How to Negotiate a Higher Salary at Work

In the past, in order to ask for a raise, an average employee would need to work up their courage before approaching their boss to ask the dreaded question. On top of having the guts to ask, the employee would need to present evidence of why a salary increase was warranted, whether they felt it was due to taking on more responsibility at work or because of an increased cost of living.

Today, the process tends to be simpler: Employees can just wait until their annual performance review, where a salary review is part of the process and a raise is typically offered based on seniority or the cost of living.

Knowing this, the best time to start a discussion about salary is at the time of the yearly evaluation. Not only is this the appropriate time to talk money, since the employer is expecting the conversation anyway, but the discussion can also include the context of work performance and goals achieved during the previous year.

All this being said, the most important salary discussion an employee will have is at the time of hiring, because this is when the base salary of the position will be determined, which will set the foundation for all future raises. Once an employee is hired, the opportunity to discuss salary will rarely present itself outside of the annual review.

Opportunities at the time of hiring

In companies where human resources management practices are less-developed (for example, non-profit organizations and small to medium-sized businesses), it’s easier to negotiate salary at the time of hiring. The ability to negotiate can be less prevalent in larger companies, where formal salary structures for specific roles have likely already been established. At big companies, the starting salary for an employee is usually based on pre-defined criteria to ensure that all employees are treated fairly.

In any case, whether or not you are comfortable with the process of salary negotiation, you can rest assured that the majority of employers in Quebec will be fair and scrupulous when deciding what salary to offer you. Good employers have no interest in offering you a low salary; they know that you won’t be happy with the salary even if you do accept the position and that you’ll be on the lookout for a better offer. If you leave soon after being hired, the employer will lose money because you are no longer creating value for them – and the next person they hire will take months to start producing real value.

This is why smart employers work hard to keep their employees for as long as possible. Knowing this, there’s little risk that an employer will offer you a lousy salary.

What is the right salary?

In terms of your personal needs and wants, ask yourself: what is the minimum acceptable salary? What is a reasonable salary in your opinion? This would be a salary that you don’t find frustrating. Without leaving you overjoyed, a reasonable salary will at least cover all of your basic needs: rent or mortgage payments, food, transportation, bills, some money left over to save, and – very importantly – is tied to a job that adds value to your CV.

Conversely, an unreasonable salary is one that doesn’t cover your cost of living at your current lifestyle, and is tied to a job that adds little to your CV in terms of increasing your employability or future career prospects.

A fair salary, then, is based on subjective elements that vary from person to person. When negotiating your salary at the beginning of a new job, your bargaining power will be dictated by your personal situation and if you are comfortable enough to refuse a job if the conditions offered (including salary) don’t meet your desires or needs. Ask yourself: at what point do you need this job? Keeping the answer to this question in mind, what is a fair salary?

Regardless of the answers, always remember that in every case, the starting salary you accept at a job will be the base upon which all future salary increases (from that company, at least) are based upon.

Setting your conditions

When it comes time to discuss salary during a job interview, a good practice is to right away state what you would consider to be a fair and welcome salary. By making your expectations known, you open the doors to a constructive conversation with the employer.

Of course, if the gap between what you think is a reasonable salary and what the employer is willing to pay is large, then the employer will probably go with another candidate rather than try to get you to accept their offer. In a case like this there isn’t much room for debate, except if you are the only qualified candidate for the job, which is rarely the case.

Make sure to mention your strengths and assets

To make sure that a potential employer has a good understanding of the value you can bring to their organization – an understanding that will directly affect how much they are willing to pay you – make sure to present your skills and assets that may not be obvious, such as:

  • Any out-of-the-ordinary education or training experience
  • Experience working for competing companies
  • A breadth of understanding and willingness to apply that knowledge
  • Knowledge of several languages
  • A mastery of written French
  • Connections that will come in handy for the job

As well, beyond the salary of a position, take into consideration any additional benefits that the job might offer you, for example:

  • Opportunities for continuing training or education
  • A flexible schedule or the ability to work remotely
  • A career path at the company
  • Paid expenses (phone, parking, transportation)
  • Pension plan
  • Payment of professional association fees
  • Paid sick days (this should be standard with any good job)
  • Medical and dental benefits (also standard for good jobs)

A winning approach

When it’s time to discuss salary with a potential employer, don’t hesitate to share (and to qualify) your point of view with confidence – but remember to stay realistic. Show them that you are open to discussion and that you have faith that they are a fair and honest employer.

Recommended reading

How to negotiate your salary? Written by Jérôme Côté, CRHA, published by ORHRI.

How to negotiate the salary of an ideal candidate? Published by Robert Half.

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