Long before the Great Resignation drove record numbers of American workers to quit their jobs in the wake of the pandemic, quitting had been a crucial part of my career growth and wealth-building strategy.
I started my first full-time job in 2010, at age 22. Since then, I’ve quit jobs six times — increasing my salary by nearly $194,000 and by an average of 39% each time I left for a new opportunity.
I went from making $31,200 per year in 2010 to $225,000 per year in 2020. And that’s just the base salary; when you factor in the signing bonuses I negotiated, I added $160,000 to my income during that 10-years; I’m on track to achieve a net worth of $1 million by my 40th birthday.
Today, I run my own business as a money and career coach. Here’s what I tell my clients when they ask about negotiation tips and the exact scripts I used:
1. Don’t quit your job just for a bigger paycheck
While job-hopping at a faster-than-usual pace helped increase my income, you should never leave a current job unless it makes sense for your professional growth. A bigger paycheck and title promotion are great, but you should consider your situation.
I was always very diligent about finding the right opportunities — the ones that I knew would help expand my skill set and broaden my experience. In fact, one of my job switches was a lateral move that gave me access to more mentorship and learning opportunities.
2. Never be the first to give a number
Early on in the negotiation process, a recruiter might ask what salary range you’re looking for, partly to see whether it’s within their budget. But if you name a number before fully understanding the scope of the role, you could be selling yourself short.
Here’s what I said when a recruiter once asked for my salary range:
“I’d love to hear more about the role and expectations before discussing compensation. Can we revisit this conversation after I’ve had a chance to speak with the team and determine whether I’m a good fit?”
A recruiter might also ask for your current salary, or what the range of it is. If you’re interviewing for a role with significantly more responsibilities, I don’t recommend answering. (In some states, it’s even illegal for them to ask.)
But when they did, here’s what I said: “I’d rather not disclose that at this point in the process, as I’d like to have a more comprehensive salary conversation based on my skills, what I can offer to the team, and company benefits. Can you tell me if you have a certain budget in mind?”
3. Practice negotiation skills when the stakes are low
Asking for a higher salary can be a nerve-racking experience, which is why you should practice early and often, especially when the stakes are low.
For example, ask your landlord to shave $100 off the rent price before renewing your lease. If a restaurant gets your order wrong at dinner, ask the server to send it back or take the item off the bill. Making these tiny requests helped me build confidence and break away from my people-pleasing tendencies.
You can practice at work, too. A few months into my first unpaid internship, I was asked to take on more responsibilities than I had expected. I decided that I should be paid for the extra work. After talking to my boss, he agreed to pay $100 a week.
It wasn’t much, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Plus, successfully winning my first negotiation felt really good.
4. The first offer isn’t always the final offer
If you’ve made it far enough in the hiring process to receive an offer, you’re clearly high on their list and therefore have some leverage. After all, no hiring manager wants to invest more hours into reviewing resumes, conducting multiple interviews and checking references.
Once you receive the first offer, respond with a thank you note and tell them you’ll get back to them within 24 hours, after you’ve had time to review the offer. Then schedule a call to negotiate something higher.
Finish it off by politely letting them know you’re more than happy to give them time to consider your request.
5. Negotiate by phone instead of email
As awkward as it can be, I prefer to talk about compensation over the phone. If you’re straightforward, professional and polite, it shows that you can handle difficult conversations and aren’t afraid to fight for what you want.
With a single phone call, I was able to more than double my signing bonus with a previous employer. Here’s how I started the conversation:
“Thank you for your offer! I am so excited about this opportunity. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this compensation reflects the value of what I can bring to the table. Based on my skills and this role’s responsibility, I feel [$X salary] makes more sense.”
6. It’s not all about the base salary
Early in my career, a recruiter balked when I asked for a higher salary. I was extremely nervous on the other end of the phone, but they grudgingly said they would run my request up the chain.
Within a week, I had an answer: They weren’t going to move my base salary, but they would increase my signing bonus to meet the base salary I wanted.
Your total compensation package consists of so much more than the base salary. You can negotiate other factors, such as a signing bonus, annual bonus, benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement plans, vacation days, flexible hours), and equity compensation (e.g., stock options and restricted stock units).
7. Gut check your offer with trusted mentors
Never discount the enormous value of having seasoned professionals in your field who will pump up your confidence before you walk into a negotiation.
I turned to at least two mentors for advice each time I had a new job offer. I asked them questions like what range they felt I should shoot for, what perks and benefits I should request, and whether they thought a final offer was reasonable.
Networking is extremely important. Find trustworthy people in your industry who have more experience than you, and keep them on speed dial throughout the interviewing process.
Mandi Woodruff-Santos is a money and career coach and co-host of the podcast Brown Ambition.