Career Advice

How to Negotiate a Salary During Job Interview

salary negotiation

When you are applying for a new job, often you are holding your breath a little, trying to do everything right to get the position. You know you are the right person and will do an excellent job in the role. But then there’s the ‘money factor’ — how do you ensure that you are getting a feel-good deal? In most cases, you’ll have to negotiate your salary a bit.

Should I Even Negotiate a Salary Offer?

Yes, and yes. Negotiating a salary is always worth a shot even if the original job ad already provides a ballpark rate.

Last year, 60% of job applicants negotiated their salary, according to a Glassdoor survey. What’s more, 17% of the negotiators (18% of men and 16% of women), managed to secure a higher paycheck within their current or most recent role. Back in March 2016, only 10% of employees could negotiate a higher salary.

What this data is telling us is this: employers today are more flexible with their hiring budgets and are more willing to lead salary negotiations with the right candidates.

Watch our short video about salary negotiation:

And here’s another interesting data point from a Payscale survey, higher earners are more likely to receive a raise than entry-level workers. Over 70% of respondents, earning $150,000 per year or more received a raise based on their request. At the same time, only 25% of workers earning $10-$20K were granted a raise after requesting it. 

OK, so why is there such a huge discrepancy in outcomes? For several reasons:

  • Executive employees are more likely to appeal to their professional experience and core competencies when negotiating job offers and raises. They tie their compensation to the value they are generating for the company and are capable of quantifying the results they can attain. 
  • Compensation levels directly correlate with the skill sets. The more in-demand skills you possess — the higher your paycheck can go, especially if there’s a talent gap in the market right now. Invest in extra training, certifications, and other types of education to increase your value in the eyes of the employer.  
  • Good old confidence. Confidence is key when it comes to salary discussions and negotiations. Don’t flinch when you get asked the uncomfortable questions and don’t rush to name your number either.  The following set of salary negotiation tips will show you how to lead an effective discussion with HR. 

How to Negotiate Salary During Job Interview: 6 Actionable Tips

The ‘money talks’ typically don’t happen until the second interview or a separate ‘Offer’ meeting. 

But it’s pretty common for the HRs to pop the “what are your salary requirements?” interview question during the first interview round or even over-the-phone. For many, it’s a sort of a ‘filter’ question that helps weed out candidates with unrealistic compensation requirements. 

At any rate, you should come to any job interview prepared to discuss your salary expectation. 

negotiate salary during job interview

1. Prepare For The Negotiations

You should always prepare for negotiations, even if you end up not needing the process.  That way, you have things clear in your mind and don’t have to make stuff up as you go, adding to your appearance as organized and professional.

When you approach salary negotiations without a clear number in mind, you are at the mercy of a more experienced hiring manager who can ‘sell you’ the idea of working for less. 

So firstly, know your value.  All of us are priceless of course but in terms of our employment value, you should know facts such as the going rate for the role in your industry and geographic area. You can use websites such as Glassdoor and Payscale to learn how much people like you get paid on average.  

Also, prepare arguments as to why you warrant the salary you are aiming for.  Don’t talk about what you need but instead talk about what you are providing for the company and the value this gives.  Prepare a single sheet ‘brag sheet’ that lists your accomplishments, your main technical skills, and even adds in co-worker testimonials or customer reviews.  All of this contributes to why you are worth that particular salary.

2. Entering The Negotiation: Wait For the Employer’s Offer 

Business studies experts say that you should start a negotiation with a series of questions, known as diagnostic questions.  

These can be things like the business’s priorities at the moment and going forward, what the needs of the business are.  All of these should be based around those reasons why you should have the salary because you are the solution to those problems — or at least, as much as your job role allows you to be.

Apart from that, you should have at least one firm figure in mind — the lowest compensation you are willing to accept. By having that number in mind, you won’t waste time on employers who aren’t willing to pay you the ‘going industry rate’.

3. Work Out a Salary Range

In most cases, you’d be asked to provide a salary range that you are willing to accept. Researchers from Columbia Business School found which range strategies for best during different negotiations (including those regarding salary). 

Based on the results from 5 studies, the team concluded that:

  • Negotiators who opened with a range offer (between x and y) were viewed as positive and sometimes even more positive than people providing a point offer (fixed number). 
  • People opening with a range offer also ended up receiving higher final compensation. 

Sounds nice, right? But how do you work out the optimal salary range for yourself? Well, you start with your ideal salary. Let’s say it’s $55,000 — a reasonable number you can expect to get paid in your industry, based on your qualifications. 

salary range

Here’s how to put it in a solid range:

  • Don’t use backdown range (e.g. $48,000-$55,000). In such cases, you are less likely to arrive at your final figure. 
  • Start a moderate rather than extreme point. (e.g. $63,000-$75,000 for a job that pays about $55,000 will likely work). 
  • Avoid extreme width in your ranges. (e.g. aiming between $50,000-$80,000) will show that you lack actual market data. 

Many people avoid salary negotiations because they don’t want to appear too pushy or greedy. Granted, the same research has you covered here too. If you want to leave a good impression with the other party you are negotiating with, use a relatively narrow bracketing range (e.g. $52,000-$57,000 for a $55K job). 

But if your goal is to secure the best possible deal, add an extra 5-15% to the high end of a bolstering range offer. So that your range goes as $55,000-$65,000. 

4. Defer Any Questions About Your Last Salary 

Avoid talking about your current job and what you were paid there.  If you are currently underpaid, this can weaken your hand and if you are ahead of the average figure. 

If the interviewer asks how much you’ve earned at your last job, elegantly defer this question with something like:

“I believe that my last salary isn’t really relevant to this opportunity since it involved a different range of responsibilities with another company.” 

Of course, some HRs may not drop the question that easily and ask again. Adopt a firmer, but still polite tone and state something like:

“I prefer to keep my financial information private just as you do. I’m looking for a job that compensates me based on my skills and qualifications. But if you are not comfortable with providing me with an offer, I totally understand.” 

5. Know When to Walk Away 

Let’s keep it real: not every salary offer will be up for negotiation. Some employers genuinely cannot afford to pay more than X to you. 

So don’t be afraid of hearing no to your initial offer, especially if you are giving a point number. At the same time, don’t let the employer sway your decisions and talk you into accepting a low-paid job. 

When you do your initial salary research, settle on your “walk away number” — the low-most point you will not negotiate beyond. If the final extended offer goes beyond this, you’ll turn it down. 

walk away from office

6. Prepare Counter Offers 

In some cases, salary negotiation can drag on and result in multiple exchanges of counter offer letters. This may be a bit nerve-wracking especially when the employer tries to downplay your initial offer or range, but don’t stand back that easily. 

It’s okay to drop under 5% of your request in the counteroffer. But justify why you are still standing by your numbers — focus on a particular skill you bring or a talent you have, even a qualification that makes you perfect for the role.

To Conclude 

Salary negotiations can be the toughest part of the job interview for many candidates, especially when they really fancy the job. But don’t try to act timid at this point. Or you risk ending up in a good job that sadly does not pay good enough money. 

Instead, figure out your ideal pay and the minimal ‘walk away number’. Create a series of salary ranges that you’ll pitch to potential employers, and line up several ‘justifiers’ for the counteroffer stage. That’s how you should approach salary negotiations!

This article has been originally published on November 30, 2016 and has been extensively revised and updated on January 19, 2021.


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

1 Comment

  1. It has been a really good opportunity for me to verify my thoughts on the subject and at the same time be educated on things i hadn’t previously addressed.

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