The Top 20s Do’s and Don’ts of Salary Negotiation, According to Expert Career Coaches

Strategies you need to know when negotiating your salary.

Do you know what you’re worth

And do you know how to ask for it?

You may be about to negotiate your salary in an interview process (or several!) or perhaps you’re just here to bookmark this for future reference – whatever your situation is: congrats! You’re about to learn how to play the negotiation game and do it right. 

Women are oftentimes hesitant to negotiate their salaries out of fear of “upsetting” their future employer, being seen as greedy, or having a potential job offer withdrawn. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that negotiation is an innate, unlearnable skill – so many make it seem so effortless!

But, the truth is anyone can learn to negotiate their salary with some clear guidance and practice that will help you answer the inevitable question: what is your desired salary ?

We talked to top career coaches to get their best tactics and strategies for negotiating your salary. In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • How to figure out your worth

  • Finding the right time to negotiate

  • How to word your ask

  • What not to say

  • How to negotiate at a startup

  • Possible red flags

  • Confronting biases in your negotiation

Figuring out your worth

The first step to negotiating your salary is figuring out your value in the market. In other words, how much others at your skill and experience level are making. This brings us to our first expert tip…

1. Don’t use your current salary as a starting point. Do consult other quality resources.

As Bedilia Ramirez , Career Coach & DEI Advocate advises:

“There are many women job seekers who lowball themselves because they are using their current salary as a base. 

Depending on the tech company size, you can negotiate a 15% to 30% increase.  I encourage job seekers to do their research, explore the Elpha Salary Database , Indeed, and for salaries based on role and location. This includes taking into consideration the benefits package (i.e. do you have dependents that need to be covered?) and how often the company provides raises and promotions.”

2. Do aim for the top.

When deciding on the range to aim for, Stephanie Heath , the Founder of SoulWork & Six Figures, provides practical advice to job seekers.

Always find the top of the range that you can make, based on your years of experience, title, and city and tack on 5K - 15K more. This is standard practice. It ensures that no matter how far they negotiate you down, you are still landing somewhere near the top of what you could be making in your function. 

Then, when you make your ask, you just ask, leave out the extra sentences, and lean into using silence.”

3. Do have a clear idea of what your needs and wants are besides monetary compensation.

Emily Eley , a Business & Mindset Coach, encourages women to think beyond negotiating just their salary.

“Roughly 88% of women rank flexibility as being as important, if not more so, than salary. So although salary negotiations are important, I want to encourage folks to think about what else is on the table in addition to money. Try these interview questions:

‘What's your work from home policy?’

‘On average, how many hours a week are folks in similar positions to mine working?’

‘What percentage of the work here requires facetime to excel and grow?’ All of these things have a cost/benefit relationship with the dollar amount being earned. So yes, it's about the money, but it's also about all the other things you want too.”

👀 More about this in #10! 👇

4. Do unravel what could be holding you back internally from asking for what you want.

Nadia De Ala , Leadership, Negotiation Coach, and Founder of Real You Leadership, shares a simple two-step exercise to start unraveling:

1. Write down a list of all your negative, inner critic, self-sabotaging thoughts. Get really specific. No matter how messed up that inner voice is, put it on paper.

2. Then next to each point, write a new reframed possibility. Reframing is a powerful exercise and tool to open up to positive alternatives and change how we feel emotionally about a situation.


Negative self-talk: “I don’t have enough experience to do this job”

→ Reframe: “I have enough experience to be qualified and for what I don’t know, I’m a quick learner and will use my scrappiness to find a solution to any problems.”

Negative self-talk: “They’re going to think I’m greedy and ungrateful and retract the offer if I ask for more.”

→ Reframe: “I am grateful for this opportunity and will express my gratitude. They gave me the initial offer because I am the right person for the job, and I deserve to be compensated for my value and hard work. ”

Negative self-talk: “They’ll think I’m too aggressive and get turned off.”

→ Reframe: “I’m not being aggressive, I am being confident and direct that I’d like X compensation and will invite them to work together on my package so we can start good work together.”

For more tactial tips from Nadia, check out her full article: Negotiating as a Woman of Color in Tech .

The right time to negotiate

When do you bring up salary in the interview process? That depends...

5. Do pace your ask. 

Meggie Palmer , Founder & CEO at PepTalkHer , suggests you take into account how excited you are about the particular role you're interviewing for:

“If you don’t really need or want the job, you may want to bring up salary pretty early on with the recruiter or interviewer so you don’t waste your time.

If you are quite keen, it can make sense to hold off a little longer before having the dollars and cents conversation. Why? Because once people get to know you and your zone of genius, if they can tell you’re the right candidate, you may find there’s more compensation wriggle room.

Here's what you could say:

To be honest, I’m really well looked after where I am right now. For me to make the move, I’d be looking for a serious offer to reflect the experience and value that I’ll bring to the team.’

I’d love to better understand the compensation package you’ve allocated to this role, given its seniority and importance to the organizations’ goals.’

Specifically, what results are you expecting? I would expect the compensation to be in line with the value the company places on that input.’”

And remember - you can make it an ongoing conversation throughout the interview process. 

6. Do plan on (at least) two rounds of negotiation.

“If your salary ask isn't fully met in the negotiation, seek to negotiate other components to help you bridge the gap. Signing bonuses, annual bonuses, and stock options are the most common and typically the most valuable, following a salary increase. However, some companies will also add in educational stipends, leadership coaching, or additional PTO or Work-From-Home flexibility. 

Be thoughtful in your negotiations, and plan on two rounds of asks (salary first, followed by the secondary components listed above).”

- Leigha May , Life Coach & Career Coach at Leigha May Coaching

How to word your ask

It’s not always easy to know what to say next during a negotiation process – nerves can get the best of you! Here’s how to be strategic about the words you choose.

7. Don’t speak off the cuff.

“Have your talking points front and center and stick to them.

Speak less than you normally would and have a glass of water nearby to take a sip before answering any question to slow things down and combat rushing to fill silences.

Know, like the back of your hand, what the market dictates for your role.

Wording & strategy you should stick to: 

1. Ask them for the budget and indicate with your tone whether it’s in line (with your salary or other requirements) or not.

2. Share that "you are being considered for roles in the ____ range at this time actually".

3. Listen to what they have to say – but stick to your guns! In a negotiation, you can't afford to let your emotions cause you to ask for less. If they say something like ‘We had to let go of staff recently’ or ‘We lost budget because of COVID’, as a soft-spoken, empathetic woman, we are the Queens of putting people first. 

Let go of that need to put your desires aside to be seen or to be a team player during your very sacred salary negotiation.

4. Follow with a clarifying question e.g. ‘I’m curious, would you be open to sharing how the team/management came to that number?’ then listen, and no matter what they say to answer that question, circle back and repeat your ask – always blaming it on the other interviews you have happening and what they are 'considering you for'. 

Recruiters/HR don't change their budget based on how much they like you or your MBA/Ph.D., they do it when they think they will lose you to another company because, as a recruiter, we get in trouble when that happens.

5. Finally, take a breather and let them get back to you. 

6. If they still fall short, use this language:

‘If you can match or come a bit closer to ____ then I will sign my offer letter today’. 

That is your last resort and your last opportunity to counter before you come across as unreasonable."

- Stephanie Heath, Founder & Job Search Career Coach at SoulWork & Six Figures

8. Don't settle. Do ask about flexibility to negotiate.

Receiving an offer that is lower than you expected is disappointing. But it doesn't mean the end of the process!

“It depends how far off the offer is from the one you'd be really excited about (you should know this figure ahead of receiving an offer!). 

If the offer is within ~10% then I would avoid using the word 'underpaid' and instead ask if there's flexibility to negotiate.

If the offer is really far off from one you'd be excited to accept, it may be most efficient to share that saying something like,

"Thanks so much for the offer, and for all the time you've spent with me during the interview process. Unfortunately, this is quite a bit below my understanding of market rate, based on the research and conversations I've had, and is going to be challenging for me to accept. Is there an opportunity to move the offer up substantially, or perhaps discuss if I'm a fit for the next level up?" 

It'd also be helpful to share the figure you really want to see during this part of the conversation so the company knows where they need to meet you!” 

- Jordan Sale , Founder & CEO at 81cents

9. Do use your personal qualms to your advantage.

“You can literally do something called an "Accusation Audit" (more on this in the book Never Split the Difference) and say that out loud.

 i.e. ‘You're going to think I'm being greedy,’ 

or ‘This is going to come off sounding like I don't care about the team / the work,’ 

or ‘I know this might end up being upsetting/stressful.’ Doing so can trigger a psychological response of, ‘No, no, you're fine,’ and actually get the other person to become more of your ally in the conversation. 

Also, fundamentally, remember that you are doing this for the betterment of the team, the work, the clients, the mission. Because if you're set up for success (and not underpaid for your labor), then everyone wins.”

- Cynthia Pong , Founder & Career Strategist at Embrace Change

What not to say

10. Don’t disclose your current salary or salary history. Do answer vaguely, if necessary.

“In many states in the U.S. there is a ban on the salary history question, so interviewers can't ask candidates how much they've earned in the past. However, it's not banned everywhere so this question can still come up depending on where you live. 

If it does come up, I suggest keeping your answer vague (ex. "high 5 figures") but truthful and changing the subject quickly to what you are aiming to make in your next role versus your current salary.”

- Stephanie Ciccone-Nascimento , Job Search Coach at Coconut Coaching & Elpha

11. Do be cautious about disclosing family plans.

“I want to live in a world where disclosing that I'm interested in family planning won't leave me overlooked for a job or promotion, but unfortunately, we're not there yet. So I always err on the side of caution when it comes to the disclosure on things like family planning and eldercare. 

Folks don't need to know everything about us out of the gate. This isn't being deceitful. Men are rarely, if ever, asked about family planning and even if they are, they on average end up making more money as a result of sharing such information. 

If you need to ask about family leave or want that to be a part of your salary negotiation, try something like: In order to build a career with you long-term, I'd like to make sure a fair family leave plan is in place. Would you be willing to include [insert details of what you want] as part of the offer?” 

- Emily Eley, Business & Mindset Coach for Women Entrepreneurs

If family planning is a non-negotiable for you, here are 26 companies that offer 12+ weeks of paid maternity leave.

Part of being strategic with your words is also knowing when not to use them. 

12. Do use silence as a negotiation tactic.

“I often see women asking for more compensation, but then caveating it right after that they also would be okay with more vacation time, or a flexible schedule, or other things that aren’t relevant to their salary. 

Don’t caveat your asks, and separate other benefits from compensation. 

Give a clear ask on compensation that the hiring manager will have to directly respond to. Don’t feel the pressure to fill up all the airtime – make sure they feel the need to respond.”

- Jillian Climie , Co-founder at The Thoughtful Co.

How to negotiate at a startup

Every company and every job offer is different. But there are specific considerations to interviewing and negotiating salaries that are unique to startups and differ from what you might expect from a more established company.

13. Do ask specific questions. 

“Ask about how they are financed – by whom, what round, what valuation and outstanding shares. 

Ask about their approach to employee equity – % of the cap table set aside for employees in each round.

Ask about how employees are recognized and rewarded – titles, verbal kudos, vacation, company shut-downs, mental health benefits, bonus, salary & stock.

Make each of these a conversation

You are gathering information on both if you want to work at this company and what facets are open for negotiation.” 

- Tutti Taygerly , Executive Leadership Coach

14. Don’t overlook the risk.

Getting answers to these questions can also help you weigh the risks that are commonly associated with working at a startup.

“If equity is part of your compensation package, you have to really think about your risk tolerance, as it pertains to cash in your pocket today versus potential compensation from equity down the line. 

Often, startups will pay less in base salary and offer equity as an equalizer when you're comparing offers between a startup versus a more established company. The equity in a startup could be worth a lot eventually or it could be worth nothing, depending on the success of the company. 

The question is whether you believe the company will be successful and are willing to stick around to realize that potential future value.” 

- Lydia Frank , VP of Marketing at Chronus

Possible red flags

There are key moments in a negotiation process that'll give you clues on whether a job offer is truly worth pursuing or not. 

15. Do pay attention to the balance of power during the interview process.

“It can feel that the employer has the power. But once you have received a job offer, the balance of power has shifted to you.

To regain power, employers will often use an ‘exploding job offer’. It’s to their benefit to give you a deadline and shorten the decision-making process. And it’s in yours to slow down and make sure it’s what you really want. It *may* be a red flag, and often is, but you can’t read their minds. 

Instead of backing off, engage with them — they will be highly motivated to talk to you — and use that time to ask them questions. See if their answers make sense and if they match your ideal workplace . Keep engaging and keep negotiating. You can always walk away.”

- Tutti Taygerly, Executive Leadership Coach

16. Do ask about their pay transparency philosophy.

“As employees, it's important we hold our employers accountable to fair, equitable, and transparent pay philosophies and programs. If we don't ask, we'll never know. If, when we make the ask, we are met with anger, frustration, or more severe consequences, it's a sure sign the organization doesn't truly have a standard policy in place that values all employees. 

One way to make the ask is to connect with a hiring manager and/or HR and say: 

‘Can you tell me where the proposed salary falls within the range of other employees with a similar title and pay level?’

Or, ‘Can you please share with me the approved salary range for this role and level and where my current offer falls within that range?’ 

If the employer shares the range then you can ask what it will take for you to be paid at the top of the range; if they won't share it, it's up to you to make a decision that serves your career based on their response.” 

- Ashley Paré , CEO & Founder at Own Your Worth

👀 Also check out Companies Hiring Now With Salary Range in Their Job Descriptions.

17. Do consider this a red flag.

“The odds of an offer being rescinded are very slim. Companies that engage in rescinding or reneging on offers tend to do it for one of two reasons: 

1) the company cannot afford to negotiate because they are financially strapped 

or 2) the company does not value a culture in which their employees seek fair and transparent pay. 

Having an offer rescinded simply by asking to negotiate is a big red flag.

It is also important to note that the percentage of people who negotiate their offer is higher than most people think. Some companies may even expect strong candidates to negotiate, which signals that the candidate is serious about the job.”

- Diana Lee , Software Engineering Technical Coach at Springboard

Confronting biases in your negotiation

We’re well aware of the gender pay gap, but there are other intersectionalities such as race, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability, to name a few, that can affect your compensation. Here’s how you can combat these biases:

18. Do ask about their DEI efforts.

“When your resume is submitted, you will be exposed to the personal biases of the person reviewing your resume and interviewing you. 

I once experienced a moment where I was judged by the interviewee because I graduated from a local university and not a ‘top tier’ university. I knew then if I were to be offered the job, my compensation package would be influenced by this bias.  If you feel that an interviewer has discriminated or judged you, call it out. Ask the following questions to determine if it feels like an equitable place to work: 

‘What are your employee/business resource groups?’ 

‘How do you foster and measure inclusivity & diversity?’ 

‘What is the retention rate of diverse candidates?’ 

‘What is your strategy for ensuring that your mid-and-senior level employee and management is diverse and reflective of the world we live in today?’” 

- Vanessa Santos , Partner & Co-CEO at #WeAllGrow Latina

19. Do identify your non-negotiables.

“Wherever intersectionality exists there will be biases. The more productive angle is to get clear on what's important and non-negotiable for you. What are the dealbreakers for you in terms of your identity and authenticity?

Make sure that you can live with your choices and remember that there are plenty of companies out there. You don't need to transform into a completely inauthentic version of yourself in order to get a job, and there may be some concessions you're willing to make in order to get your negotiation on the table. 

Know your non-negotiables.”

- Emily Eley, Business & Mindset Coach for Women Entrepreneurs

20. Do consider counterintuitive approaches.

"There’s a race component to the wage gap which results in Latinx, Indigenous, Black, and Southeast Asian women faring worse in terms of relative compensation as well. 

An intersectional study on negotiation shows that, in a possibly counterintuitive move, leveraging the stereotype biases against us may actually result in better outcomes at the negotiation table.

For Asian American women, the stereotype bias of us is that we're intelligent, but not "leadership material," it can work in our favor to frame our negotiation in terms of skills, metrics, and the work. For Black women, the stereotype bias is that they are assertive. So they can frame their negotiation in a more proactively assertive manner. 

Lastly, for women in general, the stereotype bias is that we're communal, so it helps to frame the negotiation in terms of benefiting the team, mission, organization, etc.”

- Cynthia Pong , Founder & Career Strategist at Embrace Change

We hope these tips will help you successfully negotiate your salary in your next performance review or job interview. 

If you're looking for support to help you through these hard convos, join Elpha - a free community of 60,000 women succeeding at work together. 💙

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