The 8 Worst Mistakes in Salary Negotiations

Posted by Tim Snell on 3/24/16 2:39 PM
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The longer you’ve been job hunting, the sweeter it is when you hear the words, “we want to extend an offer…”  Yes!  You’re in the final lap of the race.  But it’s not over yet.  So don’t lose your focus now.  It could end up costing you, big time.

In fact, receiving an offer is the sweet spot of your search.  You don’t yet have the job secured.  But you do hold more power at this moment than at any other stage in the process.  At SkyWater Search Partners, we help our clients handle this sensitive but critical step.  As experienced recruiters who have placed thousands of successful candidates, we know the pitfalls.  We know how easy it is to slip up and face the consequences of missed opportunity. Here are the top 8 mistakes to avoid when you negotiate your next salary.

1.  Tipping Your Hand

The first mistake many rookie (and experienced) job seekers make is revealing how much they would accept before an offer is even made.  Because more and more companies are now asking for salary requirements as early as the online application process or during first interviews, it is trickier than ever to avoid answering.  But if asked, try to stick to a statement about expecting an offer that is within the normal marketplace range. 

2.  Failing to do your Homework

Never go into any discussion with a potential employer without researching relevant salary ranges first.  Several online sites such as,, and offer a wealth of information on pay ranges by profession and geographic location.  If the employer is a larger organization, you’re also likely to get specifics on how well they pay.  Beyond the web, ask around.  You probably know someone – or someone who knows someone – who’s been on the inside of the organization and has the real story on how salaries, merit and promotional increases, and overall benefits packages really stack up.

The SkyWater Salary Guides are a great place to start your research.

3.  Setting the Wrong Tone

Too often, candidates get so focused on the number that they forget to manage their own communication skills.  Remember to stay confident, project salary expectations that are aspirational but not unrealistic, and always, always, keep it professional, not personal.  Acting insulted by an offer or giving a knee-jerk counter offer that is unrealistically high may well end up with the employer rescinding their offer altogether.

4.  Failing to Negotiate at All

It’s possible that you could receive an offer that is both at the top of all comparable ranges and higher than what you had hoped.   Maybe.  But it’s unlikely.   Even if it feels that way, do not – do not – accept the offer right away.  There may be room in their budget for more.  They may even expect you to counter offer.  But accepting it without even considering a counter is an amateur move.  It also sets you up for a potentially lower-than-necessary salary, upon which future increases will be based. No matter what the offer is, give a gracious thank you and say that you would like to have a little time to mull it over.  If the employer is offended or surprised by this, reiterate that you are very interested, very happy that they want you to join their team, but that it’s your personal rule to take at least a few hours to carefully consider all aspects of the offer.  

5.  Ignoring Total Compensation

It’s not all about the base salary.  Does the job offer commissions and other incentives or rewards?  Will they make contributions to your employee retirement accounts?  What is the value of their medical coverage?  How many days of PTO would you receive?  How soon will you be eligible for a merit increase and what are the standard ranges of increases?  What about eligibility for promotions?  All of these factors carry financial values, both short term and long term, that you need to quantify and understand before you can make a solid decision for yourself about accepting, countering or walking away.  

6.  Making a Clunky Counter Offer

This is why you need at least a few hours with the offer you’ve received.  If you decide to counter, you need to have your facts and your message as polished and professional as all of your other job-seeking communications have been.  First, no matter how tempting it may be, do not give in to the temptation to base your higher request on your personal financial needs.  That is none of your employer’s business and it will make you look entitled or like a neophyte.  Neither of those is good.  Base your entire request on the value you will add to the organization.  After understanding the total compensation value of the offer you have received, determine what you need the most.  Is it a higher salary?  If they’ve already signaled that this is their highest offer, would more paid days off work for you?  Is there a precedent for signing bonuses within the company or within the industry at this job level?  Keep your list of requests short, aspirational and realistic.  Finally, before making your counter offer, practice exactly how you will state your case.   You must project confidence, gratitude and optimism that you and your potential employer will reach an agreement that makes you both happy.  If you are someone who negotiates at tag sales by questioning the wisdom of the prices, please leave this tactic at home.

7.  Leaving it Verbal

When it’s all said and done, it’s actually not all done.  You must receive your final, agreed-upon offer in writing.  If the hiring manager doesn’t volunteer to provide this, ask politely but firmly.  If they balk, do not proceed until you have it in writing.  

8.  Burning Bridges

HaIf, for whatever reason, negotiations break down irretrievably, keep your chin up.  Keep your polite smile pasted on your face.  Thank the hiring manager for their time and for considering you.  And walk away.  Nothing more.  No whining.  No acting offended or wronged.  No hints of disdain for the manager or the company.  We live in a tiny, tiny world.  People move around.  Situations change.  It’s not worth it.

Have you tried negotiating your salary and still feel under-valued and under-paid? It may be time to seek change.

Seek Change




Related Reading:

7 Essential Tips For Asking For A Raise

How To Respond To Requests About Your Salary History

Why You Should Never Accept A Counter Offer


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Topics: For Job Seekers, Salary