Negotiating a Salary (and Other Benefits)

negotiating a salary

2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on negotiating a salary, but you may also want to check out our most recent advice on salary negotiation.

Ladies, have you ever negotiated your salary or other benefits? Share your tales from the negotiating table with us — we want to hear your wins! This probably won’t be terribly relevant for all of the summer associates out there about to accept job offers, as those are usually lockstep/nonnegotiable offers — but perhaps one of you has a story about someone who actually did negotiate that offer.

(Pictured at top: As You Pass, originally uploaded to Flickr by Brian Talbot. Some social media images via Stencil.)

Some thoughts out of the gate on negotiating a salary:

  • Negotiate. There are all kinds of statistics about how women don’t ask for more money — even Sheryl Sandberg’s inclination was to take the first offer for her Facebook position!
  • If you’re starting at a new company, negotiate hard. Companies will pay a lot more for a new employee than an existing one. (This is one of the reasons people advise you to jump ship to climb the ladder!)
  • Overcome your fear of negotiating. I’ve seen all sorts of tricks for how to get over your fear of negotiating, such as focusing on other people who will be affected by your salary (such as your kids, your ailing mother, or so forth), or focusing on your value to the company.
  • Let them name the number first. There are entire theories (such as the Noel Smith-Wenkle Salary Negotiation Method) about how to sidestep the question so the employer is the one who has to give you a number first.
  • Assess the company benefits you’ll be getting as part of the negotiation package — and look for differences between your current job’s benefits package and the job offer on the table. Look at the flex spending opportunities, 401K (including the match, any vesting time, or waiting time before you qualify to invest in it), and dependent care package (even if you don’t yet have kids!). If the new company can’t match it, see if you can put a monetary amount on it — even something like a free monthly subway card will save you more than a thousand dollars a year.
  • If possible, negotiate in person or over the phone — avoid email. There was a lot of conversation a year or so ago about a female academic who had a job offer rescinded when she tried to negotiate; one of the missteps that people pointed at was her fairly cold email requesting everything.
  • We’ve rounded up a bunch of further reading below, but this Harvard Business Review article about how to use “relational accounts” when you start negotiating is really helpful. From the article:

First, you want to explain to your negotiating counterpart why — in their eyes — it’s legitimate for you to be negotiating (i.e., appropriate or justified under the circumstances). Sheryl says that in her negotiations with Facebook, she told them, “Of course you realize that you’re hiring me to run your deal team so you want me to be a good negotiator.” Sandberg wanted Facebook to see her negotiating as legitimate because, if she didn’t negotiate, they should be worried about whether they’d made the right hire.

Second, you want to signal to your negotiating counterpart that you care about organizational relationships. After pointing out that they should want her to be a good negotiator, Sheryl recounts saying, “This is the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table.” In other words, “I am clear that we’re on the same team here.”

Ladies, what are your top tips for negotiating? Those of you who’ve hired women who’ve negotiated, what was your takeaway?

Further reading:

Negotiating a salary is so intimidating -- and so many women DON'T negotiate at all! (Sheryl Sandberg almost took the first offer for her Facebook job!) We rounded up the best tactics and tricks to help you negotiating a salary that represents your worth -- as well as which other benefits to take into account.



  1. Sooo I was desperate for a job when I accepted offer at my current firm. They asked me how much I wanted, I gave a number lower than what I really wanted based on a current associate telling me previously that they would never pay that, and was offered my number at second interview which I accepted wo any negotiating. Have I completely screwed myself for making what I’m worth at this firm in the future? How do you successfully negotiate pay raises? I’m so bummed that I didn’t have a better handle on negotiating at the time.

    • Anonymous :

      I’d also love to know more about negotiating raises/increased benefits.

    • If you’re desperate for a job, it’s much harder to negotiate. A lot of times they know you’re desperate, and then you have no leverage. Even if they don’t know you’re desperate, it’s understandable not to want to risk an offer over a few $K.

    • Wildkitten :

      I successfully negotiated my starting salary and have been unable to negotiate a raise (going on two years here). So, you’re definitely not screwed, they aren’t directly related.

    • Shopaholic :

      I don’t think you screwed yourself. FWIW, I took a job at my current firm below market about 4 years ago. I’ve worked really hard and done some good work here and I recently asked for a raise (didn’t give them a number) and I got essentially got a 30% raise. I would do your job as best you can and ask for a raise at the next opportunity (one year anniversary, annual review etc.) Especially for a small firm, junior lawyers are a dime a dozen but if you’ve worked there for a year and have done good work, they’d rather just compensate you fairly than go through the process of interviewing, hiring and training.

  2. lost academic :

    This post came at the perfect time! I have a big in person interview day (3rd round) for a senior position at a firm I respect in about 10 days. The recruiter emailed me today to ask about my salary history and “expectations”. I got a chill just reading the words – I’ve been in academia for the last 6 years and while I’ve done some consulting on the side in the role for which I’ll be hired, I’m very anxious about naming a high number without a strong background behind it. I googled around for salary information but didn’t come up with a good concept of this level. The recruiter asked in an email, as I mentioned – is there a good way to try to sidestep this question until we’re in person? I am loathe to respond in writing at this time.

    • No matter what, state that academics are paid less than those in industry (can you quantify the percentage, even in a range, e.g. “30% to 80% less”) due to a variety of factors, and that you expect that your salary would reflect that disparity.

      “I’ve done some consulting on the side in the role for which I’ll be hired”

      How much have you charged per hour for that? From that number, back into a salary by subtracting costs of employer’s portion of your FICA, medical benefits, vacation, sick time, employer’s contribution to your 401(k), etc. Expect that your “real” hourly salary is about 1/2 to 2/3 of what you charge in a consulting role, then multiply by 2,000 hours per year to get an annual salary.

      • Anonymous :

        Perhaps, but even that number was a bit of a low amount based on the people I was working with and since it was limited time and it was before my terminal degree. If I translated that number directly into a salary it would still be a bit low for someone with my education and above all my experience. But this senior role does represent a big step up and I am aiming to be compensated appropriately for it.

        For that matter, can anyone recommend good places to find salary information? I never seem to have much luck.

        • What industry are you in?

          • Anonymous :

            Environmental consulting, a specific branch of it. (Air)

          • Would your professors be able to get you in touch with someone who graduated a few years before you and can give you some general salary data? Career services at your school? Do you know anyone from an industry group who can at least ballpark the salary?

            You don’t have to say “My friend’s cousin gave me this information;” you just say that your understanding is that market rate for that role is such an amount, and that given the increased demands on your time, number of people you will be managing, etc., it is an appropriate increase from what you are making in academia.

          • lost academic :

            No, the faculty here are entirely focused on academia, they neither have the information nor the experience to do that sort of thing, and in fact usually send people to me for advice on junior/intro roles at these firms. I’ve had a lot of success placing people that way. I have plenty of outside experience in this field (I’m returning to it, in fact, from this hiatus in academia) . ( For that matter, the majority of PhD graduates from here are not citizens and do not remain unless they are postdoc’ing – they are generally not able to work in the private sector without sponsorship and are generally more interested in returning home to do that kind of work.)

  3. This is such an IMPORTANT topic, Kat!

    I started desparate for a job, so I took up the manageing partner’s offer to work after I bumped into him in the elevator. I had a law degree but was serveing subpeenie’s at $50 per service, for a guy that pinched my tuchus and stared at my boobie’s.

    So after I worked for 2 year’s I asked for a raise and got it. Meanwhile, I was prooveing myself invaluable to the firm and the manageing partner, so I asked my Dad what should I do now that I did nearly all the WC cases? Dad said I should consider goeing out on my own (and he would bankroll me), or I should ask to be a partner. I told him I did NOT want to do everything for myself and also did NOT want to negotiate directly.

    So I asked Dad to do the negotieating and the rest his history. Dad was VERY shreud, and he got me a big raise and partnership benefit’s includeing the special top hat plan for retirement. In turn, all I have to do is BILL, BILL, Bill, and the manageing partner and Frank take care of the rest. This week, I will SURPASS 4900 hours for the year, and will likely hit 8000, and if I do i will get a $25,000 bonus! YAY! So keep your chin up, and do NOT hesitate to have your dad, or for that matter any MAN, do your negotiateing for you. DOUBEL YAY if you do!

    • ELLEN what is this madness?? I have been a silent stalker of this site for a long time but I have to speak up, NO MAN does anything for me!! I do it myself!! Men and women need to learn how to negotiate with each other. I’ve negotiated with women and it’s a piece of cake. I’ve negotiated with men and it was brutal but damn if I didn’t power through. Men negotiating with men is a tired story. Bring it on I say! Time to make female negotiation as competitive as male.

    • Everything Kate said, plus:

      I sure hope you accidently left a decimal point out. Even if you worked 24 hours a day, every single day in 2015, there’s no way you could have billed 4900 hours already. If you’ve billed 4900 hours for the year, then you’ve got some real issues with padded billables and you might want to work on your negotiations skills for when the ethics board comes after you.

  4. A Nonny Moose :

    I was able to negotiate when unemployed and with my new employer knowing my previous salary. I didn’t get much of an increase (4% over the initial offer), but I was proud as it was the first time I had tried to do it.

  5. Veronica Mars :

    I tried negotiating and was told that the salary was non-negotiable, and the other benefits were so good (well above normal for most industries) that I didn’t push back and just accepted the offer.

  6. Both sides of the table (non law) :

    As an employee:
    Years back, I negotiated my offer into my company from 75k up to 88k + 5k signing bonus. When I was talking salary with the hiring manger, we song-and-danced aruond 80-85, which was good for me at the time. If they offered anywhere in that range, I probably would have taken it (it was a big bump up and a good move in general). But the recruiter just offered me 75k and I told him that was well below what we had discussed, and not in line with my expectations. Oh, and I was leaving a bonus on the table at my current firm of $10k (which was the bonus on paper but had I stayed, it’d have been more like $2k). He came back with 85 and a 5k signing bonus; I negotiated up to 88k in lieu of an in-year bonus at the new place (did my homework and the firm hadn’t paid bonuses in 3 years…they didn’t that year either!).

    More recently, I was promoted in Dec and given a pretty big % wise increase but it was still below market rate/ my peers. I wasn’t exactly in a position to negotiate since it was $$$ more than I had been making and I had just come back from mat leave and was thankful for the entire thing. As it happens, I was asked to take on a bigger role 6 months later. I used that as my opportunity to negotaite another title bump AND to get my pay aligned with the market.

    as an employer/hiring manager
    Basically nobody has tried to negotiate in the 10+ offers I’ve made over the years. I had one candidate that I all but told to negotiate with me (in fact, I may have actually told her). The position she was after was budgeted in at ~90k, and I had plenty of budget wiggle room to increase it. She came in asking for 100k, which if she had been a rock star candidate I could have done for her. I asked her to help talk me through her thinking as to why that figure was fair, and her ONLY response was “I make 90 now so want 100 to move.”

    That to me was (1) a TERRIBLE response to my question and a great sign I should pass and (2) a missed opportunity. If she gave me market comps, played up her value/potential, etc etc I would have made the deal. I also would have been open to any of the wiggle room type perks discussed here- extra PTO, flex hours, etc.

    • This is interesting to me because, as a current job hunter myself, her rationale for wanting $100K is exactly the rationale I am going by to evaluate potential jobs. Unlike some job hunters, I’m happy at my job even though the salary isn’t where I want it to be. If I’m going to leave my current situation, the grass really DOES have to be greener. Even though it’s a terrible response to actually give, it’s important to acknowledge that rationale behind it. Out of curiosity, though, did she accept the 90 or did you both walk away?

      • Anonymous :

        She walked. But if she had made a case for market comps (there isn’t one but she didn’t even try…), unique experience, skill set etc I’d have entertained it. But she was on the junior side already for the role and would have needed more mentoring than I had been planning so wasn’t ready to stretch my budget without solid reasoning.

        I shopped around a bit more and ended up hiring a candidate with 5 years more experience in exactly what I wanted for 95k and she was thrilled (and getting solidly fair market pay).

    • What was your position as an employee? And can I ask where are you located at/which market are you in? I love reading stories of women making great money, bonuses, signing bonuses, perks like maternity leave, etc.

      • Anonymous :

        I work for a company that does software development (think oracle, not startup) and consulting. I have been in corp strategy, marketing, product, and product marketing and now run one of those depts for one of our verticals.

  7. The “relational” thing is pretty narrowly applicable to people whose jobs involve negotiation or similar skills. I think it’s too bad that it keeps being mentioned specifically as advice for women, because so many female-majority jobs emphasize empathy, caring, and self-sacrifice–the exact opposite kinds of traits. In those instances, the hard-nosed negotiator may be exactly the opposite of who a good employee is “in their eyes.”

  8. New Tampanian :

    There is this great series called Career Tools – awesome podcasts, etc. – part of Manager Tools and they basically say that there isn’t any true negotiation in salary because other than not take the job, what is your leverage? Not work as hard if you get less?

    That said, when I was offered my last position, I did manage to negotiate a couple of pre-determined step-ups in salary over a set period of time. The recruiter had told me that the range was around one number and then I was offered about 10% less than that. They stated it was because they would need to “train me” in that industry. So, what I got them to agree to was a bump at 6 months and then again at a year to make up for that 10%. I also knew through some research I had done that they don’t give annual COL raises nor raises in general unless there was a promotion.

    • Wildkitten :

      Yes – the option is to not take the job.

      • Spirograph :

        Exactly. Obviously if you are unemployed (or hate where you are so much) and NEED the job, you’re in a weaker bargaining position. But if you are currently employed and the position is anything less than your dream job, just walk away.

        I think the best advice about negotiation I’ve ever seen looks like advice about something totally different: Always have a job offer or two in your back pocket. That is, always be looking for a new job, even if you’re satisfied where you are; that way, you’ll always be negotiating from a position of strength.

        • “Always have a job offer or two in you back pocket.” Hmmmm. If only it were that easy! Hah.

  9. I negotiated a 12.5% increase on the offering salary in my current job. I was offered two positions within the same company – two different business units. The business units came together and decided to offer me the same salary (although they likely would have offered different salaries if left to their own decides). The salary was a low ball IMO, based on my experience and my research on the market rate. I had been working at the company part-time on an hourly basis for several months prior to receiving the two job offers. I negotiated via email – one, because it was what HR wanted and two, because I wanted to have my rationale laid out for the person making the final decision to see (I knew the email would just get forwarded). I set out my rationale — market rate research, experience, etc. — and then asked for the increase. It was a big jump, but I believed I was actually worth more than I ended up asking for (and I am sure the man that does the same job as me but with less actual relevant experience makes more money than me). I asked for what I did because I didn’t want to seem completely out of touch – as 12.5% is somewhat hefty. Like Sheryl Sandberg, I was being offered a position where negotiation is a large part of the job. I mentioned that as well, in a similar way. The person who was making the final call on the salary knew the original offer was a low ball offer, so he accepted my counter without pushing back. I also was placed into a higher grade with the higher salary, so I wouldn’t reach the top of my merit increases within a year or two. I wish I had asked for more in hindsight, but I am glad to have gotten what I did.

  10. Ice Cream Sandwiches :

    So I know people have differing opinions on offering food to others in the workplace, but my team’s assistant just came around with a box of ice cream sandwiches (unexpectedly) and it is pretty much the best thing to ever happen on a Wednesday :)

  11. I’ve negotiated at the last four jobs, two of them unsuccessful due to periods of recession is what I would guess. One was entry-level, answering phones and admin tasks so I’m sure there were many people willing to take that job when unemployment was at record highs… I didn’t argue too much on that one but I did ask for more. The next job I pushed. I knew how much the last person was paid and my goal was to make more, which I did by just $2k more and then quarterly bonuses.
    My current job was a little tougher. My husband and I practiced for two days different ways that the conversation could go- seriously, koodos to my husband who weirdly seems to know all the rules that Dale Carnegie preached on handling professional relationships, selling yourself, and management without reading a book or attending a seminar. He said to play up my strengths and emphasized that after I say how much I want (firmly), just pause and wait for the other person to speak- that almost awkward pause makes the other person feel obligated to say something- which my (current) boss did, he said he had to think about it. (!!?!?) I freaked out for a bit and kicked myself for a day or two thinking I should have just settled with what was being offered… until I finally heard back- it was an offer letter with a number that was between what I asked and what he offered- which was still 40% more than my last position!
    : )
    The take-a-way: practice your negotiation with someone else. Play out your worse-case scenario and then move past that (because it probably won’t happen anyways) and aim higher! Do your research, know what your position pays in your area. Check out the company’s competition, check online salary estimators, evaluate the job description closely, find out the benefits, etc.

  12. Anonymous :

    I work in biglaw at a firm that recently transitioned from lockstep raises to a softer, more skills/achievement- based raises. We have also traditionally had an unspoken bonus structure: for every 100 hours over budget you bill, you get $X bonus, plus a little extra for quality work, enduring lots of travel, etc. But that bonus structure is (1) unspoken, and (2) also more in flex given the transition in determining pay structures. Pardon me while I toot my own horn, but I kick ass at my job and perform above my peers. My plan has always been, if they give me an annual raise of anything less than the lockstep raise or bonus, I would ask for more. If they came in right on the mark and I had a particularly kick ass year, I would ask for more. (Knock on wood, hasn’t had to happen yet.)

    If I ever had to ask for more, I have a list of reasons why I deserve more. Things like, I perform well above my peers, I have great relationships with our clients, and our firm already does not pay top of market.

    For me, having a set bottom line and a bit of a plan has always made me feel secure. It also helps that firms in my geographic and practice area have been heavily recruiting people my year. I should note, that last point just makes me feel secure should I need to ask for more–I would never raise that as a negotiation point. The partners I work for know that (they have been recruiting too, and know how competitive the market is). And I would never ask for more money in a way that would leave a lasting mark on our working relationship (and I think suggesting “I could leave at any moment” would do that).

  13. annonypants :

    I second the preparation and practicing approach. I negotiated a 30% raise at my last promotion instead of the standard 10% by gathering all the relevant data on what people in my position make and making a 1 page summary for my boss, asking for something in the middle-high range and practicing the whole conversation with my spouse beforehand. I was very proud of myself.

  14. In trading off one benefit against another, be sure you understand which ones are guaranteed, and which ones may happen late or not at all (and how likely). Negotiating with a tech startup a few years ago, I accepted a slightly lower total compensation in exchange for more of my compensation being salary, less annual bonus — because startups are squirrelly and I didn’t have much confidence that the bonus would actually happen. As it turned out, I was right. The total number was irrelevant and the salary was the only part I ever saw.

  15. This post is SUCH a great resource. I have an offer from a new company prepared earlier, but looking over this yesterday calmed my nerves and gave me specific tactics. I sent a note to the recruiter that I would like to chat. And when we talked, I used the tactics outlined: first made chit-chat to establish a relationship and common ground to know if I was veering off-track, second made my request and waited. The recruiter mentioned an additional $3k on the spot, and then emailed back shortly afterwards with another $6k in signing bonus. Yay!

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