Negotiating Salaries

Women in Canada continue to earn less than men and studies find that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries. However, negotiating your salary or job position can be very daunting. Here are some ways in which you can better prepare for negotiations and achieve a more favorable salary.


8 STEPS to Negotiating your Salary

The first step of negotiations is to figure out what it is you want. Think beyond just the money amount. Consider the values you find important in a job. E.g. Flexible work arrangements, work-life balance, career development, autonomy, variety, challenging work, etc.  

Think about what is most important in your career in the next 12-36 month pick a couple of top must-haves in a job.

Top 4 must-haves: ___________  _____________  ______________  ___________
E.g. Professional development, challenging work, flex-time, advancement opportunity, salary, work-life..etc.

Now think about any dealbreakers. These would be conditions you would not except in a position. For example, if you have weekend commitments a job that requires you work on weekends might be a dealbreaker.

You wouldn’t show up in court without doing your research, so don’t go into salary negotiations without doing your research. You’ll want to know what the salary range is for comparable positions. To figure out the range for comparable positions there is two kinds of salary research:

  1. Within the firm you are applying for: Ask for an informal interview with someone in that firm, ask another associate or articled student out for a coffee. You don’t want to ask for their specific salary but you can ask them for a range of what could be expected in this position.  This is also a great opportunity to learn about other benefits offered and challenges of the position and the work environment.
  2. Within comparable firms - Reach out to someone who holds a similar position at a different firm. For instance if you’re applying for a 4 year call position at a 35 lawyer firm, look at other 35 lawyer firms. Again ask for an informal interview inviting an associate out for a coffee. Ask them what salary range you should be expecting in this type of work. 

It is important to set realistic expectations. If you’re asking far above industry standards you won’t get it no matter how good at negotiating you are. The more information you have the more bargaining power it gives you.

Once you have a salary range for the industry you need to know your own acceptable salary range. To do this, create a personal budget. You need to know how much you need to make before you can really assess a salary. Know how much your expenses are each month. Especially with student loans or mortgage payments you’ll want to decide how quickly you want to pay them off. Once you know your expenses you can make better decisions about your spending behaviour. And you can ask yourself “will this job allow me to sustain my desired standard of living?” It’s very difficult keeping a job long term that doesn’t pay enough to meet your living expenses.

It’s important to know your own strengths. Think about what you could bring to this job.

Think of it like a legal argument you want to prepare a case for why you should get a certain amount. You want to gather your evidence. Start by listing your skills and accomplishments that will be relevant to this new position. If there is a job posting with a description of the required skills, make a list of which ones you exceed, you meet and you don’t meet. Skills that are exceeded should be emphasized with concrete examples of how you have exceeded them in the past. Same goes for the skill you meet. For the skills you don’t meet make sure you have a plan to address them if asked. For example, you don’t have a lot of experience with the administrative tribunal but you do have a lot of trial experience and are keen to build up your skills on the tribunal front or you have taken a course or attended a conference on administrative tribunal advocacy.

It’s okay if you don’t meet all the required skills. Just try to convince them you are still the right candidate by emphasizing the skills you exceed and the ways you can address any short fallings if asked about them. Men tend to apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the hiring criteria, while many women wait until we meet 100 percent.

My strengths:

List your top strengths and accomplishments that are desired by the employer. Give concrete examples.

1. ________________________________________________________________

2. ________________________________________________________________

3. ________________________________________________________________

Many people wonder what the right time to negotiate a salary is and who should make the first move.  

Ideally you want the employer to put out the first number. If they don't bring it up in the initial interview wait to see if you are asked for a 2nd interview.

A lot of employers won't offer a salary number until they send you a written offer. Remember that a written offer is still negotiable. Don't be scared by it being in writing.

What if an employer asks you for a number? This is where being prepared pays off. You can let them know you’ve done some research and the industry standard for this type of job seems to be X. If you do not have enough information to know exactly what range is appropriate tell them you want more information about the job expectations and benefits they offer before you can give them an accurate assessment. You can also ask them to come up with a number. For example: My salary requirements are negotiable ... I’m interested in finding the right opportunity and I’ll be open to any fair offer when I do ... What’s your salary range for this position?

Always request time to review an offer. Express interest but ask for a few days to discuss with family or just to consider.

In some situations, it might make sense to trade a lower salary if you’re receiving a valued benefit such as more vacation time, flexible working hours, or child-care benefits. You need to figure out what “perks” matter to you the most and whether or not your potential employer is willing to provide them.

Be sure to factor in the added value of additional benefits.

A good way to assess a job is to write out a list of the pros and cons of accepting the position. Under the cons list include your BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement). This would be what position you’re giving up. E.g. your current job or another job offer.

Evaluate Offer:
List the pros and cons of accepting the offer

Pros:  Cons:
____________________ E.g.your best alternative option
____________________ ____________________
____________________ ____________________
____________________ ____________________


Once you have your pros and cons you can consider negotiating. Identify some opportunities for negotiating by considering which cons you can negotiate over. For example a con might be that the commute is long or that the wage is too low.

It’s important to come to the table with options and a strategy.

Make a list of counter-negotiation points you want to bring up and any questions you have. Come up with multiple options so you can bargain on more than one issue. Prepare reasons for each point.

For example, you want to:

Discuss the fear of offer being withdrawn if they negotiate:      

In the worst-case scenario all that will happen is the company or firm will tell you that it has no flexibility in the matter of salary and in that case you can make your decision knowing you did all you could do. It is extremely unlikely that you will have a job offer rescinded because you tried to negotiate.

I like XYZ however…

I deeply appreciate your offer ... This is the kind of position I’m been seeking ... I’m impressed with the quality of people at your firm, I like the idea of working with Mr. Angelo ... and the benefits package is excellent ... However ... I was thinking that with my experience and the job profile a figure of $ ___ would more appropriate.

However ... the offer is lower than I anticipated ... as we discussed in the interview, I have extensive experience in litigating the very kinds of cases you are getting flooded with ... perhaps we should consider a one time signing bonus of $10,000.

However ... the offer is lower than I anticipated ... especially as I did not understand until the interview that I would be responsible for training new attorneys as well as handling regular deal flow ... I propose either a higher salary of $240,000 instead of $225,000 or, alternatively, the opportunity to work from home two days a week.        

Focus on Interests. You are concerned about paying down your student debt as quickly as possible.  

E.g. I want my CPD credits paid for by firm:

I’m really interested in working in all these areas you offer, I’m excited by opportunity to work in something new and to really grow and develop my skill however for me to contribute the best that I can I would really like to gain more training what can they offer by way of professional development?

For example CLE is having a boot camp of civil litigation in the next 6 months. CBA membership? Opportunity to put on a lunch and learn at firm.

It’s important to have negotiated terms in writing. If the employer does not provide a written agreement, you can ask them for one or send an email clarifying the terms of employment.