Making the case for a higher salary


Negotiating the salary when you’re being offered a job can feel uncomfortable. If you don’t, though, you may be leaving money on the table. A survey of hiring managers by the staffing firm Robert Half found that 36% are more likely (and 50% are equally likely) to negotiate salary with new hires than they were the year before. The key is to take emotion out of the equation, say Melanie Feldman and Anna Schuliger, cofounders of Get Hired, an online job search course geared to young professionals.

“A lot of candidates feel they don’t have the right to negotiate, especially after the economy of the last year,” says Schuliger. “They may think there isn’t room to ask for more or that they have to be thankful for any offer. But you do have the right and you deserve fair compensation.”

They key to understanding what kind of negotiating power you have is to take the emotion out of the process and focus on facts. “Money is personal, but when you’re presented with research you can understand what your value is,” says Feldman, who is the coauthor of Bold: Get Noticed, Get Hired.

It’s important to focus on the word “value” instead of “worth,” adds Schuliger. “Worth is tied directly to job performance and to feelings,” she says. “Objectively a manager has to make a case for the salary, and it’s going to be tied to the market rate, the location, and the present time, which could be up or down. It helps to use the word ‘value’ to remove some of the emotion.”

Salary negotiations involve a consideration of both personal and impersonal factors for your unique situation and role, and an optimal outcome includes a balance of each. Feldman and Schulinger offer this four-step process to help you walk away with a higher rate.


Take time to figure out what you need and what would be nice to have. For example, you may need a specific salary amount or healthcare coverage, but tuition reimbursement would be a nice add-on. This step is a personal part of the process.

“On the table can be benefits, paid time off, stocks, or working from home,” says Schuliger. “A lot of things increase quality of life outside of money. Find out your options to get in the best position.”


Next, research salary ranges for similar job titles in your area and that reflect your years of experience and industry.

“People come in and fired up because they heard someone else with the same experience is making more than them,” says Feldman. “Stay away from that. Emotion doesn’t help your case. Empower yourself with research.”

Good resources include Glassdoor, Payscale, LinkedIn Salary, and 81cents, which offers insights on fair pay for women.

“Coming up with value is hard because it takes research,” says Feldman. “Once you do this step, you have a golden ticket to confidence behind your numbers.”


BATNA stands for “best alternative to negotiated agreement,” and the term was coined by authors Roger Fisher and William Ury in book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. The process helps you provide context to an offer.

Feldman and Schulinger used the idea to create a salary score card and suggested actions. First, ask yourself these four questions and add up your score:


  1. Do you have another job offer? Yes = 1, No = 0
  2. Are you currently employed? Yes = 1, No = 0
  3. Would you consider taking time off? Yes = 1, No = 0
  4. Is this your top choice? Yes = 0, No = 1


Then use your score to determine your response. If your BATNA score is zero, take the job, advise Feldman and Schuliger. Any negotiation will depend on your market research.

If the BATNA score is one, you have limited power. Negotiation will depend on your personal assessment of how long you are able to remain in your current situation and how close the offer is to your researched market value.

If the BATNA score is two, there’s room for negotiation. You may already be employed or have another, which means you’re marketable. Negotiation will lean on market value and can help you get closer an an aspirational salary.

And if your BATNA Score is three to four, you have strong negotiating power. You are employed, have other offers on the table, and may be in a position to take time off. You are marketable and competitive. If you have years of specific experience, as well, you may be able to attain a reach salary.



The final step is to create the salary range, and Feldman and Schuliger assign four levels: walkaway, value, aspirational, and reach. Walkway salary is your bottom line. Value salary adds in market value. And aspirational salary is usually around $10,000 to $20,000 more than market value. And a reach salary is the highest number you were able to find for the role within the industry.

Use the range to negotiate the amount you want. “We love ranges because it helps candidates continue taking,” says Feldman. “It gives space to negotiate.”

By following the four steps, you help balance personal and impersonal input. “It’s a balancing act,” says Schuliger. “Looking at the process in subjective versus objective terms will help you negotiate the best offer for your unique situation and time in life.”

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