flexibility in trying to make this work. I really want this job, so I’m hoping we can see what we can do to make both sides comfortable.” (No, you’re not offering a back rub, you’re talking about non-monetary items like stock, flexibility, benefits.) “How flexible are you with [insert benefit]?”

“I understand, and I am eager to accept. I’d like to set up a timeline to revisit the terms again in ___ months. Is that something you’re open to?” (Sets a concrete framework for a potential bump.)

After multiple rounds of negotiation: “I’m sorry, but we can only offer ________.”

Ask them what they can do to make up the difference. (Again: stock, flexibility, benefits, something else.)

“I understand. What if we set up a timeline to reassess in ___ months?”

How To Respond

If the deal is good:

Take it, and get to work. If an employer works to get you what you ask for, be appreciative and responsive. Sometimes, rapid decision-making is needed.

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If you aren’t sure:

“Thank you so much for the offer. I need a few days to think about it/weigh my options.”

If it’s still not good enough:

If it’s a job you’re in already:

  • Take what’s on the table and ask if you can reassess in six months.
  • Take what’s on the table and start looking for a new job immediately.
  • Walk away from that soul-crushing job and never look back. Of course, you’ve got to first ask yourself if you can afford it—and if it’s worth sucking it up a little bit longer until you find your next gig.

If it’s a job you’re negotiating for:

  • Take what’s on the table and ask if you can reassess in six months.
  • Say no as a tactic. Keep in mind: this only works if you’re actually able and willing to walk away. But in a prolonged negotiation, it can be effective: sometimes it’s the only thing that will make the person on the other end meet your demands.
  • Actually walk away. And when writing a formal “I’m out!” show your disappointment but be gracious so the door stays open: “I appreciate your going to bat for me. Unfortunately, I’m unable to accept at that amount, but I hope that we can cross paths in the future. Thank you and please don’t hesitate to call me if anything changes.” As Beyoncé says: The best revenge is that paper.
  • If they counteroffer with something good, take the job and get to work.

This article is adapted with permission from Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace by Jessica Bennett. Copyright © 2016 by Jessica Bennett. Published on September 13, 2016 by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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