How to negotiate pay: tips from a non-expert

Millie Neil
How to negotiate pay: tips from a non-expert

In my last column, we talked about why Millennials are reluctant to negotiate pay when they’ve been offered a shiny new job.

It’s crucial to do so, not least because New Zealand has an infamously low-wage economy and substantial gender wage gap, but because there’s always more money sitting there, just waiting to be requested.

A friend of mine has discovered this reality time and again throughout her career, first in journalism, then in government, and passionately evangelises the necessity of negotiating. For her, the first time she gave it a go was when she was offered an additional role to the one she was already working in – a high-ranking gig in Parliament. She knew she could refuse, and she didn’t really need the money. 

“That was probably the first time I thought to myself, ‘I actually have some power in the situation.’”

Since then, she’s realised that if you’ve been offered a job, even if it’s your first out of university, then the employer wants you on their team. “And they should be prepared to pay a good number for that.”

When it comes to actually asking, it can be difficult to decide on wording, timing and medium. Here is a quickfire guide to getting money you’ve only dreamed of, to go alongside the job of your dreams.


1. Don’t show your cards until they’ve shown you theirs.

Employers will usually ask in an interview, or in their verbal offer, what your salary expectations are. “I refuse to answer that question,” my friend says, adding the policy has led to some really awkward situations.

“But if I say to them ‘100k’, and their budget was 130, well, I’ve just done myself out of 30k.”


2. Instead, ask them what their range is.

“I say, ‘I’d like to know what the salary band is, and I was hoping to be appointed at the upper end of that band.’”If the employer offers you a figure straight off the bat, tell them: ‘I was hoping for a higher remuneration rate than that’ or ‘my salary expectations were higher than that.’


3. Ask for more than one thing.

In addition to requesting more cash, ask for other things you might want. Another week’s annual leave, flexible work hours, the opportunity to take unpaid leave beyond your annual leave allowance.

“It helps you work out what they have to offer, and what they don’t.”


4. Ask for time to consider the offer.

Now you know the numbers, don’t need to feel pressured to make a decision on the spot. Thank them for the offer, and tell them you need to go away and consider it. Then, activate your network. It can be helpful to ask people you know in the industry, even if they’re only distant acquaintances, what they think you should do.

But take their advice with a grain of salt: if they’re in the “grateful to have a job” camp, they might tell you the lower end of the band is reasonable. In my experience, women tend to say take what you’re given, men tend to say, “ask for the max amount”.

But if you’ve been offered the job, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be paid the top end of the band.

Also discuss the offer with mentors and trusted, smart family members. They know you best and will be honest.


5. When you’ve decided on what you want, don’t shy away from an email.

In a perfect world, you’d negotiate pay face to face with your employer, but time constraints and the sheer number of people that tend to be involved in such processes mean it’s more practical to send your counter demands by email.

Write to the person you’ve been dealing with, thanking them for the time they’ve spent with you, and for their offer. Then, say: “However.” And clearly list your requests, resisting any urge to explain or apologise.

 Negotiating by email means you’re less likely to back down after a verbal rejection, or accept less than what you’re worth in the heat of the moment. You can also call in the troops – more experienced, confident people in your life who can tell you what to say, if you’re cringing, or at a loss.

Getting things on paper helps clarify offers, and what has been agreed. Tell the employer: “If we’re in negotiations, I want to do this in writing.” Then sit back, and wait for the dollars to roll in.

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