Unless you’re Donald Trump, talking about money likely makes you pretty uncomfortable.
When it comes to making polite dinner conversation, this is probably for the best. But where discussing your salary is concerned, avoiding this talk is going to cost you a cool million over time.
No, that’s not a typo.
…The only thing worse than avoiding a salary negotiation all together? Completely botching on your ask.
I once had a new client—Jonah— tell me about the last time she tried to negotiate a job offer. The company she had been interning at offered her a full-time position after graduation. Jonah crunched the numbers, factored in her student loans, and proceeded to tell the HR rep that she would need an extra $10,000 to be able to “swing it” due to her loan payments.
The HR representative told her to take it or leave it.
Jonah turned it down — and has regretted that exchange ever since.
To be fair, having the salary conversation isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. Here are a few of the biggest don’ts to avoid when it comes to negotiating your starting salary at a new job.
1. Don’t make it personal.
Even if you live in a city with a high cost of living. Even if you have unique medical expenses that you need to pay…. Even when you have $200,000 in student loans (like Jonah did).
When discussing salary, never, ever make it about your personal situation.
For starters, there’s nothing worse than a job candidate who tries to justify a salary negotiation due to their personal situation. The money you’re making should correlate only with the responsibility you’re taking on in the company. You cannot bring the personal into it. Companies don’t care, and frankly, shouldn’t care about the unique expenses that you have. You must keep it about the industry standards, the responsibility level and your qualifications. It’s as simple as this: The company has an opening, and someone taking on that responsibility level is worth X amount to them.
2. Never give your number first.
The first person to give away a number loses. If you’re asked to give a salary requirement, your answer should always be that you’re negotiable. You may have to divulge your current salary or salary requirements if you’re cornered into sharing it, but most of the time, recruiters and HR will accept the fact that you’re negotiable. Not to mention, not giving away a number gives you the chance to win over your potential future bosses without having a price tag attached to you. Show them that you’re the only candidate for this role. Play negotiation hardball when the job is offered to you.
3. Get informed of the industry standards for similar job responsibilities.
When negotiating salary, always focus on similar levels of responsibility. It means nothing if you tell a company that you’re being offered another job somewhere else at a different salary. But it does mean something when it’s of a similar responsibility in a similar industry. You really need to capture this idea of a “similar level” so that it feels less indiscriminate to HR, and more about what the market offers candidates like you… Do your homework, and be prepared to speak on industry standards that back up your salary asks.
4. Take your time.
It’s okay to ask for 24 hours to read through a job offer — especially if you need some time to consider what amount you’d like to negotiate for now that a number has been put on the table. I’ve had plenty of job seeker clients who are literally waiting to see if they get a better offer from somewhere else in the same week they get a job offer and need to buy themselves time (as a career coach, my favorite situation to hear about). If you need more than 24 hours, ask if it’s okay to get back to the company by the end of the week, or within a few days. Asking for anything more than 4 to 5 days brings a weird vibe into the air, and it’s just not worth it to do that.
5. Have multiple offers? Do tell.
The strongest position to be in is when you have other offers on the table that you’re deciding between. If you absolutely need more than 24 hours to consider an offer (given that you’re expecting another offer to come in), do let the HR person know that you “are excited about the role, but currently weighing it against another offer.” While you think “they’re a better fit for you,” you can share that want to crunch numbers and get back to them within 72 hours.
Negotiating a job offer is the best way to set the tone of your worth in the workplace, get paid what you should and raise the salary bar for this entire generation.
As for Jonah and her student loan debt? Girlfriend learned how to play hardball. She kept her game face on and didn’t drop a number when initially asked for her salary requirements, and armed herself with hard facts about the going rate for her discipline.
Recently, she negotiated a salary twice the rate of the job she turned down– and then some.
But of course, her new boss doesn’t know that — she left out the personal details this time.
This first appeared in Forbes.