5 On Your Side

Expert: How to negotiate the 'most lucrative 5 minutes' of your life

Posted May 16, 2013

— Negotiating a salary for a new job or a raise at an existing job can be intimidating. Experts say most people negotiate the wrong way or, even worse, fail to negotiate at all.

“It brings up this universal anxiety of rejection,” said Steve Dalton, a senior career consultant at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

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Dalton, author of “The 2-Hour Job Search,” says the biggest mistake people make is not negotiating and simply accepting whatever offer the employer makes.

“I think people are in such a rush to make the anxiety and pain of being in a job search go away, that they miss perhaps the most lucrative 5 minutes of their life. It really is 5 minutes of additional pain that could result in thousands of dollars,” he said. “All it takes is asking one more question, ‘Do you have any flexibility around salary?’”

An October 2010 study by George Mason University and Temple University researchers found that those who chose to negotiate increased their starting salaries by an average of $5,000.

“Assuming an average annual pay increase of 5 percent, an employee whose starting annual salary was $55,000 rather than $50,000 would earn an additional $600,000-plus over the course of a 40-year career,” according to the study.

While deciding to negotiate is an important first step, what comes next is just as crucial, according to Dalton. He advises job seekers and employees to do their research, be a good listener, be flexible and think beyond money.

“To respectfully negotiate, set up a meeting to review the offer – where you know you won’t accept the offer – and ask about each feature of the offer," such as salary, vacation time, relocation costs and bonuses, he said.

When the actual negotiation begins, be careful with word selection. Dalton advises against using emotional phrases, such as “I deserve …”

“It really isn't about deserving. I think less deserving people will get more money,” he said. “They're getting paid more because they asked for it.”

Steve Dalton Negotiate your way to higher pay

Instead, he suggests backing up a request for more money with research and data. Use sites such as Glassdoor.com to find the average salary for professions by location.

“It's not the absolute accurateness of those numbers that's critical – it's the fact that you are presenting your employer with facts,” Dalton said. “I think if you go in with facts rather than opinions, you are putting the onus on the other person to come up with their own facts for why it is the way that it is.”

For example, Dalton suggests telling the employer, “The average starting salary for someone from (a similar company) is 10 percent higher than the starting salary you mentioned.” Then, stop speaking and let the employer justify their figures.

“When you are talking about facts, it’s really hard to hurt feelings,” he said. “When you start talking about opinions and start speculating, that's when you get into some pretty tricky territory.”

If the employer won’t budge on pay, get creative and try another approach. Dalton suggests asking the employer, "Do you have any flexibility around a signing bonus? Do you have any flexibility around vacation time?" Then, pay close attention to their answer.

“There is a big difference when an employer answers a question, ‘No,’ versus, ‘Well, we don't have that much room to negotiate.’ That implies that they have some room to negotiate,” Dalton said.

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At Duke, where Dalton advises students, he says both men and women tell him they don’t like to negotiate, but he notices a major difference in how they approach it.

“From the men, the question is, ‘How do I negotiate?’ From the women, the question tends to more frequently be, ‘Should I negotiate?’ That's a very big difference,” Dalton said.

Despite gender or job level, Dalton says it doesn’t hurt to ask for more money, vacation time or bonuses.

“You've got to go in knowing that you are going to negotiate anything. It doesn't hurt to ask. Asking is free,” he said. “The worst that can happen is they say no.”

Tips for negotiating anything

Dalton says anything can be negotiated, not just salary. He offers the following tips:

Buying a car:

  • Be an informed customer. Do your research about the car and prices before you enter the negotiation.
  • Be confident. Don't tell the salesperson that you don't know much about cars.
  • Don't appear desperate. Visit other local dealers to see what they are offering.
  • Focus on facts, not emotions.

Department and furniture stores:

  • If you see an item that is slightly frayed, stained or marked, ask for a discount.


  • If you are making a reservation at a restaurant for a large party, ask the manager if your group can get half-priced appetizers or happy hour drink prices.
  • Negotiate before you get to the restaurant, not as you're trying to leave.

Buying appliances:

  • Tell the manager: "I am looking for a refrigerator, but I know I am also going to need a dishwasher and stove in the near future. What kind of volume discount can you give me if I buy all three?"

"I look at negotiation as being part of a healthy lifestyle overall," Dalton said.

Chat: Negotiation expert Steve Dalton answers your questions


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  • katiebridgette May 17, 2013

    Interesting to see the split between the "be thankful you've got a job, don't blow it by asking for a raise" folks and those who can see the possibility, see ways that they can list skills that justify a raise.

    Whether you think it is possible or impossible, you're right. With all due respect, put some work into making it possible. Just that shift in attitude might make you more valuable to your employer.

  • OpenM1nd May 17, 2013

    If you ask, the worst that they can say is "No." The key is to be flexible and not stubborn about it. Additional vacation days, days to work from home to save commuting expenses, and other perks like company cars are also negotiable in some cases.

  • joeBob May 17, 2013

    Remember one thing here folks...it costs money to recruit, advertise, hire and train a new or replacement employee. Some employers will tell you the single biggest business cost they have is replacing a good employee. It's not like snapping your fingers. If you are a good worker, good at what you do, you have more leverage than you think.

  • tayled May 17, 2013

    In this job market? Are you kidding? Just be thankful that you have a job at all is my motto. Some bosses, if you were to try to negotiate for a higher salary will tell you that he can hire someone for less and show you the door. It's happened to several people I know.

  • boolittlek May 17, 2013

    I work in a corporate environment, at a company with 600-700 employees. Performance reviews and merit raises are handled at the same time for all employees. Senior managers are given a base percentage with which to work, and it's at their discretion whether to give their subordinates more or less than the base (as long as the team average equals the base). There's no negotiation with the merit raises; they're based on performance.

    On occasion an employee's duties change significantly, and he or she can argue that the position should be classified at a higher level (with an accompanying raise). But even then that's not a manager's call--the decision goes through multiple levels of HR and senior company administration.

  • whatelseisnew May 17, 2013

    "I highly doubt any of the current comments except Davids are based upon fact, number one, only in a good job market do you have any power to negotiate, bad job market the employer has all the power currently, we are in a Bad job market. You have to however "Sell yourself" some are very good at it , most others are not"

    Generally true, but never 100 percent true. It depends on the demand for the skill set.

  • whatelseisnew May 17, 2013

    "It's even more amusing to watch others come on and declare that they never have to negotiate because employers are beating their doors down."

    Why is that amusing. Yes in today's environment Employers can seek to obtain any employee for the lowest possible cost. However, depending on the skill set, a person can be in a possible where they have skills that happen to be in high demand even though there is not robust hiring going on. I wonder how many on here bother to research what the given salary range or hourly rate is being offered before they apply for a job. Except for my first couple of part time jobs that were low-wage and also low-skilled required jobs, I knew going in exactly what I was willing to accept. If the employer would not match what I wanted, then I moved on. My former employer went through many types of hiring swings, from almost zero hiring to massive hiring and even throwing in sign up bonuses to new hires.

  • TimeWillTell May 17, 2013

    The nay-sayers here clearly do not understand the timing of negotiation, at least for professional or high-tech jobs. In the early stages of applying for a job, the employer does indeed have all the power, and the applicant is just another resume in the pile.

    But once the hiring manager has decided on the person they want to hire, the power base shifts somewhat. Hiring, especially for professional or highly-technical jobs, is difficult for the majority of managers, so, once the manager makes a decision, he/she has made a commitment and wants to close the deal quickly and move on.

    That is the time to negotiate - after an offer has been made.

    I speak from experience. I retired from one well-into-6-figure job at the height of the recession and was hired into a new one within a few months. I also coached a stay-at-home mom who applied for a part-time job; she negotiated an hourly rate 12% above the original offer. Interviewing and negotiating are valuable skills to have.

  • JustAName May 17, 2013

    Always fun to watch someone in academia tell those out in the real world how things work.

  • SouthernPackerFan May 17, 2013

    I highly doubt any of the current comments except Davids are based upon fact, number one, only in a good job market do you have any power to negotiate, bad job market the employer has all the power currently, we are in a Bad job market. You have to however "Sell yourself" some are very good at it , most others are not.