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Ask a Recruiter: The Top 6 Salary Negotiation Mistakes

Getting a job offer is exciting, but the subsequent salary negotiation that takes place before you sign on can be nerve-wracking. Wouldn't it be nice to find out what's going through the recruiter's head during this process? Well, welcome to PayScale's newest blog series, "Ask a Recruiter." In this inaugural edition, Caitlin Williams, a member of PayScale's own Talent Acquisition team, shares the biggest mistakes she sees time after time in salary negotiations. Salary negotiation is a normal step in every job offer process. Not negotiating means leaving money on the table, but negotiating poorly 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!

Getting a job offer is exciting, but the subsequent salary negotiation that takes place before you sign on can be nerve-wracking. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out what’s going through the recruiter’s head during this process? Well, welcome to PayScale’s newest blog series, “Ask a Recruiter.” In this inaugural edition, Caitlin Williams, a member of PayScale’s own Talent Acquisition team, shares the biggest mistakes she sees time after time in salary negotiations.

Salary negotiation is a normal step in every job offer process. Not negotiating means leaving money on the table, but negotiating poorly 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!

money can't buy

(Photo Credit: giumaiolini/Flickr)

Do You Know What You're Worth?

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 make salary strides 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? Do they offer money-saving options such as FSAs or HSAs?
  • 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 effects what your financial needs are 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 share your ask 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 no 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 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 percent? 5 percent? 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 personal ask and your main motivations 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.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made while negotiating salary? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Caitlin Williams
Read more from Caitlin

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6 Comments on "Ask a Recruiter: The Top 6 Salary Negotiation Mistakes"

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Sean
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Recruiters are unethical low ballers. They get paid more when you get paid less. Don’t trust them.

Scott
Guest

Very informative & true! I had the biggest mistake of not coming to the interview with the best salary I could possibly had and blew it! They asked me what I wanted but didn’t maximize it. I could be making $2K more per month had I known the cost of living and pay scale in the location. Regrets really come later so to all applicants, do your homework always.

Matt
Guest

Brilliant! Wish I had read this before I said yes!

Maureen
Guest
That is all very good information, however, I have had several instances where recruiters have called me with an opportunity and then they ask me what I am currently making. That question doesn’t seem relevant to the position they are talking to me about and I let them know that. Most of the recruiters usually don’t want to continue the conversation after that. In fact, one who called me about a position hang up on me when I wouldn’t tell her my current salary and when I told her my current salary wasn’t relevant to the open position. Is this… Read more »
Maureen
Guest
That is all very good information, however, I have had several instances where recruiters have called me with an opportunity and then they ask me what I am currently making. That question doesn’t seem relevant to the position they are talking to me about and I let them know that. Most of the recruiters usually don’t want to continue the conversation after that. In fact, one who called me about a position hang up on me when I wouldn’t tell her my current salary and when I told her my current salary wasn’t relevant to the open position. Is this… Read more »
Esakki
Guest

Fabulous! Came across at the right time.. Many thanks..

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