Whether you’re looking for a new job or simply hoping for a raise within your current company, salary negotiation is a skill that can not only help to secure higher pay, but also positively affect how your work is valued as you progress through various roles. But it’s not an easy skill to acquire, and—for better or worse—most people don’t get too many chances to practice in the course of their careers. If you’re going into a negotiation, read on for our list of things to avoid as well as some suggested workarounds.
“The original offer works for me”
The first (and perhaps most common) salary negotiation mistake is not negotiating in the first place. In the excitement of a new job offer, it’s easy to fold to the first salary package proposed. But agreeing to the first offer means surrendering your rights to negotiate a higher salary, or even to ask for different non-salary benefits. Even if the offer sounds great, ask for some time to think about it before making a decision.
In most situations, it makes sense to at least attempt to negotiate. Even if the company can’t (or won’t) offer you more, many employers will respect that you value your skills highly. In addition, if the company can’t offer a higher salary right away, the fact that you negotiated now may put you first in line for a raise in the future.
“My current salary is…”
Most recruiters and hiring managers will ask for your salary expectations at some point during the hiring process, but it’s important not to show your cards too early. If you must answer early on in the process, give a range (i.e. “in the high XX’s”) to allow for some flexibility when you’re negotiating down the road.
“My desired salary is [exact number]”
Similar to giving away your exact current salary, avoid disclosing an exact target, as you’ll box yourself in by doing so. Let the employer propose a number first, leaving you more room for negotiation.
“I’m not sure”
While it’s important not to give away all of your (current and desired) salary numbers, you’ll also want to avoid the other side of the spectrum. Appearing unsure of what you’re looking for gives the other side of the negotiating table permission to shape the discussion, so do the necessary research and go into the discussion with at least a ballpark range of what you’re like to end up with.
“I know [specific person] makes X”
According to Susan Peppercorn, a career coach from Boston, “negotiations should be based in fact, not emotion.” A surefire way to get emotionally involved is to name a specific person’s salary. Whether for a new job or for negotiating your salary within a company, compare what you’re being offered to industry averages (Peppercorn suggests Salary.com or GlassDoor—or you can use the our salary calculator for a more granular view of how you stack up), rather than to what specific individuals are making.
Facts can be useful not only in comparing yourself to industry averages, but also in demonstrating why your work is worthy of a higher salary than you’ve been offered. Avoid phrases like “I think” or “I feel” when speaking about past performance, which can give the impression that the value of your work is subject to interpretation. By sticking to the hard facts, you’ll assert the importance of your past work and give the hiring manager tangible evidence of why you deserve a higher salary.
“The least I’ll accept is…”
If you disclose the minimum you’ll accept, there’s a good chance you’ll get just that, and no more. Additionally, if it’s not feasible for the employer to offer you at least the minimum you propose, the negotiation will be over, and you’ll have to walk away with nothing.
“I can’t afford my [student loan payments, rent, etc.]”
Sure, you’ll need to earn enough to pay your bills—but again, an emotional appeal like this has no place in a salary negotiation. Any amount you propose above the original offer should be justifiable by the value you’ll bring (or already do bring) to the company, not by how much you need the money.
If you’re worried about living costs, make sure to ask about additional benefits or stipends the company provides, such as a cell phone plan, gym membership, or travel reimbursements. These might not be factored into your salary offer, but can take a chunk out of your monthly expenses.
“That’s my final offer”
If you’ve gotten to the stage of having a job offer, the employer definitely wants to get you onboard, so avoid getting fed up and posing an ultimatum. Even if the company can’t offer you more money, there’s usually some leeway to negotiate an alternative benefits package.
Valerie Streif, a Career Adviser with Mentat, suggests asking about the possibility of extra paid time off or the ability to work from home, two increasingly common benefit package add-ons. Streif urges candidates to think about what might enhance their quality of life beyond a higher salary, as many companies will work with the employee to tailor a benefits package that suits both parties.