The waiting is over and after several interviews and lots of waiting you’ve got the job offer. But what if the salary offer isn’t what you want (or need) it to be, you’ll need to do some negotiating.

It can be scary, and you want to be sure it won’t reflect badly on you or get anyone off-side. The last thing you want is to start under a cloud.

Here’s how to handle this right and give yourself the best possible chance of getting what you want.

How to talk about salary expectations at interview (if asked)

To start, let’s go back a step, to the interview.

You shouldn’t bring up salary unless you’re asked about it, but employers might ask. You should always be honest. But if there’s a gap between your current salary and where you want to be, now’s the time to make that clear.

For example:

  • I’m on R28k at the moment, but I’m due a pay rise in a month’s time.
  • I’m on R28k, but I feel I’m underpaid at the moment. I think a reasonable salary for someone with my experience is RX (more on that number below).
  • I’m on R28k at the moment, but there’s been a pay freeze for 18 months.
  • I’m on R28k at the moment, but the role is limited, and I feel capable of a more senior position with responsibilities that better fit my level of experience.

What salary are you looking for?

You need to be specific about what pay increase you’re looking for and be able to back it up. To do this, you need to do some planning – don’t pluck a number out of the air.

  • Research the market value at your level to justify your request.
  • Look at similar jobs to yours in your location and see what other employers are offering.
  • Make sure it’s reasonable – asking for far too much will get your boss offside and reflect badly on you.
  • Settle on a researched number, not a round number – asking for a 10% increase looks plucked out of thin air.
  • Don’t give a range (between R30-35k). It looks like a bit of a shot to nothing, and you give them the option to pick the lowest figure.
  • If in doubt, go slightly higher than you want, as they are likely to negotiate down

Hopefully, being open and considered at this stage, with a clear answer and sound justification, will help avoid the need for negotiations at all. However, if you do need to negotiate, it’s helped to lay the groundwork. You’re in a weaker position if you’ve not mentioned salary (if asked) earlier on.

If they don’t ask you about salary, you’ve got a clean slate to work with anyway.

Why do you want a higher salary?

If you feel the offer, they’ve made you is too low, you must get clear on your argument for a higher salary. The key here is to be able to argue your case in a well thought out and considered way.

However, certain issues won’t work in arguing for a better salary. This would be issues like:

  • You’ve got further to travel.
  • You’re working fewer hours and need to compensate.
  • They offer less holiday.

These are your problems, not your employer’s. Salaries are based on experience, and the role responsibilities. Your reasons should play to that:

  • Mention your achievements in the last year.
  • Talk about any new processes you implemented or business you won.
  • Explain what you can bring to the position that justifies your ask.
  • Talk about the market rate for candidates at your level in similar roles.

How should you ask?

If this is in response to an offer, I suggest you do this in an email. It will give you a chance to word it properly, and it’s important to have the exchange in writing.

  • Start with the positives – say how much you want the job, and why.
  • Talk about your aspirations for the future with them, and the part you plan to play in the company’s success.
  • Explain that you’d like your salary to reflect your contribution to the business.
  • Show that you’ve done your research and considered things carefully.
  • Say, “I feel that a salary of [X] would be a fair valuation of the skills I can bring to the role”.
  • Keep it friendly and professional. Don’t be emotional. You’re making a polite request.

Remember, you’re asking for their investment in you, and your words should reinforce in their mind the importance of your position within the team and the business.

How to handle the answer

Whatever the answer, always thank your employer for their time.

If they aren’t willing to budge, you should only walk away if that’s your final decision – in other words, don’t use it as a ploy to get them to change their minds.

Could they instead offer a salary review at 6 months – once you’ve had a chance to prove your contribution?

You could also use the opportunity to ask for other benefits instead – like help with travel/parking expenses or working from home.

However, you should have a clear idea of what salary you need to do this job and if the company is not willing to offer what you need, it is better to walk away, amicably, than accept something that you are going to be dissatisfied with and which will cause you financial problems further down the line.