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Salary Negotiation Part I: Circumstances for Negotiating

It’s easy to find books and websites (maybe friends and relatives!) that say, “always negotiate!” But is it true?

No, it’s not. Sometimes you have no basis for negotiation. But how can you tell?

Once you have an offer (or several, if you’re lucky), start by asking yourself “what do I like about this job offer?” Look at the whole package: is the work interesting? Do you like the company, the location, the co-workers or supervisors you’ve met? Is this a good launching point for your career? What about non-salary aspects, like benefits, vacation, working hours? Take a look at the Offer Comparison Chart in your copy of the Career Services Handbook for a longer list of factors to consider. Above all, remember one thing: no one can pay you enough to make you happy doing a job you don’t like.

If you have only one offer, keep in mind that your negotiation options are limited. You are comparing that offer to continued unemployment – not to some hypothetical offer, or the offer your friend just received.

So, let’s say that you’ve done your analysis and decided that everything about the job is positive – or you have multiple positive offers with different salaries. Why would you negotiate salary? Not just because you want more (who doesn’t?); not because you have a lot of debts (sorry – we make our charitable contributions to actual charities!). There are four reasons. I’ll start by explaining the four reasons, then talk about how to approach the negotiation itself.

[1] The offer isn’t at the current market rate.
How do you know this? Check the current salary and wage reports – updated every two weeks—on the ECS homepage, or come to ECS in 199 Hitchcock and ask to look at the most recent NACE salary survey, with data from multiple campuses broken down by degree level, major, job function, and industry type. (Caution: the data on salary comparison and cost of living comparison web sites like is not completely reliable. Salary data based on job title doesn’t factor in how long someone has had that title; cost of living sites are heavily influenced by housing prices, which can vary considerably; rarely do these sites indicate how current their data is or how many data points they used for their average.) Make sure you have your facts straight.

[2] You have a comparable yet stronger offer. [You like the jobs equally well; the locations are similar.] Be prepared to document this if the employer asks you to email or fax your competing offer!

[3] You have something unique and special to offer that makes you more valuable than someone else with your degree. Assuming you’re not an egomaniac, this is a tough one! How can you tell? Well, if you have a patent, or relevant publications, or have done research that directly relates to that company’s products, then this might apply to you.

[4] Cost of living differential: you have two offers with roughly equal salaries, but one is in a much more expensive place to live. This could be a possible reason to negotiate, but keep in mind that they already live there and know the cost of living first hand [smaller company] or they have staff who specialize in compensation [large company] who keep a pretty close eye on this issue to stay competitive.

Stay week we'll follow up on this post with the when, what, and how of salary negotiation.

“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.”
-Martin H. Fischer


Authored by Rosemary Hill.