Negotiation is the easiest way to increase your lifetime earnings. According to research, the average worker loses out on over half a million dollars over the course of their career by declining to negotiate their salary. We’re taught from a young age that money is a private subject and we should closely guard the details of our income, which can make salary negotiation uncomfortable, so often job seekers avoid it entirely. Don’t do this! It never hurts to ask. Here’s some of the common pitfalls to avoid when negotiating.


1. accepting the first offer

As a rule of thumb, avoid saying yes to the very first offer. Most hiring managers will have an approved salary range for the role. Just like you won’t give your bottom-line salary right out of the gate, hiring managers avoid starting with an offer at the top of their salary range. Chances are good they’ve left room in case you counteroffer. Basically: employers expect you to negotiate, so take advantage!

2. fearing that the offer will disappear

Job seekers are often concerned that asking for more money will come off as greedy and the original job offer will disappear. That’s rarely the case. Finding a hire-worthy candidate isn’t easy! If you’re the right person for the job, it’s in the hiring manager’s interest to strike a balance you’re both happy with. Even if there’s no wiggle room in the offer, chances are recruiter will simply say so, and the original offer will still be on the table, waiting for you to accept or reject it. The ball will still be in your court.

3. getting too personal

When it comes to salary, the discussion should centre on your skills and qualifications. Focus on why you deserve a salary bump, not why you need one. Bringing up your rent or medical expense for a sick relative can come across as pandering. Frame salary discussions around the value you bring. If you deserve a bump in salary, it’s because you have a skill that other candidates don’t. Avoid playing a cheap (and likely ineffective) sympathy card. At the end of the day, you’re being hired to perform a job. Your pay is based on your merit for the job, not your personal life.

4. long, protracted negotiations

Negotiation is good, drawing it out is not. After a couple of rounds of back and forth, you should have a good idea of where the middle ground lies. Nickel and diming your potential employer to ensure you get every last penny possible can be exhausting and make it seem like you’re difficult to work with. If you’re still unsatisfied with the offer after a few rounds of negotiation, it might be time to take a hard look at whether or not this is the right job for you. If you love the job, can you live with the salary offered? Or is your salary a hard stop? If the negotiations have stagnated, it’s time to make a decision. Accept the offer, or cut your losses so you and the recruiter can each focus on finding a better fit.

5. not taking time to consider the offer

Your job is a big part of your life. Avoid making a snap decision after the rush of receiving an offer. You should take a little time to read it over and thoroughly and consider it before jumping all in. The offer letter will outline benefits and expectations of the job. Read the fine print before signing on the dotted line. Most employers will allow you a day or two to mull it over before requiring a response. If a timeline isn’t given, politely ask for some time to think about it. Most employers will be amenable. Just avoid asking for more than a couple days. If you ask for too long to consider, they may wonder if you’re holding out for another offer.

6. not knowing your worth on the market

Know what your skills are worth on the market. With all the salary information available online, there’s no excuse to not have a ballpark salary in mind. Make sure to factor in where you live, as well. Salaries can vary significantly from city to city. Also, remember to check salaries for related job titles; different companies may use different names for similar roles. For instance, you may be applying for an administrative assistant job, but some of your duties overlap with those of an executive assistant job. It’s good to know salaries for both.

7. making wishy-washy statements

Avoid weak statements like ‘I think I deserve more’ ‘maybe there’s room to negotiate’ or ‘that’s sort of low.’ Take a firm, confident stance. Own what your skills and experience are worth. There’s no need to soften your language to indicate you’re flexible. If your research shows that average salaries in your field and city are higher than the offer, present your findings with confidence. Hiring managers are more likely to take you seriously.

8. revealing your bottom-line number

Don’t put a firm price tag on yourself. If asked about your salary expectations, offer a range or say that you’re negotiable. The lowest number in your range should be around what you expect your final salary to be or a little bit higher. It’s important that both you and the hiring manager have a starting point to work from. However, sharing the lowest salary you’d accept can make it difficult to negotiate down the line. Leave it to your employer to make an offer and negotiate from there.

9. threatening to walk away

Negotiating can be stressful. It’s easy to get a little frustrated and blurt out that you’re going to walk away if you don’t get X. Avoid this tactic whenever possible, as it can come across as petulant or unprofessional. Yes, you might have to walk away if the salary gap doesn’t close an acceptable amount. However, politely stating that you don’t feel comfortable with the offer is much different than preemptively threatening to walk away to force your would-be employer’s hand. More often this tactic will be met with resistance because no one likes being threatened. Say “I need X to feel comfortable accepting this offer” versus “If I don’t get X, I’m out.” This leaves room for further negotiating. To further strengthen your case for an increase, lay out how you bring value and why you’re worth your ask.

10. not asking for the offer in writing

To ensure everything is on the up and up, always ask for offers in writing. This ensures there’s no confusion about the terms of your employment and pay, and that everyone’s on the same page. The offer letter will have information including your start date, salary, benefits, work schedule, the date you must accept the offer by, and other important details. If a potential employer refuses to put the offer on paper, this should raise red flags. There’s no acceptable reason for an employer to refuse to put your offer in writing. If your would-be employer balks, you should be suspicious.  

Do you negotiate your salary when you’re looking for a new job? What advice do you have for others who are in the midst of salary negotiations? We welcome your stories and advice.

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