When it comes to making more money, what you think you know about salary negotiation might be more dangerous than what you don’t know. It’s easy to assume that you understand a lot about how compensation is determined and meted out, just because you’ve been participating in the process since you earned your first paycheck. But getting paid doesn’t necessarily provide insight into why you earn your salary.
These salary negotiation myths might be standing between you and a couple of thousand more a year:
Myth No. 1: You should negotiate for a fair salary.
Words matter in salary negotiation, even when you’re still at the stage where you’re talking to yourself in the mirror (a.k.a. writing salary negotiation scripts). Be careful that you don’t talk yourself out of money. For instance, nix the words “fair salary” from your vocabulary. You don’t want to be paid fairly; you want as much as you can get.
Think about it: if people were paid fairly, social workers and teachers would be able to retire at age 45. Fair has very little to do with how much we get paid.
Instead, focus on what the market will bear, which is very different from what’s fair. PayScale’s Salary Survey generates a free salary report based on your job title, experience, education, skills, and location, to help you figure out a salary range that neither shortchanges you nor prices you out of contention.
Myth No. 2: Salary reflects your worth.
“Wages and income are about what the job is worth, not the individual,” writes Ron Rule, CEO of As Seen on TV, at Quora (h/t Business Insider). “…As a person, as a human being, your value is immeasurable. If you went missing in the woods our society would easily spend five or six figures trying to find and rescue you, without hesitation. But dude, putting a sticker on a box is still only worth $5. If that. Your income potential isn’t about what you need or what the employer can afford, it’s about the value of what you do. Those who are in the upper income brackets have understood and embraced this reality and have worked to bring something of value to the market or their company.”
That might sound harsh—someone has to put those stickers on those boxes, after all—but Rule’s advice highlights something else that job seekers should keep in mind, if they want to earn more: your earning potential today isn’t necessarily your earning potential forever. If you upskill yourself in a strategic manner by targeting skills that employers value, you can boost your salary.
Myth No. 3: You’ll look like an ingrate—or get in trouble—if you ask for more.
Seventy-five percent of people who ask for more money get some kind of salary bump, according to PayScale data, and yet 57 percent of respondents said they’d never asked for more money in their current field. Why? Fear, mostly: 28 percent said they were uncomfortable negotiating salary, 19 percent said they were afraid of being perceived as pushy, and 8 percent said they were afraid of losing their job.
We’ve all read stories about people losing job offers or their manager’s esteem because they asked for a raise, but it’s important to understand that reasonable employers (and their representatives) expect people to ask for more, especially at the job offer phase.
“If you handle the negotiation reasonably and professionally, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll lose the offer over it,” writes Alison Green of Ask a Manager at U.S. News. “Salary negotiation is a very normal part of business for employers. Reasonable employers are used to people negotiating and aren’t going to be shocked that you’d attempt it. They might hold firm on their offer, but it’s very unlikely that an employer would revoke an offer simply because you asked for more money.”
For more tips on developing a strategy that gets you paid, check out PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide.
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