Let’s talk about salary negotiation lies.  A big myth in job hunting claims the better you negotiate, the better your salary will be in a new job. Like all serious myths, there is a grain of truth to this.  You do have the ability to negotiate your salary, but only within a very narrow range that has do with many factors. Some of those factors are in your control, but others are not. And, like many big lies in the career field, the salary negotiation myth is fueled by largely out of date information.

  • Lie #1 – You can negotiate your salary. No, the salary negotiation happened before you even applied for the job.  At large companies, jobs are requisitioned by managers.  The manager has to fill out a budget application saying that the position, let’s say Director of Operations, will pay between $75,000 and $95,000 a year.  That’s your negotiation.  If you feel that you are worth $100,000, you’re going to have a big problem.  The hiring manager might be able to go back and ask for more money, but you better be an exceptionally splendid candidate if you want that to happen.
  • Lie #2 – Your salary depends on your personal negotiating strategy.  People will tell you (and they always seem to be people who were blow-dried 1970s careerists) that you have to be clever and outwit the stupid hiring manager.  Don’t tell them what you earned at your last job, they advise.   Wait for the hiring manager to make you a salary offer.  That might have worked in 1974, but it’s not going to help you today.   Jobs are budgeted at a salary range.   If you wait for them to tell you what they plan to pay, you’ll probably hear the bottom end of the range.  Plus, the way you conduct yourself in this whole process is part of your job interview. Don’t forget that. If you appear evasive and difficult, that will not help you get the job.   (You also need to appear professional and diligent, so it’s important to strike a balance between mature self-advocacy and coming across like a devious schnook.)
  • Lie #3 – Salary negotiation is effective no matter who you are or what job you’re seeking.  Wrong. Your salary depends on your personal leverage.  If you have skills that the company needs, you will have some basis to negotiate.  This may seem obvious, but a lot of smart people seem to miss this point.  If you are a replaceable part, your negotiating leverage is minimal.  Again, this will be determined way before you apply for a particular job.   If you want to make more money, you have to increase your leverage by building up your differentiated skills.  Don’t be a replaceable part.
  • Lie #4 – Salary negotiation is the same for all companies.  Nope.  Your salary depends on the profitability of your potential employer.  This is a big one.  Think about it.  If a company is losing money, are they going to stretch to pay you more?  Not likely, unless you really have what they need. If you’re applying for a routine job, they’re going to be extremely stingy.
  • Lie #5 – You and the hiring manager are thinking about compensation in the same way.   Not really.  When you think salary, you are probably envisioning a take home pay amount.  Employers like to think in terms of “Total Compensation,” which is not the same thing.  Total compensation usually includes things like stock grants and bonuses.  Those are all great, but they are far from guaranteed.  Many bonuses are discretionary, based on opaque performance formulas, and (See #4) dependent on profitability. So, when you see a job posted that has “compensation of” $120,000 that might mean that the base is $70,000 with bonuses and stock that you might never see adding another $50,000 in magic money.

The good news is that there is always some room to move in a job offer, so you can probably get slight more than range where you start talking.  If they ask, “What is your expectation for compensation,” you might be well served to say, “I’m making X now, but to make a move, I would really need to be more in the X+ range…”  and see how they respond. You’ll probably get X+, but you may not get to blow-dried 1974 salary negotiation paradise.