Job seekers get more nervous about negotiating salary than seemingly any other part of the job application process. Negotiation doesn't come naturally to most people, and they're often not sure how hard to push for more money, or whether to push at all.
Here are five myths you might believe about negotiating salary, and why they're wrong.
1. You should always negotiate, no matter what. While you should usually try to negotiate, there are some cases where you shouldn't. For instance, if you tell an employer the salary range you're looking for and they offer you something at the high end of your range—or even higher than your range—asking for more would make you look like you were playing games or not operating in good faith. Similarly, if an employer discusses salary with you earlier in the process and you agree to a range, you can't really ask for more at the offer stage; you already agreed. In general, anything that makes you look like you're operating in bad faith will turn off an employer.
2. Never name a number first. Negotiating advice generally says that whoever names a number first loses. But the reality is that many employers will insist that you discuss your salary expectations before they'll allow you to move forward in their hiring process. Refusing or pushing too hard to hear a number from them first can make you look overly coy or like you're playing games.
3. One good strategy is to take a lower salary now with the understanding that it will be revisited in a few months. Candidates sometimes suggest this, figuring it's a compromise that will allow them to prove themselves once on the job, and then get rewarded for it later. However, it often backfires. Your negotiating power is strongest before you've accepted a job—it's far easier to negotiate more money before you start than it is to get a raise once you're already employed. Don't count on a hefty raise down the road; do your negotiations now, before you accept the offer.
4. Employers will be put off if you try to negotiate. Job applicants sometimes worry that simply asking for more money will cause the employer to pull the job offer altogether. But as long as you handle the discussion in a pleasant, professional, and non-adversarial way, and as long as you're not asking for an unrealistic amount, no reasonable employer will pull an offer. That said, some employers do bristle when a candidate tries to negotiate—but that's the sign of an unreasonable, dysfunctional employer, and you probably would have encountered plenty more dysfunction if you worked there. In other words, don't worry about turning off an employer by reasonable negotiation—you won't lose any employer worth worrying about.
5. You can lie about your current salary to get a higher salary offer. Candidates sometimes figure that by claiming they're currently earning more than they really are, they'll get a higher offer from a new employer. But this is dangerous to do, because plenty of employers verify salary history, either by asking to see a recent pay stub or W-2, or by checking with the previous employer directly. And they often do this after you've already accepted a job offer as part of their new hire paperwork, which means that you risk having the offer pulled over the lie—after you've already accepted it and resigned your current job.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.