The Biggest Salary Negotiation Mistakes You’re Making

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Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock.com

With the COVID-19 pandemic still going strong, it’s a very tough time to be looking for a new job. But don’t let the struggle inhibit you from doing what you can to get good pay and benefits. Even in a shaky economy, hiring managers expect candidates to negotiate terms.

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“(E)ven with a much larger group of applicants, finding the right candidate for the role is more important than ever,” said Cynthia Spraggs, CEO of Virtira and author of “How To Work From Home And Actually Get SH*T Done: 50 Tips for Leaders and Professionals to Work Remotely and Outperform the Office.” “If you are one of the top candidates, know that we want you as much as you want us. Negotiate from that strength.”

Not only are you expected to negotiate, but failure to do so could not only hurt your career but also your prospective employer’s impressions of you.

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“When a person immediately signs and returns the offer, no discussion, no negotiation, I immediately fear certain things,” said Michael Sherlock, speaker, author and corporate trainer. “(I fear that) they don’t have any confidence in themselves (aka, they don’t believe they are worth more); aren’t good salespeople/sales leaders — after all, if you can’t sell yourself in a salary negotiation, how are you going to react when a customer gives you a price objection?; (and) maybe I could have gotten them for even less.”

But people can easily go wrong when it comes to the art of negotiation. Here’s a look at 12 mistakes that CEOs and job recruiters see happening. Take note so that you don’t blow your next job interview.

Last updated: Sept. 22, 2021

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1. Failing To Realize the Negotiations Start With Your Resume 

As Spraggs and Sherlock noted, you should prepare to negotiate, but you might want to prepare sooner than later.

“Salary negotiations start earlier than most people think; it really begins at the start of the interaction,” said Dennis Theodorou, managing director of JMJ Phillip Executive Search. “From the way your resume looks and is written, to how you follow up and even during the interview process. If you showcase your background at a high level, and you come across confident like the professional that you are, you don’t always have to sacrifice pay due to being unemployed or overqualified.”

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2. Not Doing Your Homework on a Role/Market  

“You have to do your due diligence in regards to researching (salary) figures,” said Jessica Williams, career consultant. “Take the opportunity to research salaries in your industry that match your position on LinkedIn.”

Darrell Rosenstein, founder of The Rosenstein Group, adds that if you don’t know how much you’re worth, you’re not going to have the confidence to best sell yourself. “A well-researched salary range will also be easier to sell since you’ll be able to back up your ask with data,” he said. 

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3. Neglecting To Ask About the Employer’s Budget 

“When asked what your salary expectations are, it’s important to ask the potential employer what they have budgeted for the role,” said Michele Mavi, a career strategist and executive coach.

“If you don’t ask, you have no idea how close or how far off you are to their target. You could be leaving money on the table or you could be asking for something far out of their budget. If you’re having a conversation early enough and are forced to offer what you’re looking for, preface your answer by saying that it’s based on the little you know of the job requirements at the given time. Your impression of the role at the end of the process may be very different from what it is at the onset, and what you learn may also change what it is you decide you’re willing to accept.”

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4. Blurting Out a Salary Range 

“Ask for the salary range at the first stage of the recruitment process to have a starting point,” said Jake Jorgovan, CEO of Lead Cookie. “If they ask you for a number, you can respond by saying, ‘I am currently exploring various opportunities, and I can’t give you a number; however, I would love to see what you have to offer considering my skills and experience.’ If they still press you for your salary goal, offer them a number 10-20% higher than your desired compensation for the role. It will give you room for negotiation in case the company wishes to offer a lower amount.”

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5. Forgetting About Benefits Other Than Pay

“From the perspective of a business owner, I can honestly say there is far more room for negotiation if non-salary items are part of the discussion. And many workers seem to forget that they have this hand to play,” said Chris Panteli, owner and founder of LifeUpswing.com.

Interestingly, 80% of workers would keep a job with benefits rather than take one that offered more pay and no benefits; furthermore, 55% of employees would be somewhat likely to accept a job with lower compensation but a more robust benefits package.

“And it’s these benefits that employees so quickly forget can be a vital part of any negotiation. Money is obviously the first thing people think of when determining their worth, and that is a good place to start. But more money often isn’t the only thing that can reflect a good performance. Extra time off, a better company car, more flexible working hours and better incentivized payment structures are all key areas to consider when entering into employment negotiations.”

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6. Committing Too Fast

“If you’ve been looking for a job for a long time, it may become tempting to take whatever you can get. But jumping on the first offer that comes along can be just as disastrous as marrying the first person who asks you out on a date,” said Julie Titterington, chief culture officer at MerchantMaverick.com.

“Give yourself time to think about an offer before accepting it. If there are other stakeholders in your life, like a spouse or partner, discuss the offer with them and get their feedback. Sometimes, just a little space is all that is needed to determine whether a job is a great fit or a bad decision born out of haste or fear. If you do decide to accept a square-peg-round-hole type of offer, make sure you know why you’re doing it. It’s okay to take the first port in a storm if your ship will sink otherwise, but don’t kid yourself that you’re doing anything other than that.”

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7. Playing Mind Games

“A salary negotiation may feel like a dance at times, but if it’s resembling a high-pressure chess match, something’s gone terribly wrong,” Titterington said.

“Resist the urge to play mind games or try to pull byzantine power plays. Don’t reject a good offer just to play hard-to-get. For the most part, potential employers aren’t trying to screw you over; if they offer you a position, it’s because they want you on their team, and are doing their best to entice you to join them. Holding out for something better, even when you want the position and you’d be happy with the offer on the table, is a good way to find yourself unemployed. This doesn’t mean you should settle for mediocrity. If the offer is too low, keep right on negotiating until it feels right. Just don’t try to game the system.”

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8. Not Accounting for Changes Due To the Pandemic 

“COVID has led to reduction in salaries in organizations, therefore it will definitely impact merit increases moving forward since the baselines have moved backwards,” said Joe Mullings, founder, chairman and CEO of The Mullings Group.

“Other organizations have frozen merit increases across the board. As you look for a new role, it is reasonable to expect compensation levels at the pre-COVID levels, but you should definitely be prepared for organizations to keep salaries low until some sort of business horizon is established and those companies that have been prudently preserving cash may bring salaries back to pre-COVID levels.”

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9. Settling For a Mediocre Offer

“Probably the biggest mistake you can make is simply deciding to settle and accept whatever offer you receive,” said Max Babych, CEO at SpdLoad, adding that in their industry, salary is typically negotiated every six months. “Settling for a lower salary than you are worth has some major negative financial consequences. It will not only set you back financially, but also eat at you until you begin to seriously dislike your job and/or employer.”

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10. Not Paying Attention

“Pay attention when interviewing at a new company to the surroundings,” said Robin Widdis, business unit president at CBIZ and board member of CBIZ Women’s Advantage.

“Do people work from home? What do people like most about the company and the people they report to? Salary is important, and making sure you sell your skills and your qualifications is important, but be a listener and make sure you factor in the perks, the work-life balance and whether the environment is somewhere you can excel. Even if the salary is great, if you aren’t right for the culture or it isn’t right for you, no amount of money will help you to do your best work there.”

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11. Over-Negotiating

“Although under-negotiating is a common problem, over-negotiating raises a different set of concerns among today’s employers,” said Kent Elliott, principal at RETS Associates. “For example, our firm recently worked with a candidate and employer through five iterations of an offer letter. The candidate in this case had very specific requests such as more bonus potential, different thresholds to achieve more compensation and even minute details such as certain days off.”

“Because the candidate was perfect for the role, the employer bent over backwards to accommodate the requests, ultimately delivering an offer that matched exactly what the candidate had requested. Surprisingly, the candidate used the new offer as leverage to approach a different company for another position. This tarnished the candidate’s reputation with both firms. To avoid this mistake, today’s job seekers should negotiate in good faith and stop when they reach what they have requested. That is the way to establish trust and build connections.”

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12. Not Getting It on Paper

“Make sure the employer agrees in writing that the salary may be increased but cannot be decreased during the term of the employment,” said Lauren Blair, a lawyer and legal writer for FreeAdvice.com. “A written agreement is key for employees negotiating a comprehensive compensation package that includes bonus, equity and/or other unique remunerative benefits.”

“Annual bonuses usually are not guaranteed so employees should make sure the eligibility requirements, as well as payment targets and timetables, are clearly defined in writing. For one-time bonuses, like signing bonuses, make sure the document reflects that they are guaranteed and when they will be paid out,” Blair added. “Equity awards normally have separate stand-alone agreements, but the equity promise and award amounts should still be included in the general employment contract. Also, employment benefits, like relocation packages, travel allowances and other perquisites likewise should be reduced to writing.”

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