5 Ways Employers Beat You In A Salary Negotiation

Think your new employer is playing nice? You're wrong. Here's how to play hardball back at them.

  • Asking about your previous salary.
  • Getting your salary expectations.
  • Lowballing a first offer.
  • Using a middleman.
  • Not pointing out the fine print. 

The excitement of getting a new job offer sometimes blinds people to the most important part of the process -- getting paid adequately for your services. 


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For many people up until this point, the interview is a two-way street. Job seekers are evaluating whether or not the company is as much a good fit for them as the company is evaluating this potential employee. But once an offer is made, most employees get left in the dust. This isn't necessarily because corporations are evil and out to get you. They are just much better prepared. After all, corporate recruiters have much more experience than the process than most of the people they are hiring. On top of that, the company's processes are set up to put you in a disadvantaged position. But if you are aware of it, you can prepare yourself to be much more successful when the time comes to to evaluate and counter the offer. Here are things to watch out for and what you can do about it.

1.What did you previously make?

While you are not legally obligated to divulge this information, companies may make this question a part of the application process. Be wary about it. This information can be used to anchor the offer they give you, as in,  the company might try to give you something close to what you previously made. Comparing your new salary to your old one is not how you should analyze an offer. This is especially true coming from the military since the jobs are likely to vary greatly in responsibility and compensation. Instead, you should be considering if the offer is reasonable compared to the rest of the industry for that position. If you do get asked this, you can try to defer. Say that you would rather not divulge that information as it doesn't have any bearing on whether or not you will take this job. Or answer that this is something that you would prefer to talk about later on in the process, when you have decided that this is a position that you want to accept. And if you must answer, be sure to qualify your response. If you can, provide your total compensation including the average of annual bonuses, health benefits, and retirement contributions.

2. What do you expect to make in this position?

This question is similar to the one above. By getting you to answer this early on in the process, the company can anchor you to a lower starting offer or disqualify you before you can make it further in the process. You can defer in the same ways as above. Or, make sure that you have done your research for what is a reasonable range for the market, including any extra relevant skills and experiences you will bring to the job. If you must answer this directly, I recommend giving a range. Make sure that the higher end of the market is in the lower end of the range that you provide. You should qualify this by saying that you are flexible, but given the research that you have done, you believe your range is competitive with what you would accept elsewhere. 


3. Getting a lowball offer.


My friend recently went through this with a company he had a great interview process with. Everything was going great and he was surprised when the offer was lower than he expected considering what he found to be the range in the industry. When he countered,  the company quickly caved and boosted the compensation package by $10,000 (over 10%)! He was really glad he didn't accept the original offer, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he did. Many employers plan for a negotiation, which is why they may start low. But if you accept, they are not going to say, "Oh, our mistake, take this better offer." This is why it is important to do your research and be confident in knowing what you're worth in the market. Don't accept less.


4. Using a middleman.


Oftentimes, your salary negotiation will be conducted through someone from Human Resources, not the manager with whom you interviewed. In negotiations, this provides a buffer for the company. This third party can hem and haw or drag along the process to pressure you into accepting a lower offer. Understand the incentives of the middleman. His or her job may be to get the best deal for the company, not for you. You have to get this person to either be your champion or be sure to include other interested parties in the negotiation. For example, if your future boss really wants to hire you, make sure to be open about where you are in the negotiation process with HR. The more people one your side, the more likely that a committee decision will be made to get you an offer that will make you happy. 


5. Not telling you about the stipulations in a contract.


Even after you've negotiated verbally, be sure to read over the contract for the "fine print". There may be stipulations that you did not discuss. One time, I was offered a bonus that I would have happily accepted at face value. But when I looked at the contract, the bonus was tied to a 3 year vesting period with the company. That means, if I left before 3 years, no bonus. This was much longer than the industry standard, and it made the offer far less attractive. Your evaluation of the offer isn't done until you've signed the contract. Be sure you are aware of and understanding everything that is put in writing. That's what counts!


It may seem like companies are being tricky when they do the things I've listed above. But at the end of the day, they are just practicing hard nosed business. You can do the same by being well informed and prepared. Be respectful, know your value, and communicate that professionally. You will only be more respected for doing so. And you'll get paid better, too.

Find out how you lose out on over $500,000 in earnings if you don't negotiate in my new book

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