By Phyllis Brust

Salary negotiation can be a minefield.  Perhaps you are excited to have an offer but disappointed in the pay.  Or perhaps you want to see if you can get a larger starting salary. Or, you may be happy with the salary offered and prefer not to negotiate. The decision to negotiate is yours. 

I once learned several months into a great job that a colleague, hired at the same time for an equivalent position, was earning $5,000 more a year.  She negotiated and I didn’t.  This job was a career change and a big leap forward for me--like many, I felt lucky just to have the position.  But, I was hurt.  If you aren’t sure whether to negotiate, visualize how you might feel months ahead if you learn that a colleague is earning more.  That could help you decide what to do.  Feel uncomfortable about asking?  Read #9 below.


Here are ten tips to help you navigate the salary issue. Let common sense and your own comfort level guide you.

  1. The best time to negotiate is after you receive an offer but before you accept it. 
  2. Most employers will only focus on the low number if you give a salary range.
  3. Avoid including your salary history when applying for a job.  Instead, write that you would be happy to supply the information if you are deemed a serious candidate.  Exception: Include salary information if the ad states that candidates will not be considered without it.
  4. Avoid answering questions about salary during an interview, but you may be pressed for an answer. The general rule is to ask 5-15% about what you’d really accept.  If asked in an interview, you can tell the interviewer that you are focused on the job itself and not the salary.  You can ask the interviewer what the job generally pays.  These tactics can work unless a prospective employer is determined to learn your salary range.  In that case, salary is almost certainly being used as a criterion in selecting the candidate.
  5. Do your homework:  Visit salary-focused Web sites such as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [] and   Do you know anyone in that field or organization that you can ask? 
  6. Never ask what a job pays during an interview.
  7. If you receive an offer and do not like the salary, explain why you deserve more.  Use the research you have done and your own achievements and expertise as your basis.  Benefits may also be negotiable.  It is reasonable to tell the employer, “Thank you” and ask if you can get back to him or her at a mutually agreed-upon time.  Be genuinely enthusiastic about the offer.
  8. Break the amount you seek into to a smaller amount—instead of an annual salary, focus on the hourly or monthly difference between the salary offered and the salary you seek.  Watch television commercials for insurance sales and charity solicitations—they are masters at this, e.g., commercials urging you to spend pennies a day.
  9. There is a salary negotiation strategy for every level of assertiveness.  Are you uncomfortable negotiating?  Try this:  Pause slightly after being told the salary and ask if it is negotiable (silence implies dissatisfaction.)
  10. Don’t ask for anything unrealistic.  Don’t sell yourself short either.

What happened in my case?  My boss matched the salary to that of my colleague.  That was one of my first jobs.  I had no way of knowing that he was an extraordinarily caring person and that was not the norm. (He’s now a chair and professor at the College of Staten Island/CUNY Graduate Center.)

Copyright ©2013  Phyllis Brust

All Rights Reserved

Phyllis Brust is the director of the Greater Chicago Midwest HERC and the dual career director at the University of Chicago.  Previously, she worked in the career offices at Yale College,  Yale School of Management, Muhlenberg College and the University of Chicago.  Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and she contributed to an edition of Resumes for Dummies.   She has a BS, MS and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.  Check the Twitter@GCMHERC for occasional job tips.