How to Negotiate Your Salary: 10 Tips from Business Leaders

shaking hands

To guide recent graduates on the crucial task of salary negotiation, we sought advice from seasoned professionals, including Founders and C-Level Executives. From understanding the market and using salary data to settling for a mid-range salary with review, here are the top ten tips shared by these business leaders.

  • Understand the Market and Use Salary Data
  • Balance Between Demanding and Accepting Offers
  • Add a Cash Cushion for Negotiation
  • Demonstrate Potential and Don't Fear Rejection
  • Be Assertive but Not Aggressive
  • View Negotiation as a Give-and-Take Process
  • Consider Bonuses and Other Extra Remuneration
  • Use Confident Body Language in Negotiation
  • Wait for the Offer Before Discussing Pay
  • Settle for Mid-Range Salary with Review

Understand the Market and Use Salary Data

When I first graduated and entered the job market, I quickly realized that passion and motivation weren't enough to negotiate a fair salary. I realized understanding the market was key. I dug deep into salary data, analyzing charts of average earnings in my region, specific to my industry, and comparing skill requirements and years of experience.

These numbers and facts can't be brushed aside in a negotiation. They're a testament to the market value of your skills and experience. Say the data shows expert-level salaries. As a recent grad, you can just deduct 10-20 percent off that figure. It will feel fair, considering your lack of experience.

Lucas Wyland, Founder, Steambase

Balance Between Demanding and Accepting Offers

Negotiation is truly an art, and as a recent graduate, you'll want to learn how to balance the line between demanding what you want and simply accepting your first offer. It can be even harder if you're a part of Gen Z and the hiring manager is from an older generation, as they may already make some assumptions about your relatively high expectations that influence the conversation.

The best way to prove your asks aren't too high is to do your research. Compare salaries among industry professionals at the same entry-level work experience as you, saving the numbers you find so you can review them right before the interview. Use reputable sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and tell interviewers where your information came from. Ask with kindness, and be prepared to leave the table if you can't reach a fair salary agreement together.

Max Wesman, Chief Operating Officer, GoodHire

Add a Cash Cushion for Negotiation

You don't want to overshoot your first salary negotiations, just as you don't want to undersell yourself. So, add a small cash cushion that gives you some wiggle room to discuss with a potential employer. 

Recruiters are unlikely to give you the number you ask for without negotiating, so adding a little bit of extra cash on top leaves space for negotiations to happen. This way, you can show you're willing to compromise. If you start by asking for the number you expect, most managers will still try to negotiate you down.

The key is to research your industry really well, so you understand what an entry-level employee with your skills and experience is truly worth. If you offer up a number that's way higher or lower than that, you'll end up looking unprepared.

Denise Hemke, Chief Product Officer, Checkr

Demonstrate Potential and Don't Fear Rejection

Do you think that if you ask for a raise and your boss says no, you'll be disadvantaged? Plenty of recent graduates hold this misconception. In this context, a “no” can mean “not right now.” As long as you can show your potential as an employee and honestly come to them with your wants, they'll know you're worth investing in. 

Fear of rejection stops so many necessary salary negotiations before they even start—don't let yourself fall into the same trap.

Coty Perry, Chief Marketing Officer,

Be Assertive but Not Aggressive

Many newbies to any industry go one way or another during negotiations, trying aggressive tactics to make up for a lack of confidence or not pushing hard enough from inexperience. Find the right balance and be assertive, not aggressive, with your asks. That means researching your market value and sharing that information in a friendly manner. 

If a hiring manager is playing hardball, don't try to counterattack with aggression. Reiterate your value, be honest about your bottom line, and respectfully leave the table only if it's clear it won't be met.

Jack Underwood, CEO and Co-Founder, Circuit

View Negotiation as a Give-and-Take Process

Negotiations should always be treated as a give-and-take process. While aiming for competitive pay is vital, it is equally critical to be realistic. If the employer cannot provide the income you were hoping for, there may be other benefits that could be of greater value to you. Balancing your expectations with the company's budget and policies can result in a win-win situation.

Tim Allen, Director, Oberheiden P.C.

Consider Bonuses and Other Extra Remuneration

It's not just the starting salary that can be negotiated. It's essential to consider not just base pay but also bonuses, stock options and other forms of extra remuneration. Total pay may include bonuses, tips, health insurance, retirement savings and possibilities for professional growth and workplace flexibility. A more informed choice can be made if everything involved is considered.

Tiffany Hafler, Marketing Manager, FORTIS Medical Billing

Use Confident Body Language in Negotiation

I believe negotiations extend beyond words; body language also conveys confidence and determination. 

I also believe it's important to make direct eye contact, sit up straight and provide a solid handshake. A confident posture can indicate your professionalism and readiness to stand your ground while staying respectful. In a negotiation, your demeanor might affect how you are seen by the other party.

Bruce Mohr, Vice-President, Fair Credit

Wait for the Offer Before Discussing Pay

Wait until you have the offer. Many times, recent graduates will try to discuss salary during the interview process. It's always best to wait until you have an offer before discussing pay. 

First, express your gratitude for receiving the position and emphasize how much you want to work for them. Then, you can start negotiating based on the current market rate and what you bring to the table. While you should have a bottom line, make sure you look at the complete package before giving your final answer.

Andrew Meyer, CEO, Arbor

Settle for Mid-Range Salary with Review

Recent graduates have a huge disadvantage in the labor market. In the vast majority of cases, there is no last boss or references to vouch for them. Given this, your next employer is already taking a huge risk by being the first one on that list. Pushing for the max salary can put the employer in a tough position. 

A good alternative tactic is to settle for a mid-range salary with a confirmed mid-year compensation review. By that time, the candidate should have proved their worth. The budget will likely be much easier to justify.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench


The Eller graduate experience comes in many forms, including five MBA programs, 12 specialized master’s degrees and many more options for concentrations, specializations, dual degrees and certificates. 

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