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The top 5 salary negotiating mistakes people make

When it comes to getting the salary you want, how you handle yourself at the negotiating table can make or break you, says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn career expert and CEO of WORKS, a career consultancy firm.

“This is a game of first card revealed, and you want it to be theirs,” Williams says.

We asked her to walk us through five of the most common mistakes job candidates make when negotiating:

Not dressing the part

This may sound obvious, but Williams says you should always consider what kind of environment you’re walking into when you plan your interview outfit. A three-piece suit may get you far if you’re interviewing in the financial services industry or at a law firm, but a company that is more relaxed (say, a tech startup) might be turned off by a look that makes it seem as if the applicant is trying too hard.  

“You want to look appropriate for this working environment but you want to look on the fancy end of that,” Williams says.

Bad body language

People fidget when they get anxious. We’re all human. But fiddling with a pen, a notepad or, worse, your phone can make you come across as aloof and not serious in front of an employer, Williams says. Keep anything that might distract you in your purse or briefcase or, even better, at home.

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“Anything you’re doing that distracts away from the conversation you’re having works to your disadvantage,” Williams says. “You use your eyes to convey a passion and interest. Look directly at them. You can use hand gestures but not … in a way where you’re distracting from the actual words you’re saying.”

Being the first to name a number

When you’re squaring off with a hiring manager, you don't want to be first to name a salary figure — even if that’s one of the first questions they ask you.

“It’s essentially revealing your hand to them,” Williams says. Instead, become an expert deflector. If your interviewer asks you what kind of pay you're looking for, tell her that you’d like to hear more about your job responsibilities and really talk up your passion for the position and your desire to work with their team. Countering her question by saying something along the lines of “I know you have a budget you’re working with — what budget is that?” is another way to deflect.

And if you feel cornered? Inflate your current salary by at least 5% to 10%, Williams says, which leaves you room to negotiate. Then indicate a range on top of that, rather than an exact figure. Do your homework beforehand and know what salary you can reasonably expect. If your range is too low, you could be leaving money on the table. If it’s too high, they may just laugh you out of the place. Williams recommends a $10,000 range (example: Somewhere between $75,000 and $85,000).

Asking about your salary at the beginning of the interview

Salary discussions should be left to the end of the interview, Williams says. Otherwise, they may think you’re only in it for the money.

“You want to convey interest in the position and ask questions around responsibilities, not how much do I make,” She says.

Besides, by learning all you can about your potential role with the company, you can build a better case for asking for more money down the line.

Accepting their first offer

Once they put a number on the table — even if it's higher than you expected — do not immediately accept.

“When you immediately accept... you look a little foolish, frankly,” Williams says. Instead, ask if their salary is negotiable. "That’s a great open-ended question that allows for them to state a new figure," she says.

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