Careers advice: How to negotiate your starting salary

22 May 2018

Navigating the recruitment process can be time-consuming and exhausting – you have crafted a great CV, undergone a series of interviews or attended a lengthy assessment centre, so to hear the words, ‘we are delighted to offer you the role, when can you start?’ is a time of relief and for celebration!

The prospect of then negotiating your salary package can seem another uphill struggle that many of us fail to do well. Fear of looking pushy, jeopardising your relationship with the company before you start with them or worse, that the offer might get withdrawn, all somehow panic us into accepting the first offer made. We often don’t know what to ask for or how to do it, so simply smile and accept.

But, the organisation already thinks you are great, and is sure you can add value to their role. If negotiating with customers or suppliers is going to be a key part of your job, failing to do so on your own behalf, might actually raise doubts. Some element of negotiation is often expected, and the first offer is not usually all that is possible. If you do it well, it can actually enhance rather than damage the relationship.

Here are eight top tips to help you negotiate your starting salary.

1. Buy yourself time. Say thank you both initially and after any concession offered and reiterate your interest in the role and the organisation, but never say yes straightaway. The organisation needs to know they can potentially hire you but give yourself breathing space to prepare and research.

2. Your preparation needs to focus on 3 areas:

  • Researching the market, competitors and similar roles so you understand the possibilities and the constraints the organisation may be facing. Check out salary survey and recruitment sites for comparable data and do ‘informational interviews’ with current or former employees if you can, to help you understand the challenges of the role, range of benefits available and how they tackled the job offer process. Your LinkedIn network and the WBS alumni database are great starting points to find relevant people. Asking directly about their own salary package may be too pushy so stick to ranges and roles and talk to several people not just one, as the information you get might vary.
  • Understanding your value. Do you know what is being expected of you in your new role? Now consider what have you already achieved that will add value? This could be revenue generated, market growth, process improvements, cost savings or building new teams so build evidence and supporting metrics and practise your story so you can easily justify your position, without sounding arrogant. If you are transitioning, or this is your first role post-graduation, the value you bring could be your new thinking, or your insight into a particular culture so don’t underestimate those.   
  • Deciding your priorities. You can’t negotiate everything so only focus on elements of real importance to you and focus on those first.  Stop and think about whether this is a job you actually want and if you can imagine yourself working and being happy in that role or organisation. A great package, however large, will not make up for poor job satisfaction or an unsupportive environment. If you are working now, have you thought about the value of your current package and if you are having to relocate, will travel and accommodation costs be similar as this could impact substantially on your lifestyle.

3. Think about the whole benefits package, rather than just the base salary. If they are recruiting several people at once, changing the base salary may be difficult as it will set a precedent, but there may be more flexibility in a sign-on bonus, relocation expenses, remote working, or further study support.

4. Use tentative language to help build rapport and use silence effectively. Ask simply but respectfully in a way that demonstrates benefit for both the organisation and yourself. You are looking for win-win solutions rather than take it or leave it ultimatums and need to demonstrate you understand their position too. Then be quiet and wait for a response. Too many of us carry on talking and consequently lose the impact of what we are asking.

5. Questions about your current package can be tricky. Suggest you are looking within market range, rather than be drawn on specific numbers, ask questions about their budget to find out their parameters and defer the question until you fully understand the demands of the role.

6. Recognise what might be difficult today, might be possible in the future. Ask for review points, when you can then negotiate on the basis of your track record, reputation and performance.

7. Always get offers in writing rather than trust verbal agreements. Remember your line manager or other decision-makers might change so don’t leave this to chance.

8. Negotiate honourably and know when to stop. Reputational damage can be long lasting and never haggle simply for the sake of it – if this is your dream job and the organisation has more than met your expectations, accept graciously and look forward to your new challenge.

Further reading:

Babcock L & Laschever S (2007):  ‘Women Don’t Ask’ Princeton University Press

Malhotra D (2014): ‘15 Rules for negotiating a job offer’ Harvard Business Review -

Existing student or alumnus?

For more support with offer negotiation, contact the WBS CareersPlus team via or access our great resources:

WBS Career Management Course: Lesson 13 Negotiating Offers -