When it comes to salary negotiation, job seekers make three common mistakes:

  1. They fear negotiating.
  2. They fail to prepare early and extensively.
  3. They share their desired salary before receiving an official offer.

What I’ve learned from coaching clients through the job search process and through instruction from salary negotiation expert Jim Hopkinson, is that just like interviewing or any other job search activity, salary negotiation requires a confident and strategic approach.

In response to the above missteps, there are three key messages about salary negotiation I hope every job seeker keeps in mind when gearing up for their search.

1. Embrace it.

Negotiating can feel like a risky endeavor that could make you seem ungrateful or even cost you the job offer. And after months of putting yourself out there and experiencing rejection, it’s normal to feel inclined to just accept your offer and be done with it.

But research shows that 84% of companies expect candidates to negotiate.

And when you combine that expectation with the perspective that you’re not asking for a gift, but rather to be compensated appropriately for the hard work and value you’ll contribute, you can grow to embrace negotiation.

In some instances, negotiating may not be advised -- such as when an employer has set pay scales (e.g. some higher education or government roles), or when you receive a legitimately strong and appropriate offer.

Yet no matter what role you’re shooting for, your stance on negotiation going into the job search process should always be,

“Yes I can, and if I need to, I will.”

2. If you’re going to do it, do it well.

One of the issues I see job seekers consistently run up against is they are so focused on getting to the interview that they get blindsided by the "What is your desired salary?" question.

It may come up on a form, during the interview, or a few days later when you receive an offer -- but if you don’t prepare before hearing this question, you're starting off on the losing side of the negotiation.

In short, preparing early and extensively is the only way to set yourself up to make the most of this brief and significant opportunity. 

So even before your first phone screen, you've got to put on your negotiating hat and ascertain your expected salary range.

Keep in mind “expected salary” doesn’t mean your desired salary or an X% increase from what you're currently making; in order to negotiate effectively, you need to thoroughly research what someone with your background gets paid to do similar work for similar organizations in your geography.

Because informed, hard data is what will give you an appropriate expectation to negotiate towards -- and inspire real listening and consideration from your prospective employer.

Once you have your expected range identified, you’re halfway there. Then it’s time to practice.

You may not want to; similar to salary negotiation, many of my clients resist preparing for interviews because they feel more authentic (note: comfortable) winging it than digging in to develop dynamite responses.

But if a lowball offer comes through, you want to be ready to respond confidently yet humbly: “Based on my research of the value of someone with my expertise on the marketplace, I was looking for something in the X - X range.” (Credit here to Jim Hopkinson and his fantastic online course).

In case your prospective employer can’t budge on the numbers, you should also be ready to negotiate for other factors based on what's most important to you, such as vacation time, job title and responsibilities, or telecommuting.

3. Don’t be the first to share a number -- even when asked!

Companies are becoming more adept at soliciting salary information early on in the hiring process. And even though you want to be ready to talk salary early, keeping a lid on your numbers until receiving a formal offer is preferable for two reasons.

First, you can’t fully assess what you should be paid before understanding the requirements of a role -- and it’s perfectly reasonable to ask to delay the salary conversation until both sides have complete information and have decided it’s a fit to move forward.

More importantly, if you share first and your range is below budget for the position, you will have left money on the table, plain and simple.

So don’t balk on your commitment to negotiating well at the first sign of pressure (like this guy)!

One of the most illuminating lessons I learned from Jim is that you should defer responding to the “What’s your desired salary?” question at least twice if not morewith ready talking points like, “What I’m really focused on right now is learning more about this job and whether it’s a good fit for both of us. I’ve done my homework and I know the range, and I don’t think we’ll have any trouble discussing when the time comes.”

Not giving in when asked directly is one of the most challenging scenarios to navigate. Yet with confidence, preparation and practice, you can learn to hold your ground respectfully and exercise strong judgment on when it's time to share your number.

You can do this.

Salary negotiation remains a critical driver of your short and long-term earning potential; it’s worth the effort to develop this lifelong skill and make it standard practice any time you’re considering a career change.

And no matter how extensively you want to prepare, I hope these core principles help you get into the right frame of mind to believe yourself capable of negotiating for what you deserve.

Have other salary negotiation tips you’ve found to be effective and empowering? Pop them into the comments, we’d love to see them.