At Work

Here are 8 ways to negotiate a six-figure salary like a pro

Key Points
  • Low unemployment is boosting worker confidence and causing more to leave jobs to pursue six-figure salaries, experts say.
  • LinkedIn's 2017 Salary Report found that even those early in their careers can make six figures.
  • Key in salary negotiations is not accepting the first offer and clearly communicating your expectations, says Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of professional careers site Ladders.
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Last month Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders, the leading career platform for jobs paying $100,000 and more, was advising a female executive with 20 years' experience in marketing. She wasn't happy with the salary offered by a prospective employer, but she was sheepish about negotiating.

Cenedella advised her to tell the employer that she was hoping to earn $15,000 more because of a move from the Southwest to New York City, which had a higher cost of living and higher commuting costs. She did so, and within three days the company agreed to the increase.

Cenedella said many workers feel compelled to take the first offer, concerned they'll be perceived as rude or ungrateful if they negotiate. "The biggest mistake people make is that any negotiation is too much negotiation for them," he said.

Negotiations like this are taking place more often these days. A record low unemployment rate of 3.7 percent is boosting the confidence of workers and causing more people to leave jobs to pursue jobs with six-figure salaries, said Andrew J. Sherman, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw, who helps small and midsize enterprises negotiate six-figure salary contracts with prospective employees. "People are seeing there are more opportunities available to them," he said.

Cenedella said the days of working in one job most of your career are long gone. Companies "don't have a loyalty to you, so you don't need to have loyalty to a company." That means there's more job-hopping and opportunities for new negotiations to get you to a higher salary.

Getting to a six-figure salary "is something job seekers should aim for if they're not there yet," said Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster, a worldwide job site. Sherman said it's an important socioeconomic benchmark "that helps people define themselves quantitatively."

It's not just traditional white-collar jobs that can earn you six figures. A new analysis that Monster conducted using the Gartner TalentNeuron tool of the top 10 job listings offering six-figure salaries in the past year found heavy- and tractor-trailer truck drivers among software developers, sales managers and computer systems engineers. LinkedIn's 2017 Salary Report found that even those early in their careers can make six figures, citing investment banking analysts and associate brand managers as having a median income of more than $100,000.

So how do you successfully get to six figures? Leading experts weigh in with their top tips.

1. Know your worth. Consult professional organizations, mentors in your industry and colleagues to find out the salary range for someone at your level so you have a solid foundation going into salary negotiations, Salemi said. She suggests practicing the conversation, role-playing with a friend, if you haven't engaged in this type of negotiation for a while.

At the same time, Sherman cautioned against overvaluing yourself. "Even though it's a competitive marketplace, some people have an inflated perception of their worth," he said.

2. Don't accept the first offer. Employers almost always have an additional $5,000 or $10,000 available, yet most job seekers, concerned about appearing ungrateful, just accept the first salary that's put on the table, Cenedella said. Consider that as a starting point.

He suggests asking for more by using positive language and separating the negotiation from the role with phrasing like, "This would be a meaningful, wonderful step forward in my career. I'm thrilled about the position, and the only thing separating me from it is the matter of pay. I hope we can get that out of the way."

He said you can engage in a few rounds of negotiating; don't stop until the employer says, "This is our final offer." Even if you're happy with the first offer, don't accept it, Salemi said. "It could be even higher, making you even happier." She says there's no harm in asking if there's any possibility to increase the offer. If an employer can't come through on salary, ask if there are other compensation opportunities, like a signing bonus.

3. Give a reason for asking for more. Perhaps the job requires more travel, taking up more of your time and resulting in more childcare expenses, or is in a new location with a higher cost of living. Cenedella says providing a rationale for the increase "always helps these negotiations."

4. Clearly communicate your expectations. Let the employer know the critical factors that would encourage you to consider a role outside the one you're in. That helps the company tailor an offer to you, said Amy Schultz, director of product recruiting at LinkedIn. Dr. Steven Lindner, an industrial organizational psychologist with The WorkPlace Group in Florham Park, New Jersey, who has handled many six-figure job offers over the past 20 years, said it's important for candidates to think through what they really need to feel good about doing the job.

The biggest mistake people make is that any negotiation is too much negotiation for them.
Marc Cenedella
founder and CEO of Ladders, a leading professional career site

He said letting employers know your salary expectations is helpful for them in crafting an offer and not wasting their time if they can't provide a salary that's within your ballpark. Salemi adds that specifying a salary you need and promising to take the job if they provide it can simplify the process and may allow the deal to be closed faster.

5. Don't let age define you. LinkedIn's Salary Report indicated that you can still make six figures early in your career. Schultz says when it comes to negotiating, focus on researching the compensation in your industry and the job and level you're pursuing and highlight the skills you can bring to the job, rather than your years of experience.

6. Don't fixate on the salary. Lindner recalls a client who received a six-figure job offer with a midsize employer with multiple locations. But that salary fell short when she started considering relocation costs and additional commuting time. The employer couldn't offer her a higher salary, since it would create disparity among those in similar positions. Negotiations were about to fall apart until Lindner suggested asking for relocation assistance, and the ability to work at home a couple of times a week to cut down on commuting time. The employer agreed to this and she took the job.

Sherman said it's important to ask what non-salary investments the employer is willing to make in you. This can include everything from education — including paying for advanced degrees — to training and mentoring. "There are a range of executive-level benefits that might have tremendous value for you well beyond what you were hoping to get in salary," he said.

7. Consider negotiating an employment contract for high-level positions. Unless you're at a senior level, employment contracts are mostly written to benefit the party who wrote them — in this case, your future employer. He said it's not really something to think about until you get to $100,000 and higher.

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Lindner added that employment contracts are also offered to those in senior positions at the top of the organizational chart as well as to those in project-based positions that have employment start and end dates.

He suggests it's worthwhile to negotiate for one if you're a highly skilled candidate who is leaving a secure job to take on a new role that comes with a high risk of job loss through no fault of your own, such as with a start-up, a company going public, being acquired or merging with another entity. Highly skilled candidates who bring significant value and importance to an employer's business are likely to be rewarded with an employment contract, as the contract is often of mutual benefit to both the candidate and the employer, he said.

Candidates interviewing for senior positions and project-based positions should ask very early in the recruiting process if the position comes with an employment contract, or if an employment contract would be considered. The best time to set the expectation is at the start of the recruiting process.

8. Don't be greedy. Lindner explains that sometimes when candidates know an employer is interested in them, they increase their expectations beyond what is reasonable for a similar position. It's not appropriate to demand a salary that far exceeds what others earn in a similar job.

Candidates who use the strategy of "let's see how badly the employer wants me" by requesting a salary significantly above what the candidate appeared to want all along is likely to find their job offer rescinded. Employers want to hire great people they can retain, and candidates who get greedy at the end often end up shorthanded, Lindner said.

Giving ultimatums, where you harshly demand a particular salary from a prospective employer, usually backfires, Lindner said. Even if the employer can't meet your salary request, it's important to be polite and respectful throughout the process. Personal reputation matters and could ultimately lead to a better offer down the road — even from the employer who couldn't meet your salary expectations. "A no today may be a yes tomorrow," he said.