Big Mistakes to Avoid When Negotiating Salary

One of the most emotionally fraught aspects of the hiring process is the salary negotiation. Talking about money makes people nervous; and if that wasn’t enough, there’s the pervasive fear that asking for too much cash might provoke your prospective employer into rescinding the job offer.

In other words, it’s a minefield. Although no two negotiations are exactly alike, here are some of the bigger “mines” you can easily avoid:

Revealing Your Current Salary Ahead of Time

Just because a recruiter or hiring manager asks for your current salary doesn’t mean you need to provide it. In fact, cities and states such as New York City and Massachusetts have laws on the books preventing prospective employers from inquiring about your pay. Advocates of such legislation fear that giving companies the ability to solicit a number can “bake in” gender discrimination.

“If somebody has faced gender-based pay discrimination over the course of a career or just in one prior job, and a new employer uses salary history to set pay, essentially you continue to carry forward that gender discrimination from job to job,” Sarah Fleisch Fink, director of workplace policy and senior counsel at the National Partnership for Women & Families, told Business Insider earlier this year.

(Note that these laws, which may end up enacted in more states, don’t prevent applicants from volunteering salary information unprompted—so if you make lots of money, and really want to share that fact with your interviewer, there’s nothing technically stopping you from doing so.)

In places with no such laws, there’s often a considerable amount of pressure to offer salary information if asked. What to do? If the initial ask is part of a written application, you can either leave that section blank or write that you’re willing to talk about salaries in person. (Note, some automated forms won’t accept anything other than a number; in such cases, consider inputting a broad range, or whether you want to apply to the job altogether.)

If asked during your initial interview, you can provide a vague range, along the lines of, “I make in the very high five-figures.” You can also say something like, “If I’m right for this role, I’m sure the salary will work itself out.” Depending on the tone of the conversation, you can even try flipping the question back on the interviewer: “How much has the company set aside for the position?”

Whatever path you choose, the goal is to keep as much leverage as possible until it’s clear that the prospective employer really wants you for the position; at that point, the salary negotiations can begin in earnest.

Accepting the Job, Then Negotiating the Salary

Picture this scenario: you interview well for a new job. Your hiring manager, impressed with your performance, makes an offer. You accept the terms. A week later, you come back and ask for more money.

To put things mildly, that’s not a good way to start off a new working relationship. If you have issues with the contract, the time to speak up is always before you put your signature on the dotted line; once you’ve signed, you’ve pretty much lost your leverage with your employer. In addition to not getting what you want, you may create the impression that you’re not a straightforward dealer—which is never ideal.

If you really feel like you’ve been lowballed, wait until your next performance review. At that point, you’ll have a track record (hopefully of success) and thus enough “fuel” to negotiate for more money.

Shooting Too High

Very specialized tech jobs can pull down extraordinary salaries. For example, artificial intelligence (A.I.) experts at top companies like IBM can reportedly make as much as NFL players. “Right now, A.I. is an elitist sport—there are very few people who know how to practice it,” Tom Eck, the CTO of industry platforms at IBM and a software developer who has been involved in A.I. as far back as the early ’90s, recently told an audience at the Markets Media’s Summer Trading event in New York. “The top-tier A.I. researchers are getting paid the salaries of NFL quarterbacks, which tells you the demand and the perceived value.”

But not all jobs are created equal. While a top expert in machine learning can march into a new tech company and demand a salary big enough to purchase an enormous house outright, most tech jobs simply don’t pay that much. If you’re unsure about how much someone with your skill-set can earn, check out Dice’s Salary Calculator. That can give you some idea of what you should be earning, especially given your background and geographic location.

Armed with that number, you’ll have a better idea what constitutes a fair deal from a prospective employer.

Shooting Too Low

On the flip side of that same coin is asking for too little money. Just because you live in a town full of Web developers or app builders doesn’t mean you need to short-change yourself in order to seem more “appealing” to a prospective employer. Believe in your abilities: if you have the skills, background, and portfolio that make you an ideal fit for the job, don’t be afraid to demand what you’re worth.

The fact is, with tech unemployment at a historically low rate, employers are scrambling for experienced talent. They’re prepared to pay top dollar for solid professionals. So stay calm, and make sure you don’t lowball yourself.

Remember to Actually Negotiate!

When it comes time for salary negotiations, your prospective employer will throw a number out there. Keep in mind that they’ve already built some flexibility into that offer—but unless you actually try to negotiate, you won’t know how high you can potentially go.

If the company seems adamant about a particular salary, you can also try to negotiate for better benefits or perks. For example, if you want a day or two of working from home, the hiring manager may prove amenable to that in lieu of an increase in money.

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