Welcome to Stick to the Script, a regular feature where we get experts to tell you what to say in sticky money situations.
Negotiating a job offer may not be something everyone does when they get a new job, but it's something that most of us should do. But it can be hard to know exactly what to say. We asked Vicki Salemi, career expert for employment website Monster, for some go-to phrases for when negotiating salary, paid time off, and more.
“It is illegal in many states right now for employers to ask you your current salary,” Salemi says.
If it’s not illegal in your state and you’re still getting asked, Salemi suggests this wording:
“I’d rather learn more about the job first and talk about salary later.”
Read more: Looking for a new job? Check out our best tips for how to conduct a successful job search.
If you’re filling out an online application and you have to give an answer, Salemi suggests putting in a dummy salary, even as low as $1.
“The recruiters searching the system may cap candidates at a certain salary, so you don’t want them to reject you just based on that,” she says. “If you can, put $1 or something you know will be lower than the range, so you come in under their maximum search.”
“It’s not a bad thing to talk about salary early,” Salemi says. “They don’t want to waste your time if you’re not on the same page. But if they do ask you for a specific number, I’d create your own range.”
The script Salemi suggests:
“Based on my research, skills and experience, I’m looking at a ballpark of X, or a range of X to Y.”
“Then see what they say,” she says. “They may say OK, or they may say that’s over our range for this position."
At that point, Salemi suggests saying:
She is also quick to note that whenever possible, salary negotiations should happen on the phone, not over email.
“It’s a conversation,” she says.
Read more: How women can get the salary they deserve.
“First of all you never accept the offer on the spot,” Salemi says. “Even if you’re excited, even if you’re over the moon, never say yes on the spot. Companies expect you to negotiate and are more surprised when you don’t than when you do. So when you get the offer, remove emotions. This is a business decision."
She suggests saying:
“Thank you, let me get back to you.”
The next step, Salemi says, is to benchmark the offer against your own knowledge of the industry. You’ve hopefully already done your research and know what’s fair for the position and your experience.
“You should be doing the research via multiple avenues so you can come up with a number you’re worthy of earning,” she says.
“When you go back, always be grateful,” Salemi says.
She suggests saying:
“Thank you for the offer. It’s really enticing. This role is very interesting to me. I did some further research, and based on the market and my skills and experience I’m hoping for a higher amount.”
And Salemi says you shouldn’t worry if you don’t sound perfect.
“I’ve had so many situations as a recruiter where the candidates were not eloquent and it didn’t matter,” she says. “What matters is that you say it.”
“Can you go any higher?”
“Is there extra money in the budget for the salary?”
“I’m looking for a specific number.”
Another technique Salemi recommends is the “if/then” statement: if they can bring the number up, then you’ll say yes.
The if/then statement in practice:
“If you can do X then I’m on board, I’m fully in, I’ll sign tonight.”
“Remember that, pre-closing the deal, the company is on your side,” she says. “If they’re offering you a job, they want you to accept. They want you to start. They want to get you up and running. So if you say, ‘If you can do X, I’m on board, I’m fully in, I’ll sign tonight,’ then they know you mean business, that this is going to happen, and that it’s worth their time to get the approvals for the higher salary.”
“When you go into the negotiation, I would say go to salary first,” Salemi says.
Once you’ve agreed on a salary, you can negotiate for other perks, like a signing bonus or extra vacation days. (For more ideas, check out seven things to negotiate other than salary.)
“Paid time off is the bonus,” she says. “It’s sprinkles on top of the ice cream sundae."
She suggests that you can say:
“I was reviewing the personal time policy — can you add five days? If you can, I’d appreciate it, and I would be happy to move forward at that point.”
Salemi has used this technique herself.
“At my last recruiting job there were 10 personal days a year, and that seems really minimal to me. I love to travel. So I got the offer, I negotiated, the salary went up," she says.
Then she said:
“Can I ask for more days?”
Read more: The best budgeting spreadsheet for vacations.
Salemi cautioned that, while you always want to get everything in writing, additional personal days may not be included in your offer letter. In that case, you can confirm it in email.
She emphasizes that there are no hidden solutions in negotiations. It’s all about getting to a package that you feel good about.
“You’re looking for the right fit with an employer, and right fit can mean different things to different people,” she says. “For some, it’s job title and salary. For some it’s flexibility to work from home and opportunity for growth. For some it’s camaraderie. For some it’s benefits. You need to know what you want. There’s no right or wrong answers.”
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Image: Nastia Kobzarenko
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