Negotiating Salary – 6 Common Mistakes

by Anya Jennings on December 1, 2009

Negotiating your compensation package can be a little frightening. If what you ask for is out of line, will the job offer evaporate? If you ask for too little, will the hiring manager reconsider because he senses desperation or inexperience? Finding a balance is important, especially in this job market.


Here are some of the most common mistakes people make during compensation negotiations:

1.Accepting the first offer. Much like car salesmen, employers expect a counteroffer, especially for high level jobs. Accepting the first offer may earn you a much lower salary than the company was actually willing to pay. Even if the first salary offer is in the ballpark of what you were expecting and the employer seems sincere, try to sweeten the deal with a counteroffer. Couch it in friendly negotiation terms, not ultimatums or demands…unless you’re prepared to walk away. Making a friendly counteroffer won’t break the deal. If the employer has no room for negotiation, he’ll tell you, and possibly offer to throw in another type of incentive, like flex time, extra vacation days, or bonuses.

2. Being unprepared. Don’t rely on the potential employer to provide salary information. Do some research. Find out everything you can about the average pay for the position. List the relevant skills you bring to the table and be prepared to discuss how they should affect your salary. Going into the negotiation armed with facts puts you in a much stronger position than the average job seeker.

3. Neglecting negotiations beyond base pay. Salary is only one negotiation point. Research and prepare a list of topics to discuss, including stock options, bonuses, benefits package, insurance, a salary increase schedule and severance pay. This is your future. Don’t walk away from the table without all the information.

4. Be direct. Women, especially, tend to avoid being direct when it comes to asking for more money. Just say, “That figure is lower than I expected and I need more money.” Don’t explain why you need more money and expect him to infer that he needs to pay you more.

5. Talking salary before offer. Many companies will ask what salary you expect before they offer you a job. If one of the requirements of application is to name a salary, do your homework and give them a reasonable range, not a hard figure. If salary is mentioned during the first interview, dance around it. Tell the interviewer that you’d like to learn more about the responsibilities of the position before committing to a figure. Ask what the typical salary range is for others in that position and tell them you’ll consider any reasonable offer commensurate with your abilities and experience.

6. Accepting an amount comparable to your last salary. They’re going to ask how much you made at your last job, and offer you a similar amount even if it’s a bargain for them. You can’t lie; it’s information they can check. Your best bet is to find out everything you can about the job and its responsibilities, and use that information to point out the differences between your last position and the one you hope to land.

The bottom line is that you have to strike a balance between too weak (resulting in being undervalued) and uncompromising (resulting in no job). Don’t just accept whatever they offer and expect to catch up once they see how valuable you really are. They are more likely to see how valuable you are and pile on more work while patting themselves on the back about such a smart hire. If you’re not confident about salary negotiations, you’re better off working with a professional recruiter who can work that out for you.

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