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What Is a Competitive Salary - And How To Negotiate One

You see an ad for your dream job. And by some miracle, you actually have all 20 of the preferred qualifications!

So you hurriedly scroll to the bottom of the publication to see what the salary range and benefits are… only to find that "competitive salary" is all that's listed.

What the heck does competitive salary actually mean?!


Phrases like "competitive salary" and "competitive pay" are often used by employers in job listings, but they can leave candidates scratching their heads. So what do these phrases actually mean?


Competitive Salary Definition:

A salary that is at or above market rate for similar positions and geographical locations.

The Good News: While not quite as transparent as listing a number or a range, if the company has said that they pay a competitive salary, then you can assume that they intend to pay you at or above market rate.

The Bad News: "Competitive" can mean different things to different people. It can vary based on the local market, and with remote jobs, this only gets more confusing.

So, when you see these phrases, your first move should be to use resources like Glassdoor, Payscale, and Github to research the market rate for the role (I'll talk more about this later). Once you know the average salary for the position in whichever city you're based, you should expect the company to make an offer at or above that level.

If you get an offer and their competitive salary turns out not be as competitive as you expected, you can share your research and tell them you were expecting something a bit higher.

Remember, companies have access to the same resources you do - and many, many more! So they know very well what is "competitive" and what is not.

If they ask you what your salary expectations are, they are likely hoping that you are expecting less than market rate - or that at a minimum, you don't want much more than it. (If you need help answering the ever-tricky salary expectations question, check out these expert tips.)

So, the real question becomes, once a company does actually give you a number - whether or not they said upfront that they consider it to be competitive - what do you do if it's not?

You negotiate.

How To Negotiate a Competitive Salary

There's no doubt that salary negotiation can be uncomfortable - but if you don't ask for what you deserve, you'll never get it.

For women in particular, this can be challenging, because we've been conditioned to be agreeable, and to trust that we've been offered what we deserve. But companies don't want to pay you more than they have to, so you need to be your own advocate. No one else will. The men are asking for more, and you should too.

In these situations, it's crucial that you know your own worth - a modest account of your accomplishments won't get you to the number you deserve. (If you don't yet know the importance of valuing yourself, just check out this story about a designer who was underselling herself by 50k!!)

And if that's not enough to convince you to ask for what your worth, consider the fact that your negotiation today will not only impact your current role, but your entire career earnings trajectory (AND the trajectory of women to come after you, lateral to you, and across the industry).

With a little research, role-playing, and honest communication, you'll be ready to negotiate the salary you deserve.



1. Remind Yourself of Your Value

Have you self-assessed recently? Taking time to reflect on your achievements will help you evaluate your current worth and bring an undeniable strength to your interview. I find that muting the hustle and bustle by stepping into nature with paper and pen helps me to recognize my achievements. From there, my self-confidence and self-respect grows and I can start outlining a game plan to reach my desired salary.

I've achieved XYZ. Here is where I've seen success. Add numbers to back it up. Voilà.

2. Research the market.

First, investigate your field's competitive salaries online. Some of our current partners at PowerToFly use platforms like GitLab's Compensation Calculator to adjust their salaries based on the role, experience, and location. Resources like Payscale, Glassdoor, and Comparably are also great for checking salary ranges.

But don't just rely on the internet - ask 5 friends in similar roles/industries/locations what their compensation package looks like. DO NOT JUST ASK WOMEN! If you truly want to understand what a competitive salary is for your position, you need to understand what other people are making - this includes equity, benefits, bonuses, and other forms of compensation. Don't let the taboo topic of money keep you from earning your worth!

3. Watch how your favorite thought leaders present themselves and mimic them - practice makes perfect.

Research how some of your favorite thought-leaders and innovators present themselves in public so you can adopt some of their presentation skills. TedTalks are a good example. There's a reason these people are chosen as speakers - they have charisma! Have some fun and mimic your gurus as you practice presenting yourself and lead to your competitive salary ask. Now is the time to practice your ask word for word, citing why you deserve this compensation. Role-playing with friends and colleagues is crucial for practicing different scenarios and practicing authentic answers. Don't forget to ask for feedback!

4. Ask.

You've done your research. You know what the market rate is, what number you're looking for, and what your walkaway is. The worst that can happen is they say no.

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