13 tips: How to negotiate a higher starting salary for a new job during interview

There are two kinds of salary negotiations. One is when you are negotiating a starting salary & perks with a new company at the interview stage. The other is when you are negotiating a salary raise within a company you’ve been with for a while.

Let’s talk about the first kind: negotiating a higher starting salary for a new job.

job negotiation Here’s something no one will tell you: what you can get out of a salary negotiation is very much predetermined by your starting position. It’s not about using clever words (#3), deceipt (#13), or keeping a poker face (#1) (although that helps). But ultimately, it all starts with this:

Tip #1: Beggars can’t be choosers.

Who’s the beggar? Who is more desperate? Who’s got more to lose? Do you need this job more than the company needs to hire you of all applicants?

These factors outline the field where you’ll be tossing the negotiation ball around. And these factors are not set in the interview room; you come with them in the interview room.

So if you are drowning in debt or if this is the first job offer you have in six months, you’re in a bad place to negotiate. For one, you probably won’t have the nerve.

Some will argue that the interviewer can’t read your desperate situation off of your face, so if you just wear a poker face you’ll pull it off – but I remain sceptic. Becoming a good negotiator mostly comes with experience, and if you’re young, you’ve had like what – 20 job interviews in the last 5 years? 30? And how many of those 20 interviews involved you negotiating?

On the other hand, a hiring manager or a business owner may have 20 or 30 interviews a month. Or a week! If I had to bet on a negotiating situation with hiring manager/owner VS. the average job applicant, my money would be with the hiring manager. (Plus let’s face it, as a rule job-seekers are more desperate than job-givers.)

Tip #2: Don’t be a beggar

Beggars can’t be choosers, so what can you do to improvce your bargaining position? Don’t be a beggar. Don’t let yourself become desperate for a job or money. Build your savings. Make sure a job is not your only source of income. Maybe build a business. Work on your reputation. Build strong contacts.

But of course, those are not things you can do a day before the interview. Acquiring a rental property so you could have a side income and not be completely dependent on a job – that doesn’t happen overnight. Saving enough money to invest and receive a decent interest from takes years. Building a side-income or finding clients for freelance work takes months, at least.

Winning a negotiation takes a lot of prep-work which happens long before you even get a phone call for an interview. As I told you at the very beginning, your success depends mostly on factors which a predetermined long before you walk into the interview room.

I know it’s easy to say “Don’t be a beggar” while it’s actually pretty hard to do; but there’s no way around it. Build your finances, your reputation and your contacts. You’ll find negotiating much easier that way. And if you don’t do that, no matter how good of a “smooth-talker” you are, you’ll have a tough time getting a higher starting salary.

Tip #3: Be realistic

Negotiating isn’t some magic spell that will grant you whatever salary you want if you just say the right words.

For example, salary ranges for an assistant position in Bulgaria are between 200-300 € / month. Without negotiating, you’d be offered probably 200 €. With negotiating, you could maybe get 250 €, 280 €, or even a little above 300 €. However, even the best negotiator could not get 500 € for an assistant position.

Different companies have different levels of pay. An assistant position in a big-city corporation may easily be paid 280 € (close to the upper end), but an assistant position in a small-city family business will be paid 200 € or even lower. In the second case, a person negotiating their salary into 240 € should be considered a success.

In short, negotiating is about getting the upper limit of what you can realistically get. It’s not about magic.

So, you must get information on what the going payrate is and aim for a little more than that. But it all starts with you researching what’s realistic to expect. (That’s another thing you need to do prior to walking in the interview room.) Without that information, you can’t tell a good job offer from a bad one, and you wouldn’t know how far you can push for money.

Don’t overdo it.

Tip #4: Have them talk as much as possible

For each person on earth, there is a different way you can reach them. You can get under some people’s skin if you are quiet, others will like you if you are aggressive; some might have the greatest respect for down-to-earth, ordinary people, while others will like classy or aristocratic people. But you don’t know which kind the interviewer belongs to, so how do you know what’s the best way to conduct yourself?

It doesn’t matter.

There are different ways towards different people, but how you conduct yourself is just a coating. Setting up great impressions during the interview (and laying the groundwork for negotiating a higher starting salary) boils down to this: show them that you know what they want and you can give it to them.

That’s why you have to let them talk as much as possible – so you can find out what they want and expect from a future employee. Once you know what they need, it will be easy to convince them you can deliver.

Another bonus for you is that the more people talk, the more stuff slips out – stuff you can draw conclusions from. While telling you about the company, the interviewer might mention how business trips are handled, or maybe they’ll slip an opinion about your future boss, or you could find out coffee is free but tastes awful.

When people “slip” things out like that, often they don’t even notice it. So when it’s your turn to talk and you rehash what they’ve said so far, you have a great chance of coming off as super-smart and being able to figure things out for yourself. (Even though you really just listened, and didn’t do any detective work.)

Tip #5: Decide on deal-breakers

Also called “walk-away” points, these are the things that are most important to you and you are ready to walk away if you don’t get them.

For example, what’s the lowest salary you would accept? That’s something you should keep secret and only know for yourself, but you need to be clear about where you’d draw the line. NEVER tell the other party what’s the lowest you can go, because who would pay you more if they could pay you less?

Besides salary, there are other things that could be deal-breakers. Here in Bulgaria, I had some job offers with reasonable pay but with unreasonable working hours. See for me, a deal-breaker was if I was required to work more than 40 hours a week. That was something I wouldn’t agree with unless I was beyond desperate.

Another non-monetary deal-breaker for me was travel. Or being called to work on weekends when there was “urgent work” to be done.

If you face a deal-breaker, you can try and negotiate out of it. But if it doesn’t work, be prepared to walk away.

Tip #6: Be prepared to walk away

If you’re so desperate for a job that you can’t walk away from a bad job-offer, then you’re violating Tips #1 and #2: Beggars can’t be choosers; Don’t be a beggar. What do you expect?

Tip #7: An eye for an eye: bring “eyes” for exchange

Have things you’re ready to throw on the negotiation table, in exchange for getting something that you want. (In negotiations, you should only give up something if you gain something in return.)

Let’s say you have no problem working an occasional Saturday, or working late sometimes, or dealing with a 1 hour commute. Those are all things that are appealing to an employer but most applicants are not okay with them. (I mean, sacrificing a Saturday is really an issue if you are newly married like me, or if you have a young baby, or if you just really want to have a Saturday to yourself.)

But, if those things are not a problem for you at all, don’t just volunteer that to your interviewer. Inside, you know it’s no bother for you at all, but act as if it is a bother. When they ask “Can you work an occasional Saturday when need be?”, don’t say “Sure, no prob, I have nothing better to do anyway.” Instead, say “Oh shoot, that’s going to be tough for me. I really like to visit my family/relax/play with my dog on Saturdays… [pause, sigh] but maybe we could figure out some compensating arrangement.”
If they want you to work one Saturday a month, ask for two weekdays off in return. Or ask for -2 work hours every Friday. Or ask for three days of working from home.

The same is true if you want something out of them. You can ask them to work from home once a week, but immediately follow that with an offer for something in return. For example, you could say “You know, I wondered if we could figure out some way for me to work from home on Fridays. In return, I could help you guys out with redesigning the company website in my free time. Or take one day out of my paid leave for every four Fridays I work from home. What do you say?”

In negotiations, it’s an eye for an eye.

Tip #8: Rehearse your lines

How will you answer this: “Hmm, you spent the last 3 years at home raising kids? Maybe you’re not up to date for this position.”

Or how about this: “We can’t offer you the salary you want, not with you having just 3 years of experience in the field.”

Think about how to phrase your answer. Say it out loud. If it feels weird, it needs more work. Recite your answer in front of someone else – ask them what they think, how it makes them feel. In short, get feedback. If possible, get feedback from successful people and people who are great at interviews and getting higher paying jobs.

But in any case, rehearse. You may think you have it all together in your head, but trust me, shit happens. If you have your answer rehearsed, you will be able to say it sleek and smart even if you are nervous or caught off-guard. Otherwise, you could easily stutter or go blank. Trust me.

Tip #9: Tell them how YOU can help them get what THEY want

What do tthey want? (This should be easy for you if you’ve read Tip #4.) What are the wins for them? How are you the right person for this? What specific actions will you take to solve their problems?

For example, they say “We want to increase sales”. What do you say – “I have 2 years of experience in sales” ? No, that’s not good enough. How about “I’m looking forward to working on that as soon as I start”? Nope, that’s just hot air and nothing specific.
If they want to increase sales, you can’t offer them advice without first knowing where they are now. So ask them about their current situation with sales. Suppose they say, “We do XX sales a week through phone calls.” Do you offer your advice now? No. Get more details – ask them how many calls they do a week to get those XX sales. Ask them if they have a script. Get as much detail as you can.

Then you get to tell them about your ideas. Again, stay specific: “Have you tried internet sales/door to door/something else? Tweak your script in the closing part. Try a special offer.” Then you can take things further by giving them several alternatives on what could be a possible way out of a dead point in sales.

The position you’re applying for doesn’t matter – it could be in accounting or marketing or sales or HR. Be specific and speak a language they can understand. If you’re an IT talking to an IT, use IT slang. If you’re talking to a marketing manager looking for an IT guy for the department, speak in human terms.

Tip #11: Always go for more than you actually need

… so that when they try to negotiate you down, you’ll have enough spare room.
But don’t go too high or you’ll price yourself out of hiring. Or you could make a laughing stock out of yourself for not knowing what the going rates are.

Tip #12: Look your best

A Bulgarian saying states “They meet you by the clothes, they see you off by the brains.” Meaning, first impressions are important and your looks could set you up with an easy start… or a hard one.

Play any con-movie and you’ll see that the first step towards creating a certain impression is to “look the part”. Wear a white coat and a sthetoscope and people assume you’re a doctor. Wear glasses and a book and people assume you’re smart. Wear a business suit and a tie and the recruiters might just think you’re their best hire.

Tip #13: Don’t be the first to bring money up – don’t show interest

Imagine how you’d act if you didn’t need that job at all – if the interviewer had begged you to spare some time and talk to them. Would you be eager to talk money then? Hell no. You’ll take your time, talk about other aspects of the job, see if it fits you. Feel it out.

The first one to bring money up (“Let’s discuss the financial side of this”) is officially the more interested one. Why? Because talking money is the next stage in negotiating, and a stage one step closer to finalizing the deal. So the one who brings money up is the one eager to finalize things sooner. That’s admitting interest, and it automatically puts that party in the weaker position.

Why is that? Why does showing interest put you in a weaker position? Because if you are interested and they are not, that means YOU want something out of THEM, while they want nothing out of you. In which case you have to give them something to compensate them for their trouble. (Remember Tip #7: an eye for an eye.)

So don’t be the first to bring money up. Stall, play the game and wait for them to do it.

You’re not interested, remember?

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6 thoughts on “13 tips: How to negotiate a higher starting salary for a new job during interview”

  1. Hmm. There is a lot of truth and also some not-so-much-truth here.
    Yes.You must know what you want and be ready to leave if you don’t want it.
    You ARE interested in the position. You have applied your CV, you have come to the office in working hours. So yes, you are interested. And yes, you need the money. If you didn’t, you would have found something better to do than working 8 hours a day. So my advice is “talk about it. don’t be shy”. Some interviewers don’t talk about money on the first interview. Break this! “I have the desire to work for you and I will do it for your money. How much would you pay me?”
    I’ve done this and here is how it works:
    At the end of the first interview :
    Interviewer: Any additional questions?
    Me: What salary are you willing to offer me?
    I: 800 leva
    M: No way. If you don’t improve your offer significantly, please don’t call me for the second interview.(And shortly after that I left the interview)

    (second interview with the same person. they are asking about technical stuff and talking about the company)
    I: So we have position for junior developer, developer and senior developer with salaries of 800, 1200 and 1400 respectively. Where would you position yourself?
    M: Between developer and senior developer.
    I: Yes. That’s my opinion, too.
    M. But I won’t work for you for less than 2000 after taxes.
    (After some negotiation he oferred 1400 and I said good bye)
    When I returned to my computer, the headhunter messaged me that the employer has oferred me a 2000 salary.
    So be prepared to defend what you want (written in the article above too), but never be shy about money.

  2. Nice. Obviously they needed you more than you needed THEIR job – proven by the fact that THEY hunted you down (with a head-hunter) and THEY were the ones to call you for a job. It wasn’t you looking for a job and applying with hundreds of other people.

    Although I can’t imagine someone hiring a head hunter for a position that pays 800 leva – ? What gives?!

  3. Well it’s my mistake to call the HR agency head hunters :)
    (well, in fact that is what they do – I still receive mails from this agency proposing nice jobs from time to time)
    Sorry for it.

    But it doesn’t matter anyway. Yes they needed me, more than I needed them. I don’t know how many people they were at the interviews – maybe they had other candidates too. But even if there were others they made their best to hire me.

  4. HR agencies also do head-hunting. If they came looking for you (instead of you sending a resume for a job ad), it’s head-hunting. Good job :)

  5. Actually this article could as well be used on a subject of How to Pick-up Women. But great job.

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