Interview Negotiations

Salary negotiation: the most common mistakes

You don’t have the BATNA

The biggest problem with negotiation is starting it without any relevant alternative. Be the person who has the least to lose, then you will have a great advantage. BATNA refers to “Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement”. It’s a concept introduced by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton in their book entitled Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In [1]. What does it mean in terms of your salary negotiation?

It means that from the very beginning you need to be prepared to walk away from a deal. When you negotiate a salary, you have a certain threshold for rejecting a particular offer.

you need BATNA

But you also need to be prepared that someone may refuse to negotiate with you. That’s especially possible if your expectations are too high, the other candidates are better suited for the job or you just don’t fulfil the position requirements. But what’s the best solution if you are not able to come to an agreement?

Prepare a list of other possible options that will help you develop your negotiation power. It can defend you against unfavorable offers. If you are offered a position for $90K, you should have at least one other offer for around $90K. This way you will have your BATNA. If you don’t get $100K from the first offer, you can walk away and choose the second one. 

BATNA in negotiations

Of course, I’m not suggesting you should focus solely on salary. This is just one of the factors, but having the BATNA allows you to negotiate other benefits that can be important to you, such as: yearly bonuses, an interesting career path, insurance, trainings, certificates etc. Remember that having no alternatives puts you in a weak position.  

You should also keep in mind that companies do the same thing during their recruitment process. They usually have more than one person for each position which makes them feel comfortable enough to choose the best candidate for an affordable amount of money. They’ve got their BATNA, so you should also prepare yours in order to be in the position of power.

You accept the first offer

Some people say that negotiation starts after the first “no”. If you ask a manager for a higher salary and the answer is “no”, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of this conversation. While many people stop at that moment, in reality it is not actually the end. If you are on a job interview and your interviewer says:

offers in negotiations

It’s actually the beginning of an interesting discussion. Negotiation is a conversation in which the goal is to reach an agreement between two parties whose interests aren’t perfectly aligned. Instead of feeling offended, treat it as a challenge. But first you need to open your mind and look for opportunities. 

Let’s say you ask for $100K but someone offers you $90K. Such a situation presents at least a couple of options to ask about, even if your potential employer insists that the amount is above their salary budget. You can say:

asking for more

Such a statement might confuse the other person, but it puts you in a good light. It shows that $100K is definitely important to you and you’re motivated enough to get it. Now the pressure is on the opposite side of the table. They need to find a clever answer in order not to lose their face and to satisfy your needs. It’d be really weak and unprofessional on their part to say:

holding negotiations

If you know that $90K is their top offer, you can look for other benefits. Something that won’t have a direct impact on your base salary, but will be an advantage for your career or work satisfaction.

negotiating benefits

Leave the question open. You can expect that they will offer you other benefits that would get you closer to $100K. If they don’t, you can suggest a list of possible alternatives that you prepared in advance. It can be a paid leave (for a contractor), a bonus for exceptional performance, further training funds, a parking space or anything that is important to you and will make the offer more tempting. 

You are being unclear

Watch out for vague words and phrases. Less confident negotiators, who are scared to ask for a raise, tend to use words like “more”, “better”, “bigger”, which are totally unspecified and ambiguous.

There is a huge risk that “more” means different amounts to both parties. Imagine you asked for a pay raise like this:

being unclear about an offer

This exchange just lost you a battle. First of all, a manager used the term “more” to give you 5%. You probably had a bigger number in mind and now you feel disappointed. Secondly, he put an anchor number on the table which makes further negotiations harder for you. In one of my previous articles you can find more information about anchor number in negotiations.

If you asked now for a 30% raise, it would be a good place for a manager to shoot you down:

being specific

Be specific. If you want to ask about a raise, use a range [2] with a satisfactory number in between. You can read more about which approach is better in one of my other articles that deals with asking about a single number or a range. But the point here is to be specific. Don’t let the other person decide what “more money” or “better salary” means to you.


In negotiations information is king. The more prepared you are, the stronger your negotiating position is. Don’t start negotiations without having the BATNA and don’t accept the first offer. Even if you know that chances to negotiate a higher salary are slim, think of other things you can get. If not for anything else, do it just for fun or learning purposes. 


[1] Fisher, Roger and Ury, William. (2011). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. New York: Penguin Books.

[2] Ames, Daniel & Mason, Malia. (2015). Tandem Anchoring: Informational and Politeness Effects of Range Offers in Social Exchange. Journal of personality and social psychology. 108. 254-74. 10.1037/pspi0000016.