Demystifying the Salary Negotiation Process – 5 Key Takeaways from MIT Alumni 

In a panel event held in October 2021, MIT alumni offered advice and insights on the salary negotiation process. Thank you to Danielle Class SB ‘13, Michel Rbeiz SB ‘04 & MNG ‘06, Kristin Smith SB ‘04, and Stephanie Tan MBA ‘98 for providing their advice about this topic. 

We’ve collected the five key takeaways for you to apply to your salary negotiation process: 

1. Do your homework 

  • Look at the total compensation package, not just salary.  Reflect on what is most important to you, and what you want to prioritize as you prepare for the negotiation. 
  • Data is your friend! Do your research to find appropriate ranges through online sources and your network.  Use fact and logic when justifying your ask.  
  • Prior to negotiating, get a sense of the company structure. Established companies will likely have an HR department and an established salary structure. There are salary bands for each level, and there tends to be overlap between ranges of different levels. Recognize that where you fit within that specific range might differ based on your skills and experience.    
  • Recognize if/when you’re in a system where there isn’t room for negotiation. Some fields have a set hierarchy and have set compensation levels for a certain cohort or title – for example: law, consulting, and some government roles.  

MIT Alumna, Stephanie Tan MBA ‘98 offers this key piece of advice: “To evaluate an offer comparing base salary only is short-sighted. Looking at the annual compensation in year one is not enough either. Take a multi-year view to understand the total earning potential. Balance the financial consideration with the additional experience that you will gain when deciding on an offer.” 

2. Assume positive intentions and use a collaborative mindset 

  • Approach the negotiation as a conversation, make it friendly, and frame the negotiation as a common goal you’re working together to achieve. 
  • If the company extends the offer, they really want you for the job! They already invested time and effort in the hiring process, and are hoping for a positive outcome. The recruiter should be helpful in the process, as they went through the work of getting you the opportunity. Also, talk with the hiring manager, as they may give you additional insight into the salary and company organization, and can advocate for you.  
  • If you are asking for a certain salary number, leave the employers an “out” in case they can’t meet it. Perhaps there are other ways they can provide value for you in addition to salary. For example, you could say, “If Company X is unable to meet these salary expectations, I am open to negotiating other aspects of the offer. I am really excited about this position and I’d like to come to an agreement we are both happy with.” 
  • Even if you don’t accept, there might be other opportunities at the company in the future which are a better fit. See it as a chance to build your network and nurture relationships. 

 3. Prepare follow-up questions if your expectation isn’t met 

  • Think about your advancement and compensation prospects in the long-term (e.g., 4 years out). 
  • Ask what the compensation readjustment cycle is and what it is based on (e.g., meeting certain metrics, ranking system, promotion). 
  • Inquiring about the long-term prospects is also an indication of your interest in the company! 

 4. Explore multiple options (whether you’re new or have been working for a while) 

  • Having multiple offers will give you a better sense of the market and more leverage. 
  • Find out what peak times are for recruiters in your industry by networking with professionals in your field. 
  • Be open to conversations even if you are not actively looking for a position, as it doesn’t hurt to be aware of other opportunities or what the market is for someone with your talents.

5. Consider the company’s commitment to pay equity  

  • Understand your legal protections. Review these state-specific job offer tip sheets to understand your rights regarding non-compete agreements, equal pay, negotiating for contractual protections, and more. 
  • Ask whether the company has systems in place to evaluate pay equity. 

  Additional resources to help you prepare for your next negotiation: 

Article written by: Tavi Sookhoo & Simona Rosu