The top 6 salary negotiation mistakes
Salary negotiation is a normal step in every job offer process. It’s so normal, in fact, when you don’t negotiate, you’re most likely leaving money on the table. Negotiating poorly, however, can be just as dangerous.
Not to give away the recruiter “secret sauce,” but before you accept that new job offer, make sure to avoid these top salary negotiation mistakes.
Trust me, I’ve seen them all!
1. Not negotiating
Sure, negotiating can be awkward, but not negotiating is a costly mistake.
Keep in mind that your starting salary is the financial foundation for your time at a particular company. It is much more difficult to increase your salary once you’re in your position. At that point, your compensation growth is usually dependent on incremental raises, and these raises can be based on any number of factors, some beyond your control (promotion opportunities, department or company performance, your peers’ performance, etc.).
Beyond that, recruiters and hiring managers expect you to negotiate! Unless the role in question has a “flat rate” salary (where anybody in that role receives the same starting offer), chances are good that they’ve built in some wiggle room in anticipation of negotiations. So, if you don’t broach the topic, you can be leaving money on the table that they already intended to pay you.
2. Playing games
Believe it or not, recruiters are in your corner!
The more honest and straightforward you can be with your recruiter, the better equipped (and more inclined) they are to act as your advocate. Ultimately, they want you to get as much money as possible because it makes life easier on them (reduces turnover in role, makes for a happier hire, and promotes a better company reputation in the job market).
So be direct with your recruiter and they should reciprocate. After all, it’s only a good use of everyone’s time if the opportunity and associated requirements are a genuine fit for you as a candidate.
3. Coming unprepared
I can’t stress this enough: do your homework. Even if they’ve built in a financial buffer in anticipation of negotiations, they’re not likely to give that buffer away just because you ask nicely.
Before you consider a new job, know your “ask.” Crunch the numbers! Your ask should be driven by data such as your cost of living, your specific financial goals, your worth in the job market (PayScale’s free salary report can help you determine this), and the scope of responsibility for the prospective role. Notice that your previous pay isn’t really relevant in arriving at your ask.
Knowing exactly what you should ask for not only helps you determine where to aim, but it also sets appropriate expectations with your potential new employer – oftentimes preventing you from wasting valuable time in consideration for opportunities that cannot ultimately meet your financial needs. Don’t be shy about making it known that you’ve come to this number thoughtfully and have the data to back it.
4. Being too salary-focused
Though having a definitive ask is essential, don’t forget to take the full package picture into consideration. There are a lot of meaningful factors surrounding the offer that can make a big difference in how the role may fit your needs.
An offer may look enticing, with a bright and shiny bottom-line number that’s calling your name, but it may mean that you’re tied to your desk for the rest of time. Make sure that you’re taking into account things such as:
- Medical/vision/dental benefits: Are they included? Are they comprehensive?
- Vacation/paid time off: The salary may be lower than your hopes and dreams, but does it also double your vacation time?
- Transportation and/or parking benefits: Factor in your travel time! Does this new job cut your commute in half? That’s meaningful.
- Work/life balance: Again, they may have offered a salary that doesn’t make you swoon, but the new job may mean a drastically better work/life balance. What’s that worth to you?
When you calculate your ask, you should also take inventory of your main motivations to make a move. If you’re looking for a better work/life balance, it may mean that you can take a slightly lower salary to have a true 40-hour work week or to have increased your Paid Time Off.
5. Changing your ask
Don’t be one of those people that isn’t satisfied, even when they get exactly what they asked for. Don’t play games.
If something comes up that affects your financial needs while you are considering a role, then by all means change your ask. Don’t change it, however, just to fish for where you can stretch the offer’s boundaries. If you ask for something, and the company presents you with an offer that meets or exceeds those expectations, it can set the wrong tone to now go back and ask for more.
6. Accepting on a promise
Don’t cheat yourself by accepting an offer on the promise of future raises … unless you have it in writing.
Do not accept any offer under the premise that you’ll “make up” the deficit between your ask and the offer in time. I’d only advise doing this under very specific circumstances:
- The initial offer, at a minimum, meets your cost of living needs
- You have a specific timeline for when they will review your salary for a potential increase in writing (after one quarter, after six months, after one year)
- You have specific requirements outlined that will guarantee said increase in writing (deliver a certain project, meet certain performance metrics, etc.)
- You have a specific increase threshold in writing (can be a range, but make them put pen to paper on what this potential increase looks like – 1 per cent? 5 per cent? Is this increase to your base salary? To your bonus potential? In the form of stock?)
There is no one-size-fits-all offer out there. Make sure that you come to the table armed with your ideal salary range and your main motivation for the move. Take the whole package into consideration, and don’t accept any offer on undocumented or unsubstantiated promises. Most important of all, don’t let the awkwardness of talking compensation prevent you from having the conversation – you’re very likely leaving money on the table.
Caitlin Williams is a Talent Acquisition Partner at PayScale and has experience recruiting for everything from third-party agency contracts to entry level and executive roles.