Salary Negotiation Mistakes That Women Need To Avoid If You Want A Higher Paycheck

The largest raises you’re likely to obtain in your career come from quitting your job and going to work for another employer, but only if you avoid the minefield of mistakes women often make. And to give you an idea about how negotiating can earn you an enormous salary increase, let me share what happened with a client I worked with. Jennifer, a 58-year-old Director of Marketing, knew she was very underpaid. So she asked, “I don’t know how to negotiate salary. I’ve never done it before, but I know I am so underpaid I want to try. What exactly should I do and say?” The result was she learned how to handle the negotiations effectively, and as a result, she accepted a six-figure offer that was a $40,000 increase above her current salary. 

CNBC reported the sad fact that 60% of women say they’ve never negotiated with an employer over pay. That is a critical career mistake. Mary, a 59-year-old HR Director, emailed me about her situation, and asked for advice. She was unemployed and panicky about needing a new job. During the interview, the potential employer asked what her current salary was, and she told them. A week later, the company called and said, “Mary, we’d like to offer you the job. Can you start next week at $XXXX salary?” Mary said, “yes,” but was disappointed as the new job was at the same salary as the old one. She asked me if it was too late to negotiate as she had just begun the new position. Unfortunately, it was too late then. She needed to discuss it when she got the initial offer. By revealing her current salary, Mary lost all her negotiation power. 

The impact of not successfully negotiating salary when accepting a new job is monumental. All future raises and bonuses are based on the initial salary, and it can take years to catch up to what a man negotiated when you take a low offer. Just think about the lifestyle differences successful salary negotiation would mean to you over a lifetime. It’s an amazing difference that comes down to a few minutes that you must get right.

Pete, a CEO I talked to recently, summed it up this way: “People are more aware of their value these days, and it’s a struggle to find good people. Yet, why would we make the best offer first? We, like many employers, don’t. When asked for a higher starting salary, our approach is to agree. What’s a few thousand more if they are the perfect match for the job?” 

Why Don’t Women Negotiate? 

Most are simply afraid. Like so many women I’ve counseled, Mary and others say they were scared that maybe the employer would rescind the job offer. In my experience, I have never seen that happen. Many women lack the confidence and know-how, causing them to just accept the salary figure that is offered.

Men And Women Negotiate Differently 

According to the US Census Bureau, women earn 82% of what men do, performing the same job—18% less! There are several reasons why women make less, and one of them is that most women never try to negotiate their salary when offered a new job.

Here’s what typically happens. When Lora is offered a new job, she accepts the starting salary of $58,000, but when Jack is offered the same job, he negotiates. Jack accepts $70,000—a 21% difference. All future raises are based on the beginning salary, so it will likely take Lora years of raises to reach Jack’s starting salary. And since bonuses and raises are calculated from the salary figure, Jack’s raises will push him further ahead of Lora faster since he began at a higher compensation level. 

Guidelines And Common Mistakes To Avoid 

  • Rule #1 Don’t reveal your current salary.
  • Rule #2 Never ever break rule #1. You cannot recover from this error. Never tell the employer what you make. Instead, cite a source like your professional association compensation reports. Use a wide salary range when you discuss salary. When dealing with an application, try leaving the online section for salary blank or entering numerous zeros, which seems like a system error to the employer.
  • Memorize this response. If asked during the interview what your current salary is or what your salary requirements are, turn the question around and say, “What range does this position pay?”
  • Know what your skills are worth. Do some research before you ever talk to an employer or fill out an application. Learn exactly what you should expect to be paid for your years of experience, education, and any special training you have. offers free salary information to help you get an estimate on what you should be earning.  
  • Confidence comes from preparation. Many women talk themselves out of negotiating for a higher salary or benefits. Face your fears head-on. Do your research. Practice how you’ll handle any salary questions effectively. Roleplay the situation and how to answer the questions with a coach or friend to ensure you’ll respond effectively. 
  • Focus on the employer’s needs. Continually resell yourself throughout this process. Reaffirm the reasons they want you, the skills you’ll bring, and how you’ll solve their problems. Mention how quickly you will be productive. In other words, give them reasons to pay you more. Understand that the interviewer may need to go to their boss to obtain approval to grant a higher salary. When you offer them ammunition, such as, “My experience with your systems is an asset and will save a lot of training time since I already know the software,” they can better persuade their boss and come back with a higher offer. 
  • Use a negotiation lead-in statement. Employers often start with a lowball offer to see if you’ll take it. When responding, state that the offered salary seems a bit low; ask if you can discuss it. Do this with the hiring manager, not HR or a recruiter. The hiring manager has a vested interest in your taking the job. Keep this in mind: if you don’t ASK, you won’t get it. To begin the discussion once you have the offer, say, “I’m interested in the position. I was a little disappointed that the offer was lower than I expected, especially since I have this experience or these skills (note something specific) and will begin to contribute quickly.” Then be quiet while the employer makes the next move. Another approach is to say, “I’m very interested in the job, and we are close to my salary needs; is there a possibility of negotiating here?” Smile and follow the employer’s lead.
  • Get the money up front. Cash shall always remain king. Promised bonuses, raises, stock options, and reviews in a few months all have a way of never happening down the line. Every dollar you negotiate into the salary base is more money you can spend on things you and your family want. Focus on getting the extra money upfront. These negotiations could give you in minutes what would take years to achieve with raises.

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