5 Ways Employers Discourage You From Negotiating Salary

Broom and dollars

By Alison Green

While every job seeker looks forward to getting a phone call with a job offer, few candidates look forward to negotiating salary. Employers know how candidates feel about negotiating, and they often develop ways of operating that – intentionally or unintentionally – discourage job seekers from assertively negotiating.

Here are five things employers do that often discourage candidates from negotiating salary. (To be clear, employers who engage in these behaviors would rarely label them as deliberate attempts to squash negotiation – but they certainly have that effect.)

1. Not giving you an obvious opening to negotiate. Sometimes candidates, especially at the start of their career, end up feeling like the employer didn't give them "opportunity" to negotiate, and they end up just accepting the employer's first offer, because it's presented as a done deal. If you go into a salary negotiation for a new job expecting the employer to give you an easy opening to negotiate, the conversation may be over and done before you realize that you didn't speak up.

Try this: Don't wait for an employer to explicitly give you an opening to negotiate. It's up to you to start negotiations yourself if you want to. Say something like, "I'm very interested in the job, but I was hoping that on salary you could do something closer to $X."

2. Getting you to agree to a number early in the hiring process. Employers will often ask for your salary expectations during an early conversation, before you've had the chance to learn the full scope of the job and while you're still trying to sell them on your candidacy.

Try this: Qualify any early salary conversation by noting that your answer may change after learning more about the job. And if information you learn about the job as the hiring process progresses changes your assessment of what salary would be fair, don't be afraid to say that during negotiations. If an employer tries to tie you to a number you named earlier in the process, and you no longer think it's fair, it's reasonable to say, "Having learned more about the management responsibilities of the role, I'm hoping for a salary closer to $X."

3. Basing an offer on what you had been making previously. Salary offers shouldn't be tied to your salary history; a new company should offer you a salary based on the contributions you'll be making in a new job. But it's very common for employers to ask for your salary history and base their offer on what you were earning most recently, giving you a small but not substantial increase.

Try this: If you can, avoid giving out your salary history altogether; after all, it's really no one's business but yours and your accountant's. But if you can't avoid it (such as with companies that won't let you move forward in their process if you don't share your salary history), address it head-on: "I don't believe my past salary lines up with the market rate for my skills and experience, and in fact that's one reason that I'm looking for a new role. I'm seeking a salary in the range of ____."

4. Telling you that they'll make up for a low salary with a great benefits package. This may be true, but lots of companies have great benefits and still pay competitive market rates. (Of course, you might look at the full package a company is offering you and determine that some of the benefits do make up for a lower salary, such as unusually generous vacation time or the ability to telecommute.)

Try this: Be brutally honest with yourself about what benefits are and aren't worth a trade-off in salary to you. Also determine how much in salary they're worth – and whether you're likely to be able to find those same benefits somewhere else. And don't be afraid to say, "You do have a great benefits package, but it's important to me to earn a salary that's in line with market rates."

5. Saying there's no room for additional money now while alluding to increases down the road. It may well be true that you'll receive generous raises in the future, but if you don't have an iron-solid agreement about when and how much, you'll be leaving that solely up to the employer to decide whether or not to follow through.

Try this: Get any promises of this kind in writing. If the promise of additional money down the road is a key part of your decision to take the job, it needs to be in writing or there won't be anything ensuring that it really happens. If the employer balks at putting it in writing, that's a sign that the plan is tentative enough that it shouldn't be a factor you count on when making your decision.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.