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How to negotiate your salary: A 5 W's approach

When negotiating your salary, you should consider timing, background knowledge, interpersonal skills, and job location.
nate-delesline
Written by Nate Delesline III, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Sarah Holliday

In some ways, negotiating your salary is an exercise in messaging and communication. You are building a narrative around your value as an employee.

One technique for presenting the strongest narrative to support your case for a raise derives from the world of journalism. Journalists use the five W's to verify they are gathering essential information. The basic W's are: Who, what, when, where, and why. Consider these five questions as a checklist to move forward with the salary negotiation process.

Knowing who is involved in salary negotiations is an essential first step. We will also highlight what information you should consider and bring to the table. Timing –– the when of starting the process and how long it might take –– is also essential. But first, we should start with the why: Without a compelling case, your negotiations are over before they begin.

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Why

You should be prepared with two answers to the "Why" question: First, why negotiate at all? And second, why do you deserve the raise you are asking for? Not negotiating your salary can have high stakes and long-term consequences on your compensation and career advancement. 

Here's an example: Negotiating a $40,000 salary up to $45,000 could allow you to earn $750,000 more over 45 years, assuming a 5% annual growth rate. But before the pandemic, 65% of job seekers said they accepted the first salary offer they received from the last job offer, according to a 2018 survey by ZipRecruiter.

Now that you know why you need to negotiate your salary to avoid leaving money on the table, it is important to explain your worth. Why should the company offer you more money? Why is your experience and perspective worth more? Having a compelling case –– supported with evidence and examples –– is the key to making a confident request.

Who

You will likely negotiate with a recruiter, a hiring manager, or your current manager. If you have not already, learning more about the company and who you will talk with will give you an advantage.

LinkedIn, the popular career social networking site, is a great place to start. You can gather information about your future manager, their work, and your future teammates. You can also gain insight into what drives the interviewer and the company culture. Also, make sure to check out the company's public social media pages, YouTube channel, and website. All this information will help you learn more about the people behind your company.

As others have argued, it's ok to research your interviewer or recruiter. LinkedIn showcases career achievements and helps make professional connections. However, it's generally agreed that sending follow-up messages to a recruiter instead of connecting is your safest bet.

What

By coming to the table with a realistic sense of what the typical market pay is for your position and the value you will add to the organization, you will be able to approach conversations regarding compensation with confidence. Remember, extend your focus beyond base pay. 

If you suspect your employer won't have much leeway to negotiate on salary alone, consider negotiating for other benefits, like better health insurance coverage. Our guide to negotiating salaries in the computer science field goes over the other elements of compensation you can negotiate for. 

For example, in 2020, health insurance premiums cost an average four-person family $21,342. But employers paid 73% of that cost. Other types of compensation and benefits to negotiate for include a technology stipend, additional paid time off, or an adjustment to your job title.

Want to know what is a good base salary? Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This free federal government resource has extensive salary data and information for about 800 jobs. Many other websites, including LinkedIn and GlassDoor, also offer salary information for free.

When

Timing is everything. When you're actively negotiating, try to wait for the employer to bring up a number first. The reason? It means the company wants to hire you, and you will have an advantage. Also, negotiating after you have an offer gives you more leverage. You will also have time to research and refine your negotiation strategy.

It's ok to dodge or defer salary questions. In response, you can say that you are "still researching the issue yourself." Or, you can say that you "feel more comfortable discussing salary and benefits" once the employer's job offer is "in writing and on the table."

For people seeking a raise or promotion within their current company, experts suggest there are situations where the timing is right. For example:

  • At annual performance reviews, when employers expect to be making changes to compensation packages. 
  • After a big win, like completing a significant project, landing a new client, or launching a product.
  • After earning a new degree or certification, as you can demonstrate you are keeping your knowledge and skills fresh.

Where

In our context, where refers to the communication medium –– in person, by phone, email, or a video call. The pandemic blurred lines between work and home life. For some people, nearly every work-related experience moved exclusively online. 

Communicating through email or Slack is ok for day-to-day business. But when it's time to talk about your salary, ask for a video call or a phone call. Whether in-person, on the phone, or through a video call, real-time communication provides feedback you can't get through written communication. 

In this case, don't wait for them to offer time to speak. Instead, feel free to ask directly. For example: "I'd like to have a conversation in real time about this opportunity. I'm available for a video call this Thursday between 1 pm and 5 pm or anytime between 9 am and 1 pm on Friday. What time would work for you?"

If you cannot or do not want to do a video call, one expert suggests a regular phone call is a great approach. The reason? You'll feel less stressed by not having to interact with someone on camera.

Keep in mind that negotiation is part of the process of choosing job candidates, so you want to continue to bring your professional, hire-able self to the conversations. Asking and answering the five W's is a practical way to be sure you're bringing your best self to these negotiations and feeling confident in your request. 

By understanding the value of negotiating your salary and benefits, who you will be engaging with, what to focus on, when to start the conversation, and the best way to communicate, you'll have the knowledge and power to push your career to the next level.

This article was reviewed by Sarah Holliday, MS, GCDF 

Sarah Holliday, a Black woman wearing a purple top, smiles.

Sarah Holliday is a higher education administrator with over seven years of experience working with nontraditional and traditional students in areas related to career development, professional development, and personal enrichment. Holliday also works as an adjunct teaching English, career development, and business courses.

Holliday holds a BA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in English communication and technology and a master's from Walden University in instructional design and technology (training and performance improvement). She is currently pursuing her doctor of science in information and interaction design from the University of Baltimore. Holliday also possesses her Global Career Development Facilitator certificate from the Center for Credentialing and Education.

Sarah Holliday is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

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