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When’s the Right – and Wrong – Time to Negotiate Salary?

There comes a time in the hiring process when the prospective employer makes a salary offer. It’s a tense time for candidates. Is this enough? Should I ask for more? How do I do that without souring the whole deal?

You can negotiate salary – as well as other aspects of the job like benefits and hours – but there’s a right time and a wrong time to do this. In truth, it’s not that tricky, but it pays to be prepared. 

When is the wrong time to negotiate salary?

There’s this notion that one should always counter an offer and ask for more money. “Hey, the worst thing they can say is no, right?” Well, no. The worst outcome is that they rescind the offer. For example, a candidate accepted an offer and then had second thoughts. She contacted the employer asking for more money. The employer, annoyed because they had given their best offer, saw this behavior as a red flag and withdrew the offer. So, when you negotiate is key. There’s a right time and a wrong time in the hiring timeline to discuss salary. 

There are several scenarios where countering for a higher salary might be difficult, and it’s important to keep these other factors in mind. For example, a candidate reentering the workforce or trying to break into a different industry might have less leverage. Or a recent college grad who has limited work history. In a way, the employer is taking a gamble on you. They don’t know what you’re capable of. So, asking for more money could be chancy. 

Instead, step back and evaluate the entire job. Not just salary, but hours, benefits and organizational culture. Is getting in the door, into that company or industry, more important in the long term to your career? If you see a future with this company and you’re excited about it, why haggle and potentially lose a job over a few thousand dollars? Ask yourself, if I took money out of the equation, would I accept this job based on everything else about it?

The time to consider your comfort with the salary is after the verbal offer. And it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for 24 hours to think it over. It gives you time to do some research, talk to family and friends and discuss it with your recruiter. But after you accept the verbal offer is not the time to bring up crazy requests or make demands. When everyone thinks that you’re accepting and then out of nowhere come these wild concerns or you just start “ghosting” and not getting back to people, that’s when deals go south. Consider the offer stage as the beginning of your relationship with your future employer. Respect and professionalism should be the goal.

Likewise, be professional and honest with your recruiter. If you’re considering other offers, share the details with your recruiter. Transparency is appreciated by all parties because, ultimately, even if you don’t accept the offer or go with a better offer, you avoid hard feelings. You don’t waste everyone’s time. And you may want to keep that door open for the future.

When is the right time to negotiate salary?

Candidates should discuss salary expectations with their recruiter even before an offer. The staffing professional has a lot of useful information. For example, the market value of the position, or knowledge about the company and how much they are willing to negotiate. Some employers might flat out tell the recruiter that they can’t go beyond a certain dollar amount, for instance. 

It’s a very competitive labor market in many fields. If you have competing offers, you may have some leverage. That’s reasonable but be honest and be careful not to lead the employer on. 

Do your research. Know your skillset and its value in the marketplace. If you feel the offer is not commensurate with market value, with the expected range for that role, counter the offer. Also, if the salary is not in the range initially discussed, it’s certainly valid to push back. Again, follow the guidance of your recruiter to handle this professionally.

Countering an offer doesn’t always have to be about negotiating salary. An employer may say they can’t offer more money but might be open to adding other perks or benefits. It’s the whole package. What will be the expected working hours? Travel? Remote working arrangements? Time off? Benefits that cover your family? Have an honest discussion with yourself. What is most important in this job in terms of income, work arrangements and lifestyle?

Knowing when to negotiate salary is a matter of timing and knowledge. Most of this “negotiation” happens before an offer is even put on the table in discussions with your recruiter who knows the employer and your worth. Your most powerful weapon is a clear understanding of what you have to offer and how that skillset is valued in the marketplace. With that knowledge in hand, and a clear idea of your priorities, you can confidently negotiate.

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