Here’s *Exactly* What to Say During Salary Negotiations

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In the hierarchy of un-fun topics, salary negotiation usually falls between getting a root canal and watching the complete oeuvre of Pauly Shore. But earning what you're worth is incredibly important—not just for your individual paycheck, but so that women everywhere can reach parity. Whether you're gearing up for a salary offer or you're asking for a raise, let career expert Claire Wasserman guide you through the process. She's tackling some of the most common scenarios by sharing *exactly* what to say.

If you’ve been following my previous articles on salary negotiation, you should be feeling prepared with your market research and less anxious thanks to your breathing exercises. Now you just need the talking points.

Let’s go through some real-life salary negotiation scenarios so you can feel confident about how to handle anything that happens. One thing to note: This should be done in person, but if that's not possible, do it on Skype or on the phone. No emailing unless they give you the offer, which should always be in writing.

Here's exactly how to handle common salary-negotiation situations.

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If you're negotiating for a new job and…

They ask for your previous salary
Depending on where you live, it may actually be illegal for them to ask you what you're currently making. (Learn more here.) Since marginalized groups make less money in their first jobs, asking for their previous salary perpetuates the wage gap. Over a lifetime, that ends up costing women of color $1 million and white women $500k.

Option A: You decide not to share. One way is to say that your previous or current employer considers that information confidential.

Option B: You decide to share. Remind them that this salary was offered before you had the skills and experience you gained in that job. If you were underpaid, it’s not relevant to what you’re asking now, since you’ve rooted your request in the standard market rate.

On an online application, you can put zero. If they reject you because of that, well, you probably don’t want to work there anyway.

They ask how much you want to make
There is varying advice on this, but I recommend being the first to say what you want to make. If it’s rooted in market research and you can back it up with evidence, why wouldn’t you want to anchor high? If you’d still rather not say it, here are some scripts you can use:

“I’d love to give you a figure, but I was wondering if you’d be able to share your budget for this role. I don’t want to go in too high and I would love to get to a figure that would work for both of us.”

“According to my research, a day rate for a role like this is anywhere between [X number and Y number]. Because of my experience in [X industry], I’d be looking for the higher end of that scale.” Then share examples of why the top rate is best for you.

They continue to press you
You give them a range (in HR parlance, it’s called a “salary band”). This is based on the market research you did and should be relatively broad. Don’t be afraid to go high (as long as you can back it up!) since it signals that you know your value and you’re not a pushover. Try phrases like these:

“I’m looking at jobs that pay between X and Y, aiming for the high end of the range, of course.”

“I know that the market for people with my skill set is between X and Y.”

They low-ball you
Choose counteroffers that will position your target halfway between each of their offers and yours. When you concede, remind them of the market rate and bring in full compensation—things like flexibility, more vacation days, travel expenses, and career development. Things you can say:

“[Salary] was a great starting point, but I’d like to discuss this further.”

“I was a little surprised at the base salary. It came lower than what I've seen in the market.” (Remain silent. They should respond.)

They give you the offer
Ask for more time. Even if you want to say yes on the spot, don’t. This will increase your value and maybe even get them to offer you more. This phrase will help:

“This is a major life decision and I want to discuss it with my family. I’d like to request [X time] to confirm.”

what to say at salary negotiation
Photo: Stocksy/Jovo Jovanovic

And here's how to negotiate at your current job:

Set up the meeting
Do not spring it on your supervisors. When reaching out, I wouldn’t use the word “money,” nor would I be too abstract—you don’t want to catch them off-guard when you have the meeting and bring up money. Try one of these options:

“I’d like to schedule a time for us to chat about how I’m performing and how I can move ahead at this company.”

“I’d like to talk about my performance and my career path here.”

Involve them
Actively solicit feedback as you go along. Make sure you’re conducting a dialogue rather than presenting, making a demand, and waiting for a decision. Continually confirm that you’re on the same page with phrases like these:

“I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“Did I understand correctly that you are saying...”

Be empathetic
Anticipate the pressures your manager is under and proactively address them. Make sure you’re not making statements or asking questions that can elicit a "no" answer. Acknowledging their concerns and goals will go a long way. Something like this should work:

“I understand that the budget is tight this year, so what can we do to find a solution that works for both of us?”

Be positive
Instead of saying “the situation isn’t working,” bring a positive attitude and problem-solving approach to a negotiation. Do not give ultimatums.

  • Speak communally (use the word “we”).
  • Be aware of your body language; don’t cross your arms, lean forward, et cetera.
  • Express appreciation and empathy.
  • Emphasize shared goals.

If they won’t budge
Reiterate the market rate and re-state that you’re a top performer. If they still won’t budge, ask them when you can next discuss this with them. Make sure you know exactly what they need to see from you to get a raise.

You can also negotiate other aspects of your benefits package, like paid time off or a flexible schedule: This is what’s referred to as “full compensation.” You want to bring this up after you’ve negotiated for money. Before you discuss it with them, already prioritize in your mind which non-monetary things are most valuable to you.

Though it benefits you, everything you ask for should be positioned in terms of how it serves the company. Asking for continued education (like going to Ladies Get Paid workshops!) will teach you the skills you can use to contribute to your team.

Find someone with whom you can practice of all of these scenarios so you’re prepared with a response for any pushback that you’ll likely encounter. Bonus points if they do PR or marketing, since they can probably help you spin your argument to demonstrate its value for the company and not just you.

As long as you’re well-researched and respectful, you have nothing to fear. And remember, by speaking up for yourself, you’re speaking up for all of us.

The founder of Ladies Get Paid, Claire Wasserman is an educator, coach, and podcaster who helps women navigate their professional options to find fulfilling career paths.

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