Salary Negotiation Fail, Fixed: What to Do When You Accidentally Lowball Yourself

Is there any part of the interview process that’s more horrifying than answering the dreaded salary requirements question? You can dodge it all you want — and you probably should — but if the hiring manager won’t budge, you’ll probably have to come up with some sort of an answer. Chances are, you’ll know right away if you named a number that was lower than you could have requested. The gleam in the HR person’s eye will tell you all you need to know. The question is, can you improve the situation, or are you stuck with your range?

empty pockets 

(Photo Credit: danielmoyle/Flickr)

It’s not an easy fix, that’s for sure. One reason so many career experts advise you to avoid naming your salary expectations is that once you do, you’re sort of pigeonholed. However, if you get backed into a wall, and cough up a number that you later realize is lower than it needed to be, all is not lost.

If possible, you can use new information to your advantage.

Job applicants often forget that their salary request shouldn’t be based entirely on the history of their earnings. Candidates are hired based on their skills and abilities, and what they’ll bring to the job to which they’re applying. That means that your salary should be a reflection of what you’re going to do, not what you’ve already done.

A little research ahead of time can be really useful, here. Even though you don’t want to be forced to name a salary range, if you can help it, you should have an idea in your head of what’s reasonable. PayScale’s Salary Survey can help you evaluate your skills and experience in the context of the role you’re seeking, not just the jobs you’ve already held.

That said, even if you neglected to do this research before your first interview, it’s not too late. Hopefully, in the course of your discussions with HR and the hiring manager, you’ve learned about the job and its responsibilities. When you receive your formal offer, you can focus on the responsibilities that were less apparently part of the job when you first sat down to discuss the position, and possibly negotiate a higher rate based on that.

For example, you might say, “I’m really excited about the possibility of joining the team. Now that I’ve learned more about the role, I feel like my experience with X will be really useful with Y project. Given the job’s responsibilities, I feel like Z would be an appropriate range.”

The goal is the have a plan.

Will it work 100 percent of the time? No. But it doesn’t have to — you might discover that the person you’ve talked to isn’t in charge of determining salary, or that the company offers more than your request as a matter of course.

“Don’t worry about it too much until they give you a formal offer,” suggests Quora user Mark Mahoney, in response to a similar question. “My girlfriend recently went for an interview where she provided a salary range that was extremely low for the position she was applying for. This was the last round, so there was no going back after she found out. They ended up coming back and offering her a salary 30 percent higher than she expected. She is now working there and is very happy.”

Regardless, you can use what you’ve learned this time around to ask more questions before stating your range during the next interview. You might not be able to wriggle out of naming a number, but you can absolutely ask for more information before committing yourself. A good employer should appreciate that kind of thoroughness and caution.

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