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6 Salary Negotiation Mistakes to Avoid

Could You Be Sabotaging Your Job Interview?

You aced the interview and your hard work has paid off in a job offer. You’re excited to learn the company wants you … that is, until you start talking money. The salary is not at all what you were expecting, and not in the “I just won the lottery” way!

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Now things are more complex. It’s time for salary negotiation, but where to start? The last thing you want is to offend the hiring manager and have them rescind the offer.

Chances are that won’t happen, but you do need to avoid some common missteps to stay in favor. Don’t step off the cliff by making any of these common mistakes:

1. Not negotiating at all

It’s amazing how many people don’t venture into the daunting (but fruitful!) world of negotiation. They just accept the deal at face value—or walk away entirely. A lost opportunity.

A CareerBuilder survey found that more than half of workers don’t negotiate for better pay when they’re offered a job. Those who avoid it said they don't feel comfortable asking for more money (51 percent); they’re afraid the employer will decide not to hire them (47 percent); or they don't want to appear greedy (36 percent).

College students and recent grads, in particular, may be missing out. Only 38 percent of these job seekers in a NerdWallet and Looksharp survey negotiated with their employers when receiving a job offer.

Meanwhile, three-quarters of employers in the same survey said they typically had room to increase their first salary offers by five to 10 percent during negotiations. That’s worth noting: the majority of companies are expecting a negotiation.

If you’re early in your career, you may not feel you have significant leverage. But if the company has extended an offer, they want you and that is leverage.

Accepting a starting salary of $45,000 without negotiating could be a $4,500 a year mistake. Over 10 years, that amounts to $45,000 in lost pay. You wouldn’t toss that into a fire, so you owe it to yourself to try for more.

2. Asking about salary too early

On the other hand, you don’t want to initiate negotiations prematurely. When the hiring manager says, “Do you have any questions for me?” at the interview, it’s not an invitation to ask about salary. If you do, you’re leaving a bad impression as your first inquiry.

Always wait until an offer is presented; and ask only if you aren’t given the finer details about salary and benefits at that time. Remember, too, that there is more to compensation than salary alone—such as medical benefits, vacation, 401(k)s and other perks, which should also weigh into your decision.

3. Leading the talk

You might take a deep breath before you make the proclamation, “I’m really excited about the prospect of joining your team, but the offer is a bit low.” Just don’t divulge your salary expectations right after it.

Now is the time to listen rather than showing your hand. You may learn about factors that can affect further negotiation, like a formal pay structure across departments or the amount of leeway they have. The more you know before putting your cards on the table, the better.

4. Winging it

Be ready to make your case for a higher salary in case there’s room to negotiate. Throwing out a random number that you feel you deserve is a high risk proposition, though.

Do your research. There’s information readily available online for every occupation. You might even be able to pinpoint the range the company actually pays through a site like Try to narrow data to information relevant to your market.

It’s generally safe to ask for a salary that’s 10-20 percent higher than what you’re earning now, but don’t be afraid to ask for more if research backs it up. A lot depends on your geographic area, the industry, whether your current salary is above or below market, and other factors. Document your case for your desired salary and be ready to share your data with the hiring manager.

5. Being all or nothing

It’s one thing to document your worth and be confident in your value. It’s another to come across as demanding or haughty. Present your case for a higher salary, but be open to adjusting other aspects of the offer, such as the amount of vacation time or a higher sales commission.

If you say, “take it or leave it,” they may just leave it! Remember, you’re not just trying to clinch a deal; you’re giving a glimpse of you as a person overall. Employers are hiring “attitude” and emotional intelligence skills, too. All the business and technical skills in the world can be dwarfed by poor interpersonal abilities.

6. Talking too much

There’s value in knowing when to stop talking when negotiating. There may be times when the hiring manager doesn’t respond quickly. That awkward pause can give you subtle power, as you’ve lobbed the ball in their court.

For example, you might respond, “I was actually considering something a bit higher. Is that the highest range you would consider?” Then wait—versus filling in the space with, “...but, I’m flexible,” for example.

Salary negotiations don’t have to be intimidating. You do have the power to shift the direction of the discussion. But you must leverage that power and not cave under pressure. Managers won’t change their minds about hiring you simply because you attempted to earn a higher starting salary. In fact, some will secretly respect your ambition, if it’s within reasonable bounds.

If you’re thoughtful and professional as you try to reach a deal, you’ll remain that way in the eyes of your prospective employer. So stake your ground. You may not win the proverbial lottery, but you should earn what you deserve.

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