Smart questions to ask during salary negotiation


Most of us aren’t natural negotiators, but asking these 10 questions during salary negotiations can help you get everything you deserve.

You’ve just been offered a great job opportunity and you’re thrilled… except you were actually hoping for a higher salary. The question is: Do you have the negotiating skills (and the stomach) to ask for more money? In today’s job climate, you’d be foolish not to. Salary negotiation needs to be part of your job search, otherwise you’re losing out.

In a 2019 survey by Robert Half, 55% of professionals said they tried to negotiate a higher salary with their last employment offer, a 16-point jump from 2018. What’s more is that 70% of senior managers surveyed said they expect some back-and-forth on salary, and six in 10 said they were more open to negotiating compensation and nonmonetary perks and benefits than they were a year ago.

“If the salary does not meet your expectations and you are inclined to not accept the offer as a result, it doesn’t hurt to negotiate,” says Brett Good, senior district president at Robert Half.

In order to get ready for that discussion and walk into your meeting confidently, it helps to arm yourself with smart salary negotiation questions that will help you to get the compensation you deserve. Here are seven to try:

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Thank you so much for the offer. Is the salary open to negotiation? 

The first step to take is failsafe: Always show gratitude for the original offer. Even when done with the greatest of tact, salary negotiations can be prickly. Be polite, and be sure to thank the hiring manager for hearing you out before proceeding with your requests.

By asking if salary negotiation is possible, you are essentially asking if it’s even worth having this conversation. Certain employers may bristle at any attempt to ask for more money, so you want to know first if they are even open. It’s like dipping your toe into a pool before jumping in.

If the hiring manager indicates there is leeway, you can continue. Listen to the entire job offer package before asking specifically about the salary. Then, if you have concerns about the structure of the offer, counter with an amount you feel is fair for the position based on your research.

How did you calculate this salary?

Speaking of research, it’s important to have an idea of the market average salary for the position of interest in your area, and matched with your current level of experience. And by asking this question, you’re showing the employer that you did your homework to come up with a fair number.

What other things can we negotiate besides the base salary?

If the salary isn’t something the employer is willing to budge on, that doesn’t mean the negotiation is over. It’s always advisable to consider the full package, including benefits, perks, and incentives. Think about the other factors that you prioritize, such as extra vacation days, tuition reimbursement or remote work options, and bring them up directly, he adds.

Are there bonuses, overtime pay, or other potential opportunities to increase earnings?

For many types of roles, base salary hardly tells the whole story. While a higher base salary is typically most valuable in the long-term, sign-on or structured bonuses can add more money to the pot. Ask about the average income that people in your role typically earn above the base salary.

Can you break down the benefits and perks that might translate into income/savings?

Some companies provide total rewards statements so candidates can see the full scope of what is being offered. Seeing it broken down can help you realize the real-dollar value that a robust benefits package can add. For instance, if the employer covers commuting costs and parking, it can save you hundreds of dollars per month.

How are future salary raises determined? How do people in this position typically grow over time?

Understanding if and when you would be eligible for a pay bump is something worth taking into consideration if the starting rate is lower than anticipated, says Good.

Plus, asking this question can reflect well on your potential and eagerness to grow with the company. It shows that your focus is to contribute to the organization.

Can I get that in writing?

Once you’ve agreed on terms, ask for a revised offer letter that outlines any changes in the salary or package that resulted from negotiations.

For current employees

Most of the advice above pertains to negotiating as a new hire. It’s worth pointing out that if you’re a current employee, you can and should negotiate for higher pay if you feel you’re underpaid—especially if you have a counteroffer and are considering moving to a new company, negotiating can be worth your while.

Assuming you’ve established a strong record of achievement and can discuss how your contributions have helped the company’s bottom line, here are two questions to help get your negotiation started:

What do you think is my most important contribution at the company?

You are essentially making your boss an advocate for you. Let them use their own words to remind themselves why you are so valued. Then you can continue making your case, and explain that you’d like to discuss additional compensation.

Another firm is being very aggressive in trying to recruit me. Do you have any suggestions on what I should do?

Instead of marching in with an ultimatum, with this phrasing you are casting your boss as a problem-solver and giving them a fair chance to make counter offer. Tone is very important. And here you are not making demands, but asking for advice.

Pay it forward

Knowing how to negotiate salary isn’t something you learn overnight, but it is certainly something you can improve upon with a little practice. You don’t necessarily need to take the first offer that lands in your lap. Could you use some help deciphering good job offers from not-great job offers? Join XY Careers. As a member, you can get negotiation insights, career advice, and job search tips sent straight to your inbox. It can be awkward to ask for more money or a promotion, but those are necessary parts of your career development.