While it's difficult to make definitive statements about what to do and what not to do in every negotiation situation, you should be aware of some definitive pitfalls before entering the negotiation process. Here are five of the most common no-nos.
1. Initiating Negotiations Too Soon
Timing is important here. The appropriate time to negotiate is when a formal job offer has been made. If the offer meets your needs, by all means accept it. It's a mistake to negotiate just for the sake of negotiating, but don't assume you can't negotiate at all. There's nothing wrong with asking for time to consider the offer or outright asking if the offer is negotiable.
2. Negotiating Only Salary
While money is the most frequently negotiated piece of the compensation package, it's not the only one. It's also true that many employers have benefits such as vacation time and health insurance coverage that are established by company policy and are therefore not negotiable.
But other parts of the package may be negotiable. They include signing bonuses, unpaid leave, relocation expenses, flextime, severance and predetermined timeframes for salary reviews.
In the end, it's important to maintain some salary flexibility until you've seen the whole package, including benefits. For instance, the job you're seeking may have a built-in profit-sharing plan, a great company-funded health insurance program, or a bonus or incentive program -- all of which have real dollar value.
3. Mistrusting the System
Many job seekers operate under the assumption that employers will, without exception, try to lowball them, no matter how well-qualified they are for a position. While there are employers who pay employees below industry standard, you should never enter a negotiation with a them-versus-me mentality. And don't assume that just because you've researched a job's market value, you'll get an offer within that range. While market averages are good barometers of pay averages, they're just that -- averages.
The fact is, many companies have a predetermined budget for every position and have pay ranges and benefit packages based on their established compensation hierarchies. An offer may boil down to a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, only because that's all the budget allows for the position, not because the employer is trying to take advantage of you.
4. Assuming Your Degree Entitles You to a Higher Starting Salary
Increasingly, having advanced education is nothing more than a threshold requirement that enables prospective employers to narrow the pool of applicants to a manageable size. If you have relatively little real-world work experience, your degree may keep you in the running, but it won't entitle you to a higher salary.
Also, don't assume your degree is all you have to offer the employer. Having significant work experience will probably carry more weight than a degree alone. There's a major difference between job-performance potential, which a degree can suggest, and past job performance, which indicates previous work experience and achievements.
5. Believing Every Negotiation Will End in Your Favor
No matter what you bring to the negotiating table, it's naive to assume you'll always get what you want. Negotiating isn't a win-lose proposition; it's a compromise, and you should expect that going into discussions. Very few of us are in such demand that we can write our own tickets. That doesn't mean you should settle for any offer that comes your way, but sometimes an agreement won't be reached. And accepting a job just for the sake of a paycheck could lead to mutual dissatisfaction. Ultimately, it could be better for you to turn down the job offer and continue your job search.