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Avoid These 8 Salary Negotiation Mistakes

By Gerald Walsh ©

Talking about money makes most people uncomfortable, especially when it’s your own starting salary you’re talking about.

For some, it’s a fear of asking for too much and losing the job opportunity. For others, it’s a fear of asking too little and being underpaid.

Mistakes made at this point in the job search process can cost you thousands of dollars in the long run. Here are the eight most common mistakes and how you can avoid them:

1. Not knowing what you are worth.

Most people have an idea of their market worth but in some instances, such as when you are moving to another part of the country or hitting the job market after many years working for a single employer, your current pay level may not be relevant anymore.

You will want to check job postings, online salary calculators, and industry associations who may produce salary guides for their members. Professional recruiters can also help. Good research will pay off in the long run.

2. Bringing up the salary question before the employer does.

Nothing turns off an employer faster than a candidate asking about salary too early in the process. Arguably, there is merit in raising this question early so no one wastes time.

However this practice is so engrained in the hiring process that if you violate it, the reaction is almost always negative. So be patient. It will come up eventually, assuming the employer is interested in hiring you.

3. Making it all about you.

Employers are not concerned about your personal financial situation or how much money you have to earn to make ends meet. Trying to negotiate a higher salary because you have a big mortgage to pay will get you nowhere. Keep it professional at all times. It’s about the job responsibilities, industry standards and your qualifications.    

4. Being the first to quote a definitive salary amount.

In salary negotiation, the first person to quote a number is at a disadvantage. If you do so, you are telling the other person what your threshold is. If an employer asks, “What are your salary expectations?” try to toss it back by asking, "I am interested in this role. Has a salary range been set?”

A word of caution: if this back and forth goes on too long, you can turn off the employer. If they keep pressing for your expectations, you should be prepared to state a salary range.

5. Focusing only on base salary.

I have seen many salary negotiations go off track because the entire focus is on base salary. What sometimes gets lost in these discussions is the overall value of benefits, pensions, memberships, parking and other perks. In fact, a job with a base salary of $50,000 could have a real value of over $60,000 when everything is considered. Think “total compensation.”

6. Accepting an offer on the spot.

Even if the offer comes in at more than you wanted, you should never accept immediately. If you do, you run the risk of coming across as impulsive and careless.

An offer is an important document because it becomes the employment contract between you and your employer. So even if the employer wants an answer quickly, take it overnight and think about it. Most employers will allow you reasonable time to make a decision.

7. Believing you can catch up by negotiating a higher salary later.

The best time to negotiate salary is after a job offer has been made – but before you begin work with a new employer. This is because the cost of receiving a lower-than-hoped-for salary is so high over the course of your career.

Take two people, each 35 years old. One starts at a salary of $50,000; the other at $55,000. Although the difference is small at the start, if you assume each of their salaries increase by 3% annually, the second person will have earned $238,000 more over the course of their careers because of the compound interest effect.

8. Thinking there is plenty of room for negotiation.  

Contrary to what some candidates think, most employers are not trying to take advantage of you by giving you a low-ball offer. Unless your prospective employer is unscrupulous, you can assume that the offer is within a reasonable range of what they feel the job is worth (or what they can afford to pay.) So while you might be able to move the salary up a notch or two, it is probably no more than within the 5% - 10% range. 

In other cases, there is simply no room to negotiate. Often not-for-profit organizations operate with very tight budgets and cannot afford to pay more than the stated salary, no matter how strong a candidate you are.

To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at walsh@geraldwalsh.com


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.