People want to trust the companies they work for. It’s comforting to think that your employer is watching over everyone in the company benevolently, offering what you deserve and protecting you from unwarranted consequences. In the past, when pensions were common and wages were livable, this may have even been partially true.

These days, your employer probably doesn’t care about you.

It’s much scarier to think that your career success is largely dependent on your ability to navigate the professional world, but that’s the reality we all face. You shouldn’t think of your employer as an enemy, but realize that their goals and motivations have little to do with you. In essence, you’re either an asset or a liability.

If you want something in the professional world, you need to take it. That’s where negotiation comes in. Unless you’re content to take the bare minimum, you need to be willing to fight for – and prove – what you’re worth. Nowhere is that more important than at a new job.

Why it’s important to negotiate

Obviously negotiating can help you earn more right now, but it will also affect the future of your earning trajectory. How much you earn at your current job affects how much you earn at your next one. When you accept a low-ball offer at your current job, you affect how much leverage you have to ask for a higher or equivalent salary at your next position.

I didn’t negotiate at my first job out of college, because I was just happy to get an offer. I always wondered how much more I would have made if I had asked for more – especially when I found out that other people in my entry-level position out-earned me.

Ask for more than you want

The best piece of advice I ever got about negotiating was to ask for more than you’re hoping for. If you aim high, even a stingy negotiator is more likely to land on a salary or benefits package you’re happy with.
For example, a friend of mine was hoping to get a raise of $45,000. Instead of asking for $45,000, she asked for $55,000. She didn’t expect to get that much and wanted to have some wiggle room, but ended up coming away with $50,000 – five grand more than she expected. Companies don’t often want to give you exactly what you ask for, so it’s important to give yourself a cushion.

Pick your ideal salary and add $5,000 to $10,000 to it. That way, you’re happy if you get slightly less. With benefits packages, just try to aim for 10-20% more than you’re hoping for in terms of paid time off, retirement options, health coverage and anything else on the table.

Make it clear you want to be there

When you’re negotiating, it’s easy to start thinking like a shark and focusing on winning the discussions. But remember, people are more likely to give you what you want when they know you want to be there.

Always reiterate what you like about the job, the company and the culture so they know you do want to work there. Be honest about your feelings and make it clear you do want the job.

Be confident

Confidence in anything is a prerequisite for success. If people think you’re confident, they’re more likely to give you what you want. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a workplace setting.

When you negotiate, you have to be confident that you deserve the number you’re asking for. Anyone who’s timid when asking their boss for a raise or promotion has a lower chance of getting it – period.

Think about this: if someone seems hesitant about asking you for money, it might seem like they’re not sure they really deserve it. Wouldn’t you be more likely to lend to someone who seems self-possessed and in control?

Confidence is contagious. The more you exude, the more other people will pick up on it. A key part of confidence is letting the other person speak first and speak more often. Show you’re comfortable with the silence and they’ll scramble to fill the space.

Back up your numbers

It’s one thing to think you’re underpaid and ask your boss for a raise, but unless you have a valid reason for wanting more money, it’s easy for them to shoot you down. The best way I’ve found of getting a raise, bonus or promotion is by having the data to show I’m worthy.

For example, if you can prove that you increased revenue by 20% or that you saved the company $15,000, you’ll be in a stronger position to argue your case. It’s easy for a supervisor to say the budget is tight, but it’s harder to say that when you’ve just shown how much value you’re adding to the company.

If it’s a new job and you’re disappointed by their initial salary offer, ask if the number is flexible and mention what other people in the industry earn. You can find this data through sites like GlassDoor and Indeed. Make sure to compare similar industries and company sizes. Someone with your title working at a Fortune 500 company is going to be making more than you working for a mom-and-pop operation.

Create incentive-based bonuses

During my last job, raises were a standard 3% every year. No one got more or less, no matter how good their performance was. The only time I ever increased my salary was when I convinced my boss to let me have a bonus.

I promised I would try to cut our budget by a certain amount without sacrificing quality or services. If I succeeded, I could have an $1,000 bonus. I was confident in my ability and when the next quarter ended, I got my bonus.

If your company has a tight grasp on raises or promotions, see if you can find a way to earn a bonus. Everyone wants to save money and most are willing to negotiate with their employees – especially when the incentive will result in a net profit on the company’s end.

Ask for more perks

When you’re negotiating and the company can’t offer you more money, ask for more perks. Vacation and personal days won’t cost the company as much as a higher salary, but it can make you a happier employee.

Here are some perks to ask for:

  • Flextime: Flextime is the ability to work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. Some people love the traditional, Monday-through-Friday schedule, but what’s becoming more common is working 10 hours for four days and having a three-day weekend. This strategy is still new and only works for some employees, but many claim to love it. It’s more time to travel, relax at home or work on your hobbies.
  • Unpaid vacation time: If the boss isn’t willing to let you have as much paid vacation time as you want, ask if you can take more unpaid days. I hadn’t heard of this until a friend of mine brought it up. Some companies will give you the standard 10 paid days and let you have a certain amount more unpaid. This works if you love to travel or have destination weddings or other family commitments.
  • Working from home: A huge perk that many companies offer is allowing their employees to work from home. While some people only do this when they’re sick or have a child to take care of, other employees have the option of doing it full or part-time. Ask your boss if this is a possibility for you. Many say they get more done at home without the distraction of coworkers wanting to discuss the latest “Game of Thrones” episode or what they ate for breakfast.
  • Continuing education: While some companies give employees the opportunity to attend conferences and classes, others are more stringent. Try asking for money for continuing education. Those opportunities will expand your skills and make you more desirable for your next job – and worth a lot more money when it comes time to negotiate.
  • Improved working space: If you’ve been toiling in a tiny cubicle or basement office, consider asking for an upgrade in your working conditions. This may only get you a spot near a window or a slightly bigger space, but even minor improvements in where you work can have a huge psychological benefit. If you’re going to spend 40 hours in the same spot every week, why not fight for a space you feel comfortable in?

The bottom line

Employers are used to negotiating. You won’t be offending anyone by pushing for more, and even playing a little hardball can yield huge benefits. Many people in hiring positions are looking to offer as little as possible to free up room in their budget, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to let you walk after a little pushback. If they offered you the job, it means they see you as an attractive asset – don’t forget that.