10 Salary Negotiation Myths


A rough translation of a myth could be “a legendary story, usually concerning a hero or event, especially one that is concerned with deities or some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.”

Many people play up salary negotiation as some kind of mythical exploit, as if a Cyclops from human resources was guarding a 10% salary increase. Perhaps only few select heroes can effectively navigate this rite of passage and pierce the heavily guarded castle.

In reality, as author Selena Rezvani puts it, a negotiation can simply be “a conversation that ends in agreement.” So before you retreat back over the drawbridge, let’s take a look at the other definition of a myth – a falsehood – and see if we can come out victorious.

1. You should be scared to negotiate

Quite the opposite… you should be excited to negotiate. If someone is extending an offer to you, that means your skills are in demand. Unlike simply getting a raise at your current position, where you might bring in an extra 5%, negotiating a new job offer is one of the greatest opportunities in your career to significantly increase your salary.

2. There are lots of resources out there, so everyone knows how to negotiate but you

The good news is, when it comes to statistical salary data, yes there are a few great resources out there. Before the Internet? Unless your dad worked for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, good luck tracking down comparative salaries.

The bad news is, while there are certainly websites, blog posts, and videos talking about negotiation, it can be difficult to find an example that fits your particular situation. It seems that resumes and interviewing are always the hot topics. Go ahead and Google the following terms: interview tips, resume tips, salary negotiation tips, and look at the disparity in the number of search results. There are still a lot of people in the dark on this subject. (That’s why I’m here to help).

3. Everyone but you negotiated their last salary

In 2013, job site CareerBuilder.com found that HALF of all workers surveyed did NOT negotiate their salary when applying for a new job. Other surveys have shown that 15-20% of people never negotiate or make a counter-offer when taking a new position. Many more leave thousands on the table because they weren’t prepared. Just the fact that you are reading this and looking for more information probably puts you ahead of most of your co-workers.

4. Negotiation is extremely difficult to master

Darth-Vader-UnicyleI’m not going to take the complete opposite view and say that negotiation is totally easy, because it’s not. It’s something you have to work at. But so is anything else in life that is worthwhile… such as completing a marathon, learning how to drive a manual transmission, or Darth Vader playing flaming bagpipes while wearing a kilt and riding a unicycle.

However, there are a few techniques you can easily learn to become better at it and succeed. Plus, the payoff for even a decent negotiation can be a huge increase in lifetime earnings. You might “hit the wall” or “grind a few gears” as you’re just starting out, but eventually you get the hang of it.

5. Negotiation works for everyone

Can a skilled negotiator gain a huge salary increase, no matter what the industry? Not exactly. There are definitely segments of the workforce such as nonprofits, government jobs, and education that have their own set of rules. Sometimes salary ranges are set by policy, and other times they are enforced by placing all employees in various “grades.”

Additionally, market forces (such as a down economy) and years of experience (such as new graduates) can work against you. However, everyone can learn something about the process and improve their chances to make sure they are not significantly underpaid in comparison to the rest of the market.

6. You must reveal your current salary when asked during an interview

This is one of the most common questions when people talk about negotiation. It often comes up early in the interviewing process as companies try to screen out candidates through an online form or an initial interview. While there are several ways to evade the question and Bypass the “Desired Salary” Field on Online Job Applications, the best answer is to not be in this position at all.

Up to 80% of jobs are found through networking, so it is much more advantageous to try and steer your resume to a hiring manager through a connection vs. battling thousands of candidates applying online.

7. You should base your negotiation success on the increase you received over your current salary

Can getting a giant raise from $50,000 to $75,000 ever be a bad thing?

It can be if your co-workers are all making $90,000 and other opportunities in your field are offering six figures. In most cases, you should judge your salary goals against your current worth on the marketplace, not what you’ve made in the past or what others around you are making.

8. It’s all about what you say

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Your entire body language, from how you sit and stand to how you speak, will determine how you are perceived.

In her book “Knowing Your Value,” author Mika Brzezinski talks about self-sabotaging language that kills your chances for effective negotiation before you even start.

Don’t walk into your boss’ office to request a raise and start out with phrases such as “I don’t know if you’ll consider this, but…” or “I don’t know if there’s room for this in the budget, but…” (there’s a video scenario — image below — of this in section 4 of my free Negotiation Mindset course).

9. Everyone at your office should be judged on the same playing field

In every organization, there will be rock stars that outperform their peers, and these employees should be worth more to a company.

For example, in the world of sports, take a look at the salaries of all the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Although they have the same “position” in their “industry,” the highest paid players are not always the most successful (I guess they are good negotiators).

Now look at the salaries of the starting QB vs. the backup QB on a team. Even though they hold the same “title” in the same “company,” the starter is often paid up to 10x more. Why is that? They produce more results. Prove that you are a rock star.

10. Companies will be offended if you negotiate

Interestingly, most companies will be impressed if you negotiate, provided that you do so in a business-like manner. It is customary for hiring managers to purposely leave some “wiggle room” when making an initial offer, allowing for a back-and-forth discussion before settling on a final number. They’re actually expecting some pushback.

So when it comes to negotiation, separate fact from fiction. If you overcome your fears, you can become the hero and get paid what you deserve.

Note: A version of this article first appeared in a post for Salary.com.