Accounting Salary Negotiation Tips: 5 Dos and 6 Don’ts

accounting salary negotiatoin

Finally, you have an offer. Now, on salary negotiation — Can I do it, should I do it?

It depends.

The Art and Science of Salary Negotiation

First Year Associates in Big 4

The Big 4 generally has pretty set salaries so there isn’t much variation among its staffers. Also, they have so many people willing to work for them for less than what they offered you.

You can still give it a try, but be realistic what to expect. At the same time, unless you are super arrogant your offer won’t be withdrawn or affected by the negotiation.

Experienced Hire in Big 4

If you have excellent rating, work in a hot industry, and are actively poached by recruiters, you should be able to negotiate. In fact, the competing Big 4 will likely offer a considerably more attractive compensation package than what you currently have, even before you ask.

Regional Firms

In my opinion, the smaller the firm, the more flexibility you have on salary negotiation. Smaller firms have fewer rules and each partner has more say on hiring for his team.

Non-CPA Firms

Similar logic applies. A local company who needs an accountant with your expertise is more open to discuss than a Fortune 100 company looking to fill a vacancy in their 100-strong accounting department.

My Accounting Salary Negotiation Tips

1. Understand Your Worth (with Research)

Think about why you think you deserve more and be honest… if what you can offer them is justified, they will do it. If you got nothing special, they will just hire one of the other hundred candidates.

Let’s figure out how much people are willing to pay you. It is fairly straightforward in the accounting industry. Check out, or download the latest guide from Robert Half, and determine your salary level based on your education (bachelor or master’s), years of experience and location.

Your current compensation is another indicator, although if you are looking for a job you might be underpaid.

Depending on how eager you want this job, you may adjust your target compensation package to be higher, on par or below the industry average.

2. Make Sure They Offer First

As a negotiation tactic, ask them to give you a number, or at least a range. Their first number is unlikely to be their best number, and you can start to counter offer from there.

Note that no one can force you to disclose your salary information (although they will know during background check). If asked about the target compensation package, you can say “competitive, but I am really excited about the opportunity at your firm”. You may also say “based on my market research, someone with my education and experience is paid around X to Y.”

3. Be Confident and Stand Your Ground

Your contact point is usually HR. While you may be uneasy with salary discussion, HR does it on a daily basis. So don’t be embarrassed to tell them what you think you are worth, backed up by market research and solid demonstration of your value from past experience.

4. Be Respectful

At the same time, you should discuss with the employer with professionalism and respect. Try to understand the constraint the HR is facing. For example, you need more free time for the upcoming CPA exam, but realize that vacation days are fixed for all employees at your level. In this case, you may explore with HR on more PTO (paid time off), unpaid days off or other alternative working arrangement.

If you have a spouse that has insurance, you could negotiate not to take benefits in exchange for a higher salary. I did that with one of my previous jobs.

5. Be Willing to Walk Away

There is always a risk that they withdraw an offer if they think the gap is too wide to close. If you are dying for this offer, your may want to reconsider the tactics.

What You Should Never Do in Any Salary Negotiation

1. Lie about Your Current Salary

I have readers who told me they have been grossly underpaid in the current job, and they want to inflate their salary numbers to get a upper hand in negotiation.

Don’t do it.

Most company guidelines state that lying about your salary is the same as lying about your GPA. It is grounds for withdrawal of an offer or immediate termination if somehow it is found out after the fact.

Check out this page on how firms utilize verification services and how your current salary is revealed during background check.

2. Focus on Need / Greed rather than Value

Don’t tell the employer that you need a certain salary. The company has no obligation to pay more because you have student loan and mortgages. They do so if only they see value in you, either how much you are worth now, or as a long-term employee.

3. Ask to Speak to Person-in-Charge

I heard a story on how a candidate wasn’t happy with the offer and asked to speak to a higher up. This is plain arrogance. Pissing off the person who handed out the offer will lead you nowhere. It may even cost you the job.

4. Negotiate for the sake of Negotiating

This is just annoying and greedy and people know it. It doesn’t work, and the bitterness lingers if you decide to take the original offer.

5. Ask for Too Many Changes in Counteroffer

Target one or two areas to maximize your bargaining power. For example, you want more base salary and vacation days because of your master’s degree. If they don’t budge, you may counteroffer one more time, such as a one-time signing bonus or CPA bonus. It could also be intangible benefits such as a company phone or professional development opportunities.

Be systematic and don’t spread yourself too thin by going for every reimbursement opportunities you can think of.

6. Take the Negotiation Personally

This is also common sense. If negotiations break down between you and the employer, move on graciously, thanking the employer again for the opportunity. You never want to burn any bridges.

For Your Further Reading

About the Author Stephanie

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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