when do I start negotiating salary?

A reader writes:

I have a question about negotiation. For context, I should mention that I’m currently a teacher whose salary and benefits are set by our union contract. Negotiation hasn’t really been a factor for me in the past, because we can’t individually negotiate on much.

Next week, I have an interview for a job with our district office. I think there’s about a 50% chance that I’ll be offered the job. If they do, at what point do I actually start the negotiation? When they call to offer me the job? Do I say I’ll get back to them in a day or so and negotiate then? As an added complication, I’m not 100% sure that I actually WANT the job. I mean, I do want it, but it will take me out of the classroom and I’m not completely sure that I’m ready to do that because I love what I do.

I guess my question has two parts: At what point in the process do I start negotiating, and do I do that before or after I figure out if I want the job in the first place?

It’s absolutely fine to start negotiating when you first receive the offer. There’s no need to wait a day just for the sake of it, unless you truly do need to think the offer over before you’re able to come back to them with a counter proposal. (If you do need that day, by all means take it. You just don’t need to do so artificially.)

If you do it on the spot, you can say something like, “I’m really excited about this role. On salary, I was hoping for something closer to $X.” (Then, stop talking and wait to see what they say.)

Regarding figuring out if you want the job in the first place, ideally you’d do as much of that as you can before you get called with an offer (or more accurately, “I’d want this just if the salary is at least $X”). You might not be able to fully figure it out before then, because you might have additional questions that you need answered before you can finalize your thinking — but you should at least get yourself all the way up to that point, so that by the time you get an offer, you know exactly what further information you need from them to help you make a decision. You don’t want to wait to start your thinking until the offer comes in, because you’ll probably have a limited window of time to make up your mind — and you don’t want to spend three days thinking about whether you even want to do this work, only to have to ask a basic question about the work or the culture on day 4.

Do your thinking now, as much of it as you can.

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