How to Negotiate the Salary You Want

By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

Salary negotiation is an important part of many job interviews, yet it’s something that makes most of us feel uncomfortable. Why? Because we were raised to be polite, not “pushy.” However, learning to negotiate salary will give the impression that you have business savvy, lead to increased self-confidence, and in many cases, result in better compensation.

Let’s clear up one thing before we go any further: It’s not possible to negotiate salary in every position you go after. For example, when you apply for a staff position in a public healthcare facility, salaries are usually predetermined and pretty much set in stone. They’re based on objective criteria, such as years of experience, degrees, certifications, shift differential, and so on. However, once you get into management, or in some cases, private healthcare facilities and more nontraditional jobs, there’s usually leeway to negotiate.

Here are the rules for successful salary negotiating:

Do your homework. Find out what the going salary is for a comparable position in your geographic area. Search Internet job databases or contact the state arm of a related national professional association for salary surveys or information. The preferred way to find salary information is to network with others in the industry. While it’s considered rude to ask someone how much she or he makes, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask, “What’s a ballpark average salary for a nurse educator position in this geographic area?” If you can’t find information on the same job, look for something with similar responsibilities.

Don’t let salary be an obstacle. If you’re asked early on what your salary needs are, you should respond with something like, “I need to know what the job entails before I can state my salary requirement” or “At this point, my salary requirements are negotiable. I’m more interested in finding out if the job’s right for me and if I’m the right person for the job.”

How can you possibly have a salary requirement early in the game when you don’t yet know what the job involves, how many people will be reporting to you, or what will be required of you? Besides, if you quote a salary that’s too high or too low, you can knock yourself out of the running before you’ve even had a chance to be interviewed. Remember, you have zero negotiating power early in the interview process.

Wait until you’re offered a job to discuss salary. Salary should never be discussed until you’re offered a job. Until then, you’re not fully aware of the parameters of the job and what’s expected of you. Most important, once the prospective employer is sold on you, you have some negotiating power.

Never forgo an interview because the salary isn’t what you think it should be. Focus on the content of the job first. Many applicants have garnered bigger and better jobs, with higher salaries than what was initially offered.

Let them mention a number first. Once you’ve been offered a job, try to get the prospective employer to quote a number or salary range first. In an employment situation, whoever mentions a salary figure first is at a disadvantage. So if you’re asked what you think would be fair salary, say something like, “How much have you budgeted for this position?” or “How much were you paying the last person? Let’s start there.” Many employers will be up-front with this information. Then you can gauge what you have to work with.

Know your bottom line. Be prepared ahead of time with a ballpark amount that you want, based on your knowledge and experience. What’s the least amount you’re willing to take? Don’t forget to consider benefits, which can make up a significant portion of your total compensation package. Remember to look at the big picture.

Most career experts will tell you to always ask for a little more money than you’re offered: There’s usually a salary range, and people rarely offer the top amount. If your request is reasonable and the employer wants you and has the budget, you may get what you ask for. The worst that could happen is that you get turned down. But asking doesn’t jeopardize your standing unless you make a completely unrealistic request.

Be prepared to sell yourself. When offered an amount that is considerably less than you had hoped for, you might say after a slight pause, “I was hoping you would come in closer to (whatever amount you were hoping for or a little higher), based on the level of responsibility and skill required to do the job.” Then you have some room to negotiate down, if necessary. If the money is there, then the negotiating begins. Remember, you can always come down with your salary requests, but you can’t go up. If you can’t get the money you want, you can try to negotiate vacation time, tuition reimbursement, working from home occasionally or other things that come out of a different budget or don’t impact the budget.

Salary negotiating is both an art and science. With practice, you’ll get more comfortable with it and better at it. When you develop assertive negotiating skills, learn to effectively sell yourself, and discover that the sky won’t fall as a result, you may just get what you want.

Copyright Nursing Spectrum Career Fitness(sm) Online (, All rights reserved. Used with permission.