It’s no myth that failing to negotiate your salary can seriously impact your earning potential. In fact, last year, Glassdoor released a study that found that the average American could be earning about $7,500 more per year than their current annual base salary. Not only does that hurt your bank account in the short term — since raises and subsequent salary offers tend to be based on your previous salary, a lower initial salary has a compounding effect. Some studies estimate that failing to negotiate can cost you up to $600,000 over the course of your career.
So it’s clear that salary negotiation is important. But does that mean you should always ask for a higher salary when starting a new job? What if you get an offer that’s already fair, or fear that the opportunity might be rescinded if you try to ask for more?
To get to the bottom of this question, we asked a handful of career and salary negotiation experts to weigh in. The verdict? With very few exceptions, yes — you should always try to negotiate your salary. Here’s why.
Most Offers Have Built-in Wiggle Room
You might feel guilty asking for a higher salary than what your prospective employer offered, but odds are, they’ve anticipated that reaction — and their salary offer reflects that.
“In today’s job market, most recruiters expect that the candidate will make a counteroffer and typically leave room for negotiation on base pay or various incentives,” says Tammy Perkins, Chief People Officer of Fjuri.
Typically, employers have a set salary “band” for a given position (for example, a company may budget between $75,000 to $110,000 for a marketing manager position). They want to offer a salary that’s competitive enough to attract talented candidates to the role, but they still have a vested interest in saving money where they can. So in this case, the company might choose to offer $90,000, knowing that if the candidate pushed back and requested a higher salary, they could offer an additional $20,000 while still staying within their band. But if the candidate fails to negotiate, that’s an additional $20k saved.
You never truly know what you can get unless you ask, so it’s well worth pushing back on a job offer — especially because the potential rewards far outweigh the risks.
The Worst-Case Response Is Usually a ‘No’
When I first began interviewing for jobs post-college, I was terrified to negotiate my salary, fearing that a recruiter would view my request as greedy and rescind their offer as a result. But in reality, that hardly ever happens.
Why is that? For one reason, if you receive a job offer, the employer has probably already invested a significant amount of time and energy into recruiting you. Rescinding your offer just because you asked for a bit more cash would mean they’d have to begin the recruiting process all over again — and that’s not a cheap or easy thing to do.
“They've chosen you, made [an] offer and are invested in the idea that they've filled the position,” says Eli Howayeck, the founder/CEO of Crafted Career Concepts in Milwaukee. “Candidates get nervous or afraid that asking for more money or non-financial benefits could put their offer in jeopardy. Employers like this because it keeps salaries from rising too quickly. The reality: the worst thing likely to happen if you ask for more is that your request is denied, in which case, you can still accept the offer and move ahead!”
That’s not to say that no one has ever had an offer rescinded after they tried to negotiate. But on the rare occasion that it happens, it’s probably more about how they asked than simply the fact that they asked.
“Offers are rarely rescinded — and if they are, it’s most likely because the candidate handled the negotiation poorly and displayed behavior that wasn’t aligned with the company’s core values,” says Marielle Smith, VP of People at GoodHire.
Even if the unthinkable happens and a company does reject you for trying to negotiate, there’s a good chance that it’s not the kind of company you would want to work for anyway, points out HR Specialist and ICF-credentialed Career Coach Kristyn Lang.
“If the company does react very negatively and holds it against you, then you have seen their true colors and have dodged a company that probably does not have a great culture,” Lang says.
It Might Be a While Before You Can Revisit a Raise
Some job seekers rationalize taking a lower-paying job by telling themselves they can just push for a higher salary when performance review season rolls around. But unless you’ve been explicitly told otherwise, you shouldn’t just assume that a raise is guaranteed.
“I think you should almost always try to negotiate your salary because you’re not likely going to have another opportunity to address compensation for another year,” Smith says. “As a job candidate, you’re going into a new position with good faith based on a job description and a few interviews — you don’t really know what to expect.”
Even if you knock it out of the park on day one, there are multiple reasons you might not get a raise. Some companies aren’t able to offer raises or bonuses if they’re struggling financially, and others have policies about how long an employee has to stick around before they’re eligible for a promotion or raise — so you need to make the most of each negotiation opportunity that’s presented to you, because you don’t know when the next one will come up.
Of course, all of this doesn’t mean that you’ll be guaranteed a higher salary if you just ask for it. You still need to understand your market value, lay out a compelling argument and make your request respectfully (and even then, a more competitive offer isn’t a sure thing).
But if you don’t ask, you won’t receive — it’s as simple as that. You don’t want to be kicking yourself ten years from now for earning far less than you deserve, all because you couldn’t work up the nerve to negotiate your salary when you had the chance. Who knows? With a little preparation, you might just be able to secure the salary you always dreamed of.