How to Avoid Messing Up Your Salary Negotiation

So you applied for a job, landed the interview (which you aced), and now the employer’s offering you the position. Here comes the next tricky part: negotiating over salary.

Whether getting a new job or looking to take the next step up after working at the same company for several years, a successful salary negotiation demands some research and prep work on your part. It’s also all about avoiding critical mistakes. With that in mind, here are some pointers:

Do a Self-Assessment

Before your big talk, sit down and make a two-column list. In the first column, itemize your professional assets: achievements, skills, and experience. In the second, do the same with your professional liabilities: failed projects, any gaps in your experience or performance, etc.

During the actual negotiation, you can leverage everything from the first column to give you a boost; and you come prepared with some good explanations in case anything from the second column comes up. Either way, creating a self-assessment will help ensure you’re not tongue-tied at the crucial moment.


What has your company paid in the past for similar positions and experience? What does the industry tend to pay? What did the previous person who had your job earn? By researching and answering all these questions, you can develop an appropriate range for a potential salary (or salary bump).

It’s About More Than Money

Some tech pros become myopically focused on money, to the detriment of their overall compensation package. Think about the perks you might want other than money, such as expanded opportunities to work from home; take special note of the ones you consider a priority. Even if an employer isn’t willing to offer you as much cash as you want, you can still “win” by negotiating for things such as an idealized work-life balance.

Dodge Early Questions About Salary Expectations

Sometimes a job interviewer will ask how much you expect to be paid. This is a trap. If you name too high a number, you might deep-six your chances of landing the job; if the number’s too low, you might end up leaving money on the proverbial table if you’re hired. (And yes, even if you’re a superstar, there are definitely numbers that qualify as “too high.”)

What’s the solution? If asked, suggest that you and the company can “arrive at a number that’s agreeable,” or that you expect to be paid at a level appropriate for your experience and skills.

Once the company makes you a job offer with a hard number attached to it, you can begin to negotiate in earnest; but don’t start any talks over salary until the proper time. (A modified version of this also applies for workers who’re looking for a pay bump at their current company; in that situation, it’s all a matter of timing: Don’t bring up numbers until your employer seems amenable to talking.)

Don’t Play Around

Don’t make a request without justifying it; take a good deal if one’s offered; and be prepared to concede on some points. If an employer offers the salary number you want, but doesn’t want you working from home more than one day a week, it might be worth taking the deal rather than dragging things on (unless, of course, working from home a certain amount of days per week is your most important requirement).

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5 Responses to “How to Avoid Messing Up Your Salary Negotiation”

  1. Frank R

    Keep in mind that you will be asked your current salary within the first 20 seconds of the first recruiter call. End of an interview? Never. They won’t call you in unless they know they have a low enough number.

  2. Kathleen

    Why do writers on this subject continue to tell readers to avoid discussing compensation? I find this maddening–as someone with 14+ years of recruiting experience. It is exactly wrong! During that initial screening call with the recruiter, it is a must to get that question on the table. If one has applied directly to a position and the application asks for current and expected salary, please just give it. Every company has a salary budget–just as everyone looking for a job with a certain skillset has expectations about what he or she is worth based on the market and experience. Be honest with your current comp or that which you made at your last job. Come prepared with that, know what the market is paying, know what your range is–and if you’ve got a “number”, state it. If, based on the company’s budgeted range and your expectations–plus what you bring as a candidate–there’s a way to make the numbers work, any good company will do what they can to make it work.

    This nonsense about not talking numbers upfront? That’s just what it is. Nonsense. And very bad advice.

    • @”as someone with 14+ years of recruiting experience. It is exactly wrong! If one has applied directly to a position and the application asks for current and expected salary, please just give it.”

      You know full well why that isn’t the case. Traditionally the first one to mention a number “loses” the negotiation.

      Let me reverse it for you. It would be awesome if employers and HR managers — like yourself — would advertise the salary ranges they are willing to pay up front, so I don’t have to apply to so many dead-end, low-paying jobs before finding the ones that are willing to pay a decent wage.

      Do you, Kathleen, begin the HR conversation by telling them the salary wage your company is willing to pay? I would be surprised if you did, it is an extremely rare thing.

  3. @Kathleen – with respect, you’re on the wrong side of this equation to understand. Of COURSE you (as a recruiter) want people to “get right to it” because that makes your job simpler and more efficient. However, those of us on the side of the interviewee have a different experience. Yes, we understand that there are budgets that must be adhered to, but that does not mean that we have to be willing to take the lowest offer that comes our way.

    Also, this nonsense about discussing your “current compensation” is absurd. What I am paid at my current position has no bearing whatsoever on what I’m willing to accept to work at a new job. This job could be a different position, might have different requirements, it’s with a new company, I might have to drive farther to this job, I might have to work different hours on this job, I might not be able to telecommute as much with this job, I might be “on call” with this job, etc.

    My experience has shown me that the old saying is true. “Whoever names a number first loses”. I go into interviews confident and composed, but absolutely not arrogant or condescending. I go in well informed of what comparable salaries are in the business and for the position for which I’m interviewing, and I politely decline to give my current salary. If pressed, I explain (as I did above) the reasons that it has no bearing on the current negotiation. Why would a new company care what my present company is paying me other than to get a “guideline” on how little they can pay me?

    It’s worked out pretty well for me in the last 10 years. It’s not a magic bullet, and may not work for everyone, but it certainly has for me.