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How to negotiate a fair salary after working at a low paying job

salary negotiating, negotiating salary, determining salary ranges, negotiating salary after a low paying job,
Learn how to negotiate a higher salary.
Did you take a lower paying job during the recession, or have you been toiling at a job that never did pay well? 

If a new company offers you a job based upon your current low salary, take steps to improve their offer.

There are two steps to landing a higher paying position:

1) Survive the employer’s request for your salary requirement when you apply for the job. I address this in an earlier post.

2) Negotiate the best package when you’ve been offered a position – I’ll discuss that situation in this post.

By the time you’ve been offered a job, the employer may already know your current or most recent salary and you may know their range. However, if they don’t know your salary history and want to find out before they state their range; try these techniques to secure better pay:

  • Ask for the range. For example, say, “I’m sure we can arrive at mutually agreeable salary. Can you tell me the range?” or "I'd be happy to tell you, but first, I'd like to know what you think this job is worth."
  • If they give you a range and the high end is acceptable, don't give your exact salary. Instead reply, "I'm looking at positions in that range."
  • If even the high end of the range is too low, say, “From my research and the job description, an acceptable salary range for this position is around $XX,XXX to $XX,XXX, not including benefits. My requirement is flexible and negotiable within that range, depending on factors such as additional benefits and increased advancement opportunities.”
  • When all else fails, respond with your current total compensation, not just salary. Say something like, "My salary is A, my annual bonus is B and my employer’s contribution to my 401(k) is C, so all together, my current compensation package is $(A+B+C)."

Be careful to not be too resistant to telling your salary history, lest they reject you for being evasive.

If they offer you a low salary based upon your current/recent salary:

  • Explain why you are underpaid.

- If you’re coming from a small or struggling company, state that your company gave low annual increases or froze raises due to the economy.
- If you're coming from a low-paying business segment, say, "I'm sure you know I'm coming from a nonprofit where salaries are not in line with the private sector."
- If you took a low-paying position in lieu of remaining unemployed, say, “I had two options: 

1) Stay unemployed and wait for a job that paid the same salary as my former position, or ... 

2) take the available lower level position. I opted to take the position to keep my skills well honed. The company has benefited greatly from having a top notch pro handling the job, but I am uniquely qualified to handle the challenges of this position and should be paid accordingly.”

  • Explain that while you're not looking to leave your job based solely on salary, you expect to be paid the fair market value when you make a move.
  • Drive home that your current or recent job is a very different position than the one for which you are applying, (even though the skills needed are similar) and therefore the salary range would be different.
  • Mention that while your position was satisfying, it didn't offer much in the way of compensation. (Note that that sometimes happens when companies fail to keep up with standard salaries for long term employees.)
  • Share a recent performance appraisal to make clear your salary wasn’t based upon a performance issue.
  • Give them a rational explanation for why you seek a higher salary.

Their first offer isn’t necessarily a final offer

If they make you an offer at the low end of their range, realize their offer is likely a negotiation strategy, not a final number. 

Counter with a higher number, but realize that your response doesn’t have to be your final answer either. 

Stay calm and remember that employers don’t want to lay their final cards on the table before you do because they know you don’t want to be offered a position at the low end of their salary range.

Seek a mutually beneficial outcome

  • Research the company before they make you an offer. Visit www.glassdoor.com to find the compensation levels for specific jobs at thousands of companies.
  • Negotiate in person with the decision maker when possible. It's not as easy for them to dismiss your salary requirements in person as it is over the phone. Stand your ground and don’t twitch.
  • Demonstrate that you are the best person to help the employer address challenges. Offer solutions and strategies at meetings and in follow-up e-mails. Build the relationship.
  • Appear confident (but not cocky), dynamic and busy.
  • Let them know if you have competing offers, or are conversing with other prospective employers.
  • Don’t lie about your current salary. The new employer can confirm if the numbers you state are accurate.
  • Have a perfect number in mind, but don’t say it out loud … it could be lower than they would have paid.
  • State what's most important to you (salary, vacation time, office setting, etc.) and what is a nice, but unnecessary perk. Let the employer know you may be open to enhanced benefits in other areas such as increased vacation time if they cannot completely meet your salary expectations.
  • Don’t take low ball offers personally. Remember they offered you the job.
  • Don’t accept the offer right away. Say that you are very interested in the position, but need time to discuss the decision with your loved ones. Agree on a time when you will give them your response.

Consider the employers’ perspective
Employers determine salaries for a position based on factors that may have nothing to do with you including the scarcity of the skills/experience needed, the level of the position, the salary ranges within the geographic area, the current economic conditions in the market and industry, and the company’s culture and pay philosophy. They simply may not be in the position to pay you what you think you are worth.

Also realize that companies typically cannot pay you more than what is proportional to the pay ranges of their current employees. Being overpaid in their eyes may not be good for you as their new employee either. Your work will be overly scrutinized; expectations will be extremely high and coworkers may resent you for being treated special.

Be realistic. If you've done your homework, by all means, negotiate for better pay. But if you find you are asking for more than is fair or what they are willing to pay, bow out or adjust your expectations.

Remember that salary negotiations can be stressful for you and the company. Your expectations may be radically different than what the employer expects and they have every right to offer what they think is reasonable. Stay calm, professional and open throughout the negotiations, lest you hurt the relationship before you even start the job.

In a win-win salary negotiation, employer and employee leave the negotiation satisfied … so learn to negotiate well; after all … it can help you land a job or get a better one!

What tips have you tried? Share your comments!


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  1. Thank you for another great and helpful post! Your tips are highly valuable for anyone trying to get a job that would help them fulfil their potential.
    I am myself faced with the task of looking for a job that offers me what I want.
    However, I find it very difficult to negotiate a job offer, be it the salary, the holidays or bonuses.
    I have written a blog post on the issue and would love to hear your view on it!

  2. These are really pertinent to a lot of people.


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