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How to Negotiate Your Salary
You've probably heard stories about your friend from school who learned how to program code, and now he's making a six-figure salary. There is some truth to this. If you are skilled in a valuable skill like coding, the laws of supply and demand will inevitably work in your favor.

However, it's not enough just to have a valuable skillset. You also have to know how to negotiate for a high-paying salary.

Let's be honest: companies want to get the best talent for the lowest price. They know there's a certain minimum that they have to offer, or else no one will take the job. But that minimum could be well below the average for your position and your geographical area, which means that they're paying you much less than your peers.

If you want to get paid as well as, or even better than your peers, you have to know how to negotiate your salary.

The best time to negotiate your salary is right when your future employers make an offer of employment. After you've been hired, it's rare to get a raise beyond a yearly cost of living increase (typically around 3 percent). In over two decades of employment I have I only received a raise higher than cost of living once, and that was due to a change in job responsibilities. (Another engineer in the company had just left, and the engineering manager assigned me his product line, a high-profile product they were trying to grow.)

Here are some guidelines to follow when negotiating salary:
The First Side to Name a Number Loses
About five years ago, I was restless where I was and had begun interviewing for a new job. I received one offer, and my future employer asked for a copy of my pay stub, for "verification of employment" (or so they said). I made the mistake of not redacting any numbers from the pay stub, so the offer came in pretty low. I was able to negotiate up from that, but I left a lot of money on the table. (I had just interviewed for a similar position in another company that paid about $8K more for similar type of work.)

During the interview process, you may be asked what type of salary to expect. Do not name a number until they make you an offer. Otherwise you are pinning yourself to a certain salary, when in fact the company could be able to offer you more. Simply state that you are open to consider a salary "that's appropriate for the roles and responsibilities of this position."

If they do press you for a number, give them a range that you can work from. Just keep in mind that whatever the bottom number is, you had better be okay if you can't negotiate up from there. Because more often than not, that's going to be the final number.
Know What Range You Can Expect
Do your homework on the position, the company, and where you live, so you know what type of salary you can realistically expect to negotiate. There are lots of websites now (for example salary.com) which will give you an estimated range of what to expect for salary, given the years of experience, the skillset involved, and the part of the country that you live in. 

In my experience, companies will almost always make an offer in the far lower range of the spectrum. If you want to get paid in the upper half of the spectrum (or even somewhere in the middle), it's up to you to ask for it.
Remind Them What You Bring to the Table
If you're going to ask for a higher number, you need something to back it up. During your interviews you should have highlighted some key talents, experiences, or other positive traits that set you apart from all the other candidates. Give them a short summary as a reminder of what you bring to the table and why you're worth the higher price.
Be polite but Firm
These are the people you are going to be working with in the near future. You don't want to start your new career off on the wrong foot. You want to be as respectful of them as you expect them to be of you.

Here is a basic script template you can use when negotiating a salary offer:
Dear <name of person you are speaking to>:

Thank you for extending this offer of employment to me.  I am flattered and grateful for the consideration that <employer name> has extended to me. I'm very excited about the role, and I see myself fitting in very well there.

I did some research on salary ranges for comparable positions in the area, and I found that the salary range extends into <state your target range>.
One thing I have highlighted in my discussions is that <list a unique set of positives that you hit upon in your interviews>. At the end of the day, I would look at this as an investment: would you hire someone for the bare minimum, or would you be willing to spend a little more to bring a return on investment worth several times over the difference that you paid?

I am aware that this is at the high end of the scale that you are seeking. I'd like to open a discussion where we can all come to an agreement on this subject. We all have something to gain from working together, and I believe we can find a fair and mutually beneficial arrangement.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to consider this option. I am looking forward to hearing your reply.

Sincerely,

<Your name>
Be Prepared to Walk Away
Your internal mindset is just as important as the external circumstances. Let me offer a couple of examples from my experience.

Over a decade ago, I had been fired from a management position and was working in a supermarket just to have some money coming in. I had this job fo a little over a year after being out of work for nearly a year. So I was not in a good financial position.

Out of the blue a steel manufacturing factory reached out to interview for an engineering position. (To this day, I still have no idea how they found me.) By following all of the guidelines above, I was able to negotiate a starting salary about $12K more than what they initially offered. Even though I was in financial straits and working well below my pay grade at the time, by being willing to walk away I was able to come ahead.

Remember my story earlier where I forgot to redact my pay stub? After about four months in that job, I realized it was a terrible fit and was desperate to get out. About eight months after starting I interviewed with another company that made me an offer. Because I hated that job so much, I forgot everything I told you about and took the offer, despite the fact that it wasn't making that much more than what I was getting paid at the time. I stayed with them for four years, but I regret not asking for more money when I had the chance.
The Only Person Looking After Your Career is You
This timely advice came from my ROTC military counselor before college. He was talking about officer duty assignments and promotion boards, but the same advice applies outside the military as well.

The only person who is looking out for your career is you. Not your manager, not your friends, not your co-workers, and certainly not the company you work for. If you want to get any satisfaction out of your career, it's up to you to make it happen.
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About the Author: Jonathan Szeto

I have spent over a decade in the field of database development, particularly for business intelligence. By learning how to master data, I turned myself around from the brink of bankruptcy to earning over six figures in business intelligence. Sign up to my email list if you want to learn how to do this for yourself.
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