Job Hunting

How to Negotiate a Higher Starting Salary

A group of students working on laptops
Coming to the table prepared can help you earn thousands more each year.

Being new to the tech job market can be overwhelming. With so much young talent trying to get a foot in the door, you may feel nervous about how your skills compare. So how can you ensure you don’t under or over-sell yourself with your first offer?

Here are some helpful tips to solidify your value as a candidate in your new field.

Do your homework

It can be challenging to know your worth in comparison to other candidates when you’re entering a new field. Still, it’s important to research the salary range and cost of living for the positions and cities you’re interested in. This will help to clarify your value and give you a starting point for negotiations. 

While your salary expectations should be reasonable and within the market range for the posted position, you deserve to spend 40+ hours a week working to live, not living to work. After all, your time and skills are valuable. So what should you consider as you make informed salary negotiation decisions?

Consider this – salary discussions often begin during your first conversation with an employer. Preparing for these conversations ahead of time can put you in the best position to negotiate and can set your professional and financial trajectory. As you consider your prospects, remember that employment is an ongoing transaction; an employer compensates you in exchange for your skills and expertise. For employers to be profitable, they must make more from their employees than their employees earn. This means employers will always have the financial upper hand – and employees will always have room to negotiate. Thus, arm yourself with your research and aim high – most companies don’t expect you to take the first offer they give you. 

Consider what you can and can’t control

Your skills, passion, and persistence may give you a leg up on your fellow applicants, but there are many other positive and negative factors in and outside of your control that may influence your wiggle room for negotiation.  

Here are three things that may be outside of your control as you negotiate:

  1. Local talent and job market. Depending where you live, the cost of labor will vary. In areas with a growing economy and not enough talented people to meet that demand, companies will compete for available talent through higher pay, benefits, office perks, and other professional bonuses. 
  1. Cost of living. Metro areas are often hubs of economic opportunity, but can be expensive. While these areas may fetch higher salaries, this doesn’t always offset the increased cost of living. Research the expected salary in your area carefully. If you live in a rural area and ask for the salary of someone in a metro area, a recruiter may not take you seriously. Similarly, if you live in an area where the cost of labor is high and ask for the national average for your role, you might miss out on tens of thousands of dollars per year.
  1. The economy. When the economy dips, it not only impacts the stock market and interest rates, but may also cause companies to tighten their belts by way of hiring freezes, downsizing, or less room for negotiation. 

In contrast, here are four things that may be within your control as you negotiate:

  1. Your savings and safety net. With a savings cushion or financial help from family or friends, you may have more flexibility to accept a lower-paying job that offers amazing learning and growth potential. This may not be a long-term solution, but can relieve some financial and professional pressure.
  1. Your career goals. Mission-based companies and nonprofits need developers, designers, and data scientists like everyone else, but often pay less than for-profit businesses. Consider this tradeoff if it meets your long-term goals.      
  1. Benefits and job perks. The time may come when you need benefits like health care, paid leave, or flexible hours. Consider how a lower-paying job with excellent benefits may impact your personal life now and in the future. 
  1. Relocation. Not everyone can pick up and move, but other job markets may have more opportunities, better pay, or may provide more work-life balance.

10 pro negotiation tips to help you earn more

So you’ve done your homework, know your worth, and have considered all factors that may contribute to your salary. So how can you maximize your earning potential with your very first offer? 

Here are ten pro negotiation tips that will get you started:

  1. Always negotiate. This is an expected part of the job process. Most employers have a range they are authorized to offer, and begin on the low end of the range for their benefit and in anticipation of negotiations. Remember, you will never lose an offer for trying to negotiate in a professional and respectful manner. If a company threatens you for this, they are likely not worth working for. When you have an offer in hand, this means the company has decided you are the best person for the job. Use this leverage to ask for what you deserve.   
  1. Do your research. Being prepared is key. Utilize sites like Glassdoor, Payscale, and ZipRecruiter to help you understand your position’s  pay range in your city. Start with a simple Google search of “how much does a web developer make in [city/town/region]”. If possible, narrow it further by searching by company, and be sure to consider other potential factors impacting the local job market and cost of living.  
  1. Prepare to discuss salary on the first phone screen. Do your research, have a range in mind, and practice having the conversation multiple times so you’re ready for it. What you say in the first conversation will impact your negotiating power later on, so it’s important to not miss the opportunity.
  1. Always give a range, and aim high. If you are asked to provide a salary number, always give a range so you’re not locked into one amount. Aim for the high end of that range. For instance, if a junior data scientist makes on average $90-100k in your region, ask for $95-$105k and aim for the higher end of that range. 
  1. Be realistic. Don’t ask for an amount unreasonably out of your researched range, otherwise you’ll look unprepared and the employer won’t take you seriously. At the same time, don’t ask for tens of thousands less than your local average just to look more attractive. You’ll be missing out on the cash you deserve. 
  1. Treat it like a conversation. It’s easy to feel like salary negotiation is a confrontation with two people competing to get their way. Remember that you both have priorities, so negotiation is just about understanding the other person’s (or company’s) needs and addressing how you can meet them. If you receive a low offer, ask how they arrived at that amount. After they explain, you can gently push back and say “based on my research, it seems a range of $x-$y is standard for the local market – could you share how your compensation package aligns with that?”
  1. Know that compensation is more than just the salary. Compensation includes benefits, bonuses, equity, and perks in addition to cash, so consider the whole compensation package. Your financial needs and priorities are an important part of the negotiation process. 
  1. Remember that everything is negotiable. You may not be able to negotiate your salary, but you might be able to negotiate other perks like an extra week of paid time off each year. You can also ask for a performance review at three or six months with consideration for a merit increase as well. 
  1. Take at least 24 hours to consider an offer. You do not have to accept or even negotiate on the spot. Instead, take time to evaluate your options and prepare for negotiations. This may increase your value in the eyes of the company and can work to your benefit. 
  1. Always get it in writing. Never sign anything until you have the full, agreed-upon offer in writing and you’ve reviewed it thoroughly. Remember, if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.

Finally, during the process of negotiations remember that you have worked hard to get where you are and deserve to be fairly compensated for the investment you will make in your future employer. Arm yourself with research and confidence and negotiate your way into their hearts. They will be lucky to have you.