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Four things you absolutely must do in your salary negotiation

Keep these tips on hand the next time you’re interviewing for a new job or angling for a raise.

Four things you absolutely must do in your salary negotiation
[Images: Ylivdesign/iStock; hjalmeida/iStock]

Countless job seekers and employees still struggle with negotiating salaries and advocating for themselves. But let’s say you’ve worked yourself up to asking for a higher salary. You could still be missing out on perks that can further enhance your compensation package–and they may not be that far out of reach.

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“The whole salary negotiation process is a conversation,” says Jacqueline Twillie, a negotiation expert and founder of leadership development firm ZeroGap. “It’s not a battle.” With that in mind, here are some negotiation tricks to keep in mind the next time you’re interviewing for a new job or angling for a raise.

Never accept a verbal offer

“Don’t just flat out accept it, even if it sounds great and you’re really excited,” Twillie says. She recommends that job seekers always hold off on saying yes to a verbal offer, even in cases where they feel sure about the job. “I would always ask for an opportunity to review everything in writing–but express enthusiasm so that they know that you’re interested,” she says. The money might sound good at first blush, but when you look at benefits like healthcare, you may find the coverage is less than you anticipated; if so, you may want to negotiate a better salary.

“It’s much harder to come back and negotiate after you’ve already accepted,” Twillie says. “And it puts you in a stronger position when you haven’t accepted yet.”

Do your research on pay parity

In states like California, pay parity laws that have gone into effect over the past few years could help women negotiate salary increases, according to Tracy Saunders, a former recruiter who started the Women’s Job Search Network. The Equal Pay Act in California states that employees who do “substantially similar work” must be paid equally, even if their job titles are not identical. “Companies are actually adjusting women’s salaries outright,” Saunders says. “Understanding those laws is one way to receive a more substantial kind of increase.”

The same is true of another law that seeks to address the gender pay gap, which prohibits employers from asking about a prospective employee’s salary history in states like Massachusetts and California. In the event that a recruiter does ask for your current salary, try to shift the conversation to your salary expectations; Saunders and Twillie also recommend talking about salary expectations early in the interview process. “It’s really important that in the first phone screen, when they bring up the money, you talk about the market rate and not your current salary–especially if your first salary is less than the market [rate],” Twillie says.

Figure out what you need to be successful–and ask for it

As you go through an interview process or negotiation, it’s important to get as much information as you can about the role you’re up for. “Try to ask questions that give you a deeper understanding of the work you’ll be doing beyond the job description,” Twillie says. “If you can understand what you’ll be doing upfront, you’ll be able to negotiate for different things.”

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That could include a travel allowance or a certification–or it could be as simple as the right equipment. “People think they’ll be provided with the tools,” Twillie says, “but if you don’t ask for those things, you’re not going to get them.” Asking for what you need during the negotiation process, she argues, can prove more effective.

One of the best ways to figure out what a new role may entail is talking to employees. According to Twillie, some companies have started allowing people they’re interviewing to shadow employees, which she suggests job seekers try to do. “If you spend more than 10 minutes with a person, they’re going to drop their guard and be more open,” she says. “So if you can spend that half day on site, it really gives you an opportunity to learn about the culture and to talk to employees.”

Get creative with benefits

As companies race to snag the best employees, many have rounded out their compensation packages with more attractive benefits and perks–say, a flexible vacation policy or the ability to work remotely. Some employers are even offering to assist with student loan repayments. Twillie notes that there are countless ways to negotiate benefits, and that would-be employees can even repurpose a perk that they don’t need: One person she coached asked to put a superfluous relocation package toward repaying her student loans. “If they’re giving you a bucket of money,” she says, “see if you can use it in a different area.”

For parents, another option is to request a bump in pay over the summer, to account for the cost of childcare; and for employees who yearn to be parents, employers might help subsidize fertility treatments or adoption assistance. (“These are really high-ticket, high-price benefits,” Saunders adds.) Both Twillie and Saunders urge job seekers to think outside of the box and ask for benefits that aren’t necessarily included in the “standard” compensation package. “When you’re starting to think about negotiating, it just depends on what your goals are,” Saunders says. “There are some new benefits coming into play that are intangibly valuable–or priceless.”

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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