4 salary negotiation mistakes you’ve probably made

4 min read
Louise Campbell
  •  Jan 7, 2017
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Four years ago, I was making $25 per hour as a freelance digital designer building ecommerce sites. I had no idea how to increase my hourly rate, even if I’d wanted to.

Today, I work as a UX contractor for multi-million dollar ecommerce companies. I made the transition from a digital design generalist to a specialist in the research and design of ecommerce purchase paths. By becoming a UX expert, I increased my earnings by 150%.

I know what some of you are thinking: “I don’t make $500 in a week!” So how can I command similar day rates?

Related: How to nail a design job interview

I could have made the transition much faster had I known the secret formula high-performing UX executives use to get the salaries they want. I want to share the method with you so you can avoid the mistakes I made and “ask for more” with confidence.

Let’s dive right in.

Negotiation mistake #1: Going in cheap

Up until recently, I didn’t know what my skill set was worth. Consequently during the biggest UX interview of my life—the one that would allow me to get more valuable work from then on—the hiring manager asked me “So Louise, what’s your UX design day rate?”

I said the lowest day rate I could think of—and they said “yes” to my offer the next day.

Why did I do that?

  1.  I didn’t want to offend anyone
  2.  I desperately didn’t want to lose the job
  3.  I thought they would give it to someone else if I was “too expensive”

Why was this a mistake?

Weeks later I overheard a conversation between a hiring manager and team lead in the office kitchen.  “You know, if you get UX designers on the cheap, they must be desperate.”

“Know what your skill set is worth.”

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That comment nearly made me choke on my coffee because I hadn’t negotiated my day rate during my interview.

According to Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, by not negotiating salary at the beginning of your career, you’re leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over your lifetime.

And that figure doesn’t include company retirement contributions based on a percentage of salary.

Here are 3 scripts you could use to negotiate a higher-than-the-low rate when confronted with a stressful question about salary.

  1. “I’d love to give you a figure, but I was wondering if you’d be able to share your budget for this role. I don’t want to go in too high and I would love to get to a figure that would work for both of us.”
  2. “According to my research, a day rate for a role like this is anywhere between $350 a day and $1,200 a day. Because of my experience in ecommerce UX I’d be looking for the higher end of that scale.”  Then share examples of why the top rate is best for you.
  3. “I’d love to understand what success looks like on a project like this? A clear mission will give me an idea of a rate that would work for both of us.”

Negotiation mistake #2: Undervaluing your skill set

Most people go blindly from UX job to UX job without ever knowing what value and achievements they bring to a role. When you do that, your earning potential flatlines.

When you track your achievements, your success becomes quantifiable.Twitter Logo Then, you can use your successes as leverage in your next negotiation process.

Here are 3 example of quantifiable achievements that you can use to frame your value to an existing or future employer:

  1. Reduced drop-off rates of 41% by 20% that resulted in an increase in traffic of 25% through the sales funnel
  2. Reduced abandonment rates on registration by 44% that increased revenue by 20%
  3. Improved the user flow of invoicing that increased repayment rates by 50% and reduced the number of calls to customer service by 50%. Saving the company $10,000 a day in debt collection fees.

I challenge you to start keeping tabs on your weekly achievements. When you do this, you can quantify your earning potential to use in salary negotiation to command higher rates.

“Keep a record of your weekly achievements.”

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Negotiation mistake #3: Failure to align on employee to employer skill set

A trend I’ve noticed over the last few years: digital designers apply blindly for jobs titled “UX/UI designer.”

They think it’s a good way into the UX industry, but it isn’t.  When you work for a company under the “UX/UI designer” role, you devalue your earnings by 50% and inadvertently increase your workload by 150%.

Advertising for a “UX/UI designer” is like advertising for a “plumber/electrician.”  Do you want to get hired to do 2 jobs and only be paid for one? Or, worse, you could do a bad job on both roles and risk getting fired.

“When you work as a ‘UX/UI designer,’ you devalue your earnings by 50%.”

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A better idea:  apply for a UI designer role—or a junior UX role when you’re starting out. When you focus on applying for one position, you dramatically increase your chances of getting an interview.

Related: 8 things to know about building a design portfolio

So why should you focus on applying for only UX design or UI design roles? It seems everyone wants to hire a UX/UI designer unicorn.

Browse jobs on LinkedIn, and you’ll see countless companies looking for a “UX/UI designer.”

On the flipside, here are examples of the types of clearly defined roles that you should be looking for once you’ve identified the value you can bring to the role:

It pays to focus on getting roles with top-tier companies. Why? Think ahead: In 5 years, do you want to have plateaued your career or be surrounded by the most intelligent minds in the industry?  When you get your first UX role with a big tech company, you also massively increase your perceived value to future employers.

Negotiation mistake #4: Lack of research

Most designers use their last job as a benchmark for salary. When you do that, you risk losing out on salary the company was willing to pay you, if you could prove your value.

Here are 3 situations to avoid during negotiation:

  1. Going in too high and unintentionally offending the employer
  2. Going in too low and shooting yourself in the foot
  3. Not being able to justify why you want the higher end of that salary range

So, how do you know what to charge? A quick search on Google for “user experience designer salaries” gives you the following results:

The screenshot above shows there’s a big gap between $88,365 and $116,025. So during a negotiation, how do you quantify how much you’re worth within that range?

A few winning script examples you can use to frame your value to get a good deal:

  1. “In my last role I increased shopping cart values by 300%—an extra $55,000 a month in revenue. The reason I’m looking for a salary at the high end of [give them the range] is I know you could recoup your investment in me in a short amount of time because of the results achieved in my previous role that I could also bring to this one.”
  2. The research conducted in my role saved the company $25,000—and because of that,  I know you save a considerable amount and more in the future that would allow you recoup your investment in me, in a short amount of time.
  3. This script is taken from Lean In. If you’re going to be managing people, you could include:

“I don’t know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I’m hopeful that you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I can bring to the job.” This script, in particular, performed well during negotiating research.

When you know your worth, it makes it easier for you to navigate the stress of negotiation and avoid self-sabotage.

“When you know your worth, it makes it easier for you to avoid self-sabotage.”

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When you arrive prepared to negotiate:

  1. You set the stage for future quantifiable success
  2. You receive the remuneration you deserve based on the value you can bring to the company
  3. You elevate your status in the eyes of the employer

Finally, here’s a list of things you should never say during a salary negotiation:

  • “No, not really.”
  • “Possibly, I guess.”
  • “Honestly, I’m worth way more than that.”
  • “If you don’t give me what I want, I’ll quit ASAP.”
  • “No idea.”
  • “Can you just give me a higher salary?”
  • “I’m worth much more than that.”
  • “I’m sorry to ask you this, but…”
  • “I was wondering if you could give me a raise.”

Being able to negotiate a salary is absolutely essential. Next time you’re in the situation, take the time to prepare—you’ll be so glad you did.

Looking for more from Louise? Read how she landed her first 5-figure design contract here.

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