Negotiate salary on a job offer: Here's how to make a counteroffer — gracefully

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So, you applied for a job, got an offer, and you're super excited. But the salary isn't quite what you expected. Should you negotiate?

All signs point to "yes."

Many workers — and women and millennials in particular — tend to shy away from negotiating pay, but that's a big mistake. Skipping the haggling step when it comes to your starting salary can end up costing you more than $1 million over the course of your life. 

"Asking [is] the first step," Margaret Ann Neale, a Stanford business school professor and author of Getting (More of) What You Want, said in a phone interview. "The challenge most people face is they don't ask. And if they do ask, they often ask in the wrong way."

Whatever the offer, your default should be to — politely — push back: "Even when the offer is better than you expect, negotiate," Katie Donovan of Equal Pay Negotiations LLC told job site Monster.

Here are four tips for navigating this tough conversation and bumping up your starting salary. 

Salary negotiation tip No. 1: Get your charm on.

Be personable and good-natured, and people are more likely to help you.

As Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra wrote in Harvard Business Review:

This sounds basic, but it's crucial: People are going to fight for you only if they like you. Anything you do in a negotiation that makes you less likable reduces the chances that the other side will work to get you a better offer. This is about more than being polite; it's about managing some inevitable tensions in negotiation, such as asking for what you deserve without seeming greedy, pointing out deficiencies in the offer without seeming petty, and being persistent without being a nuisance. Negotiators can typically avoid these pitfalls by evaluating (for example, in practice interviews with friends) how others are likely to perceive their approach.

So practice your elevator pitch in front of a mirror and with trusted friends or family.

The key is to remain likable — and not seeming entitled — while making a cogent case for why you're worth a certain amount.

Source: Giphy

Salary negotiation tip No. 2: Justify a higher pay level by describing your value.

Why are the skills and experiences you bring to the role particularly hard to come by? What do you offer that is rare or special?

You need to be ready to answer those questions.

Perhaps it's your high level of skills or education — or your diversity of knowledge and different work experiences. 

"You need to understand your counterpart, understand what's important to them," Neale added. "There's nothing I can do to force you to say 'yes.' What that means is I have to give you a proposal to show why it's in your interest to say 'yes.'"

Source: Mic/Shutterstock
Source: Mic/Shutterstock

"In serious salary negotiations, it is all about value proposition," Fred Coon, CEO of Stewart, Cooper & Coon employment services and author of Ready Aim Hired, told U.S. News. "The higher your perceived value, the stronger your negotiating position." 

Negotiation tip No. 3: Have backup reasons on deck, in case you get a "no."

After you've settled on a figure you feel is fair — having researched comparable roles and valued your own experience — stick to your guns if you don't hear "yes" the very first time you negotiate. 

Now, your first reaction to any counteroffer needs to come off as appreciative, gracious and polite — particularly if the employer budged from the original offer.

But if you still truly feel that you are being undervalued, be prepared with two additional justifications (that you didn't initially provide) for why you think you're still worth more.

For example, explain how you can take care of problems the company might face in a way many others cannot: "This is the heart of your ability to ask for more money," Coon added. "They can hire anyone for routine tasks, but they mostly judge your value by the level of difficulty of problems you solve. They pay well for those who exceed expectations for performance."

Use examples from a prior job where you addressed similar issues in an unusual way; maybe you are especially good at finding clever workarounds to technical challenges — or you have a vast network of business contacts that would benefit any employer of yours.

Source: Giphy

Negotiation tip No. 4: Get more than one offer at a time.

Some career experts suggest you apply for more than one job at a time to keep your options open: This increases the likelihood that you'll have a counteroffer to give you leverage. 

"If you're negotiating a raise with your current employer, with an offer in your back pocket, you are the one who is able to negotiate a great deal," She Negotiates Consulting and Training cofounder Victoria Pynchon told Forbes.

A big caveat: There are conflicting theories about this — some say using a counteroffer to negotiate is actually a really bad idea and will actually hurt you in the eyes of a potential employer.

Torn about what to do? Apply only for those jobs you truly, actually want. If you end up with two offers, it should be because you would genuinely consider either of them — not just because you want to use one as leverage. The last thing you want is a reputation for jerking around potential employers.

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

To recap: Know your value add, be warm and respectful — and try to remain firm but intellectually agile during the negotiation.

"Individuals who negotiated by using competing and collaborating strategies, characterized by an open discussion of one's positions, issues and perspectives, further increased their salaries as compared to those who used compromising and accommodating strategies," according to a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior

Go forth and get your green.