Many people find that one of the most difficult parts of any job search is talking about money. When the conversation turns to compensation, many job applicants get nervous or uncomfortable and are reluctant to talk about the kind of salary and benefits they expect for a position. These mistakes can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career. Here are the three most common ones -- and tips on how to avoid them.
Mistake No. 1: Take Everything Personally
While it’s important to understand the value of the skills you bring to a position, keep in mind that your salary is just a number. “People get hung up on cliffs or plateaus or magical numbers,” says Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe in Minneapolis. “They tend to take negotiation personally because they’re reacting to it from an emotional place.”
Instead, Jaffe recommends that an applicant stop thinking of a specific salary as a status symbol, and simply recognize that it’s an amount of money that pays the bills. If the salary is borderline on what you’re willing to take, ask about adding benefits, equity or a sign-on bonus to get closer to the number you had in mind.
Mistake No. 2: Rely on Oral Discussions Only
Asking a company to put something in writing can feel like you’re making big demands, or you may think it makes you look like you don’t trust them. In fact, it’s an important part of the negotiation process because it makes both parties get serious. “Getting it in writing takes it out of the realm of buying potatoes off the back of someone’s wagon and crystalizes it into a formal offer to get you to join a team,” Jaffe says.
When the company makes a compensation offer, ask for it in writing and say you’d like a day or so to think about the offer and talk it over with other decision-makers in your life, such as your spouse. Don’t accept or reject an offer as a reaction -- give yourself some time to consider it. The employer will understand.
Mistake No. 3: Jump at the First Offer -- or Refuse to Negotiate at All
Many people get so nervous about talking about compensation that they do one of two things: They refuse to negotiate at all, or they accept the first offer the company makes without countering. “You need to be a little bit of a poker player,” Jaffe says. “Do your research in advance to make sure what they’re offering is in range. Understand that there are three or four components to every offer -- base salary, bonus if there is one, short-term and long-term equity -- and all of these things need to be factored into the total package.”
During the negotiations, if you’re asked, be honest about your current compensation. Don’t round up or make it sound like more than it is.
And while negotiating your compensation is important, “make sure going back to the well is a one-time thing,” Jaffe says. “Come back and say, ‘if you’re able to add this, I’ll happily accept.’ You want to communicate that this will not be a protracted thing. They offer X, you come back and offer Y, they say ‘we couldn’t do Y, but we can do Z.’ At that point, it’s yes or no.”
Most employers expect some back-and-forth in discussions about compensation. Job applicants who know how to avoid big mistakes can feel more confident about getting the best compensation package possible.