10 Myths About Negotiating Your First Salary

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CAREER PLANNING
10 Myths About
Negotiating Your First
Salary
by Linda Babcock and Julia Bear
JULY 03, 2017
Nicholas Blechman for HBR
You just got your first job offer. It’s an exciting and stressful time. The prospect of negotiating your
salary feels especially daunting — you don’t want to ruffle any feathers. So you’re thinking about
skipping the negotiation altogether. But negotiating your salary is extremely important, especially in
your first job. Your starting salary serves as an anchor throughout your career, with raises, bonuses,
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and even retirement savings influenced by that initial amount. Starting too low could be a costly
mistake.
Based on our decades of experience with researching negotiation; teaching negotiation to
undergraduate students, graduate students, and executives; and giving negotiation workshops to
participants of all ages and all over the world, we would like to debunk many of the common myths
that hold people back at the negotiation table.
Myth #1: This is my €rst job — I don’t have experience, so I don’t have any bargaining power.
Many first-time job seekers fail to understand that the hiring process is also very stressful on the
hiring side. Employers screen dozens — often hundreds — of résumés, spend countless hours
choosing applicants to interview, devote a considerable amount of time to on-site interviews, and
then select an applicant to hire. By this point employers are extremely invested in the chosen
candidate. So even entry-level candidates have some bargaining power.
Myth #2: I don’t have another oƒer, so I can’t negotiate.
Although having an alternative offer gives you more bargaining power, of course, you can negotiate
even without one. Ask (rather than demand) whether the employer can increase the offer. If the
answer is no, you can still gracefully accept.
Myth #3: The oƒer is more than what I was expecting, so there’s no need to negotiate.
If the offer is more than you expected, it probably means that you aren’t well calibrated. Don’t
compound your mistake by not negotiating. You don’t want to start a job getting paid less than others
doing the same work.
Myth #4: I shouldn’t negotiate if I’m a woman — people won’t like me.
This presumption often holds women back from negotiating, and it isn’t necessarily true. Of course,
negotiating in an aggressive and overbearing manner is not advisable — that is true for both men and
women. However, positive, cooperative, and problem-solving strategies are effective for getting a
good deal and for building a positive relationship with your counterpart.
Myth #5: The economy isn’t great, so it’s a bad time to negotiate.
Despite the challenging economy during the past decade, good talent is still hard to find and valued
by employers. Furthermore, most employers purposely leave some slack in the salary that they offer,
anticipating a negotiation. Failing to do so leaves that extra money on the table. Plus, salary isn’t the
only negotiable item: Tuition reimbursement, work schedule, relocation reimbursement, and initial
job assignment are some examples of additional negotiable items. Consider what matters most for
your career and negotiate those issues.
Myth #6: An online search will provide the salary data I need before the negotiation.
While the internet is replete with great websites containing plenty of salary data, that information is
often very general. You should also do some legwork using your educational and professional
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networks. Collect information about salaries from your educational institution and from friends and
colleagues. Ask them, “What is a reasonable salary offer for this position?” rather than asking them
how much they earn. And don’t forget to factor in regional differences in salaries.
Myth #7: Preparation doesn’t really matter — it all boils down to how I present myself during the
negotiation.
What you do prior to the negotiation matters more than you think and dramatically affects your
negotiation performance. Do your homework to find out what is reasonable to negotiate for, and
practice the negotiation with a friend until you get it right. Also, get yourself in a confident mindset
before negotiating: In our research we found that it helps to recall when you’ve been assertive in the
past and to imagine that you are negotiating for a friend.
Myth #8: Ask for what you want.
No! Ask for more than you want. Negotiations involve some back-and-forth, not simply a yes or no.
Leave yourself some wiggle room to “concede” to what you really want.
Myth #9: If your new boss says yes immediately, go celebrate.
Although getting an immediate yes is great for a marriage proposal, in a salary negotiation an
immediate yes probably means you didn’t ask for enough. Research indicates that setting a high but
realistic target improves negotiation outcomes. Collect enough information ahead of time to know
you aren’t selling yourself short.
Myth #10: Being told no means negotiating was a mistake.
By negotiating, you’ve shown your employer that you are willing to be assertive and that you know
how to negotiate — a valuable skill. You may also learn a few things during the negotiation that will
be helpful for future negotiations. Use it as an opportunity to understand more about how salaries are
determined and how decisions are made in your new organization.
Negotiation skills are crucial for your career success, so don’t buy into these myths. If you do your
homework and negotiate for what you want, you will reap significant benefits for years to come.
Linda Babcock is the James M. Walton Professor of Economics and Chair of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie
Mellon University. She has published in the top economics, psychology, and law journals and her 2003 book, Women
Don’t Ask was named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 75 smartest business books of all time.
Julia Bear is an assistant professor in the College of Business at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She
received her PhD from Carnegie Mellon University. She researches the role of gender in negotiation and organizations and
has published her findings in top psychology and management journals.
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