You just got the call you've been waiting for. After several rounds of interviews for a job you really want, it's finally time to get down to discussing the offer.
If you're relatively new to the workforce—and especially if you're about to negotiate your very first job offer—there are some common pitfalls you may not know to avoid. Here are four of the most common ways early-career professionals tend to get out-negotiated by employers, and tactics you can use to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
Silence is a negotiating tool that many employers use during salary negotiations. Don’t let them. Silence is designed to make you feel like the employer is losing enthusiasm for your candidacy during the course of negotiating an offer.
Once you state your salary requirements, many employers will fall silent or not react to your request. This uncomfortable moment often prompts candidates to volunteer information they shouldn't—like, "If that's too high, though, I can always consider a few thousand dollars less." Resist that urge to backpedal. Just ride out the silence, calmly return the interviewer's gaze (or wait out their silence if you're speaking by phone), and force the person on the other side to speak next.
It doesn't have to be standoffish, either. If you're presented with a salary that's lower than you'd hoped for, use that silence in your favor. Let them see that you haven't been wowed by their offer. This can open the opportunity to ask for more money in the course of the discussion, because your interviewer won't want to lose you and start the process over again—all over a couple of thousand dollars.
Lifestyle salary requests are based on a candidate’s cash needs to support their current style of living. And indeed, it's hard to blame less experienced job candidates for thinking along the lines of, "In order to pay my student loans and live on my own, I need to earn around $40,000 a year." Unfortunately, though, your lifestyle has no place in a salary negotiation.
To your employer, your living needs are your concern, not theirs. Most employers work within salary guidelines set by the company for entry-level positions. If you bring any mention of your lifestyle into the salary negotiation, the company can quickly shut that down by pointing to its compensation protocol.
However, if you present your salary requirements based on average salaries listed on Glassdoor, Indeed, and other job sites for jobs similar to the one you're being considered for, you can now get on the same page—using facts that are pertinent to the employer, not just you. And once you do that, your chance of landing a better starting salary dramatically increases.
Many early-career job candidates are grateful to be in the position to be offered a job with a company they really want to work for, so they accept an offer that's below market value. The candidate’s thinking often is that they just want to get into the company at any cost, and they'll worry about the money later.
But the truth is that if you do that, you'll likely be underpaid as long as you stay at that company. That means the only way to get your salary up to industry standards is to leave, and you may not want to. Remember, there's almost always room for negotiation in any salary discussion, even at the entry level.
The best way to handle a situation like this is to ask for a little more, not a lot more (where you might actually risk losing the job). Usually there's no harm in asking for 4% to 6% more than what's initially offered. This way you'll walk away feeling that you're being fairly compensated. Every company has a little more to pay you if they really want you.
Most entry-level candidates look at salary negotiation as a black and white thing. Maybe a $38,000 starting salary has been presented to you as a final offer, so you feel like there are only two choices: Either accept it or reject it—and take your chances on finding a higher-paying job.
But rather than rejecting the offer, what if you were to ask for a six-month review and a salary adjustment based on your performance? That's actually pretty common. Many employers will agree to this, understanding that they can keep their entry-level salary structure intact while at the same time giving you an incentive for strong performance during your first six months on the job. It’s a win-win situation for both of you—just as long as you think to ask about it.
Don Raskin is a senior partner at MME, an advertising and marketing agency in New York City. He is also the author of The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job.