9 Salary Negotiation Mistakes You Should Avoid

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: July 7, 2014

Negotiate Wisely

We know, you don’t like negotiating. But here’s a hint – very few people do. So despite it being about as enjoyable as nails on a chalkboard, it’s also necessary. And it’s too important to screw up.

A misstep during the salary negotiation portion of your job interview – or worse, your failure to negotiate at all – could end up costing you thousands. Unfortunately, there are a variety of pitfalls along the way and traps you can inadvertently fall into that could derail your chances of success. That’s why we’ve identified the nine biggest mistakes most people make when negotiating, and how to avoid them.

9. Not Doing Enough Research

It’s pretty difficult to negotiate salary if you haven’t researched the job responsibilities involved or what people in those jobs should be paid.

First and foremost, check out our free Salary Wizard. Input your job title and location to get started, and find your salary range. You can also narrow that range by filling out your education level, years of experience, and other personal information. This will get you a salary range from which you can begin your negotiations. Check out our affordable Personal Salary Report for better info and advanced tools.

But don’t stop there. Check within your network and poll some people in similar jobs (if they’re willing) to see what they’re making. The more information the better.

8. Failing to Consider Non-salary Items

Contrary to popular belief, your base salary is not the only negotiable part of the process.

If your potential employer can’t budge on base salary but you really want to work there, there are other options. Have you considered a signing bonus? Relocation money (if applicable)? Stock options? Or perhaps a week or two of extra vacation is worth a small decrease in base pay. The point is you have a lot you can negotiate in addition to your base salary, and you should tailor it to suit your needs.

7. Not Considering Your Employer's Needs

It’s great to have self-confidence and totally necessary to advocate for yourself. Just try not to take things too far.

There’s a way to negotiate without steamrolling your hiring manager. You can state your case and show your value without coming across as demanding. And if you’re going to negotiate that strongly, you need to remember negotiation is largely about compromise. Which is to say while you’re trying to get as much as you can, your employer is likely trying to keep within their budget. Keeping that mind will help you negotiate effectively without coming on too strong.

6. Don't Talk Salary Too Soon

They want to know what number is in your head. And although strategies vary on this depending on the person dispensing advice, I’ve always gone with the theory of getting them to throw out the first number.

First and foremost, talking about salary before they’ve made you the job offer seems counterproductive and putting the cart in front of the horse. If at all possible, try to make sure they really want you first before you start negotiating salary. Once they put out the first number, assuming it’s in the acceptable ballpark, negotiate up from there while relying on your prior compensation research. And all the better if you have the offer because you know they want you and it strengthens your bargaining position.

5. Revealing Your Bottom Line Number

If you give them your true minimum salary requirement, many companies will use that as the ceiling rather than the basement.

I understand it can be tough, especially when interviewers are pressuring you for a salary range. Try to say something like “I just want to get to know the company and specifics about the job before we talk salary. I’m sure you guys are in the ballpark so let’s just make sure we’re a good fit for each other first.” If that doesn’t work and they absolutely demand a number, give a salary range while making the bottom number above your actual walk away amount. But just avoid costing yourself money by helping them drive down your price.

4. Don't Go Crazy With Counteroffers

Negotiating is a good thing. However, be cognizant of the fact that there is such a thing as negotiating too much.

They make you an offer and it’s low? Fine. It’s perfectly acceptable and even expected that you’d make a counteroffer of some kind. But try to avoid excessive back and forth. Pick the one or two most important aspects of the offer and focus on those. But after a drawn out negotiation concludes, try to avoid bringing up entirely new things when it’s thought to be settled. One too many trips to the well could end up in a drought.

3. Don't Take It Personally

This is a tough one.

After all, what’s more personal than someone telling you what they think you’re worth? I get it. But at the end of the day, you need to remember it’s a business decision. They’re looking for the best possible candidate they can afford, and if that isn’t you then it’s tough, but so be it. Getting personally insulted during a salary negotiation will only lead to hard feelings and lots of emotion. And I don’t know about you, but my best decisions are not often made while my emotions are running high. Too much room for error and missteps, so try to stay calm and even-keeled.

2. Never Accept the First Offer

Almost all companies expect you to negotiate.

Let me repeat that – almost all companies expect you to negotiate. That’s important, because many people don’t realize that. In fact, 41% of people we surveyed last year didn’t negotiate at all when offered a job, and 67% of those people later regretted it. So take their initial offer, mull it over in your head for a few seconds right there in the interview, and then express gratitude for the offer but counter with something more. Whether it’s salary, a bonus, health benefits, or vacation, ask for more.

After all, if you’ve got the offer you have the advantage of already knowing they want you. Leverage that in an intelligent and reasonable way.

1. Get It In Writing

Always get the offer in writing. Always. No exceptions.

There are too many horror stories out there involving employees who were verbally promised one thing, only to have it never materialize upon being hired. And without a written document to fall back on, it’s a messy case of your word against theirs.

Get. It. In. Writing.

Salary.com Can Help You Negotiate

Now that we've told you what not to do, let Salary.com help you get paid fairly what you do.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.

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