Negotiate a Bigger Salary with Your Resume

Careful with that phrasing! Certain words and phrases can reduce your compensation.

She was perfect for the job.

She had experience teaching both online and in the Middle East, she was available to work immediately and she had a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

She was so perfect, the hiring company,, an online English language-training course based in Canada, was prepared to offer her 20 percent more than the typical starting salary, said Jillian Zavitz, programs manager at, who agreed to interview the candidate.

Hiring professionals will tell you that it’s primarily your interview,negotiation skills and salary history that determine your salary offer. Those are all important factors, but you’ll want to prime the salary pump by presenting yourself as the perfect candidate in your resume, said Zavitz and several hiring managers who spoke to Ladders. The info you present in your resume can be so finely tuned to a job offer that employers will boost their initial salary offers in response, she said. Here are some tips from hiring professionals on how to make that happen.

Promote the Bottom Line in Your Summary Statement

If you want to maximize the dollar signs potential employers see when they look at your resume, you’ve got to make your summary statement so enticing that they will covet your skills for their firms, said Dr. Marlene Caroselli, a corporate trainer and the author of 61 management books. Caroselli offered examples of two summary statements that fail in this effort and one that succeeds:

Poor example: “Curriculum writer with many years’ experience in a wide variety of employment situations.”

The example lacks specificity and hence fails to grab a reader’s attention, she said. “Curriculum writer” is a vague term that could apply to a second-grade teacher or a corporate trainer. “Many years” is equally vague, she said; it could mean three years or 20 years. “Wide variety” could mean the same teacher taught both second and third grades.

Poor example: “World-recognized author of instructional design materials with a client base of Fortune 100 companies and Department of Defense.”

This example sounds “self-serving and possibly untrue,” Caroselli said. “There really aren’t many people” who can claim to be “world-recognized” authors, she noted. It’s also needlessly limited, she said. “If the applicant has worked for more than one agency in the federal government, why limit the statement to just DoD?”

Good example: “Instructional designer with 20 years’ experience providing training products and services to Fortune 100 companies and the federal government. Recognized name in HR publishing field, with worldwide clients.”

This summary statement is more specific, citing a precise number of years’ experience as well as impressive client citations: “Fortune 100 companies and the federal government.”

According to Caroselli, “My thinking is that the well-written summary will do two things — intimate the real value of the applicant and thus prompt the employer to offer as much as she can so this prospect won’t go elsewhere.”

Don’t Hide Under Salary-Shrinking Titles

Certain words, like “assistant,” can work against your salary claims and deflate your starting offer, said David Couper, a career and life coach.

Couper recently worked with a client who had been an assistant to a senior vice president but “has always had much more responsibility and has also done some amazing things outside of his nine-to-five job.” Couper helped him create a functional resume that focused on transferable skills instead of the administrative ones related to his job as an assistant. Below is an example from his before and after resumes:


[Employer name], Los Angeles, CA, [Dates of employment]

Assistant to Senior Vice President

Responsible for day-to-day office administration for two executives. Maintained calendar and schedule, handled heavy phones, generated correspondence, arranged travel and itineraries, organized weekly meetings of department heads, assisted coordinator of the department with overflow work.

[Employer name], Los Angeles, CA, [Dates of employment]

Executive Assistant

Day-to-day office administration for senior executives including COO. Handled phones, roll calls, maintained calendar….

After (functional skill areas only):

Development – Television

Collaborated on the pitch process…

Development – Film

Read daily spec and scripts submissions…

Film Production

Assisted the Production Coordinator for X Productions. Responsible for communication and day-to-day tasks for actors, set and crew.

Video Production

Filmed, produced and edited videos of interviews with major celebrities.

Management /Coordination/Administration

Managed day-to-day office administration for two executives.

Those skills are just a few excerpts of the candidate’s talents, none of which were detailed in his original resume. “He was hiding his amazing talent under the ‛assistant’ title,” Couper said, and thereby was ensuring that employers would lowball him.

Don’t Go Overboard

A word of caution about maximizing your potential salary offers: There’s pumping up your worth, and then there’s just plain old puffery. While it’s certainly important to put the best possible spin on your jobs and accomplishments, it’s just as important not to go too far, said Shel Horowitz, a marketing consultant who dubs himself the “Ethical Marketing Expert.”

Horowitz recalled a librarian who approached him with a resume written by a professional resume writer that exaggerated to the point where the woman was uncomfortable. “They had described a library page job as if it was a library director” position, he said. “In other words, they had gone so far over the line that there was zero credibility.”

Horowitz toned down the job description but also took care to delineate the progression of skills his client acquired as she continued her career in later library positions. The woman was hired shortly after as a library department director.

“Honestly, I don’t think she would have been offered the position had she pretended to have had directorial responsibilities as a page,” he said.

Walk the Talk

The bottom line on maximizing salary potential with your resume is this: You can come off as pure gold in your resume, but if you can’t support that impression in the interview, your chances of a job offer shrink, let alone your chances of a larger salary offer.

Remember that perfect candidate who applied to The one Zavitz said her company was willing to pay 20 percent more to hire?

Well, she bombed in the interview. Zavitz said it was awful — like “pulling teeth” to get information out of her.

“Sometimes I have contacted people who have great resumes” but who act unprofessionally in an interview and whose subsequent e-mails contain grammar and spelling errors, she said. “You interview them, and they’re not a grand thing at all.”

Your resume is your chance to get your foot in the door. Make sure the rest of you matches the foot.