Photo: U.S. Embassy London
Negotiating your salary can be a touchy subject, but when done right, you just might be able to up the chances of getting the money you feel you deserve, and hopefully, feel more appreciated by your employer in the process.
Whether you’ve been in your position for five months, five years, or are weighing an offer and talking money, here are effective tactics for negotiating your paycheck.
Be fully aware of what you bring to the table
Many job candidates go into interviews nervous and fully prepared with details about the company’s business.
When it’s time to negotiate salary, study yourself first: be prepared to talk about your successes and accomplishments concisely. They already know your resumé, so this is the part where the important part is emphasis: put the focus on what’s different about you, your talents, and your personality.
David Shen-Miller, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Tennessee State University, told the American Psychological Association about the importance of being prepared and being able to talk about your experience.
During the negotiation process, the employer “might come back to you and say, ‘Prove you deserve that salary,’…If you don’t really feel you deserve it, that could undermine your position,” Shen-Miller told the American Psychological Association.
He suggested practicing with a friend ahead of time.
Don’t be afraid to laugh
When used wisely, a joke can go a long way. But it has to be the right kind: be ready to joke, or at least laugh, about money.
An 2016 article by the Association for Psychological Science talks about how science supports the concept of “anchoring.”
“Psychological science research on “anchoring” backs the idea that the first salary an employer sees during a negotiation can have a significant influence on the ultimate offer: Seeing a low number right off the bat can lead employers to make lower salary offers than they would have otherwise,” the article says.
But what does this have to do with joking around?
The 2016 article referenced 2011 research on anchoring by psychological scientist Todd J. Thorsteinson of the University of Idaho. The 2011 research featured a study where more than 200 college students were pretending to hire an administrative employee, and were negotiating the salary with a candidate.
The 2016 article states that “in one set of conditions,” participants knew the candidate’s past salary — $29,000 a year — before they spoke, but in the other case, they initially asked the candidate to tell them a salary she desired.
“Half of the time the job candidate jokingly responded with an implausibly high anchor (“I would like $100,000, but really I am just looking for something that is fair”) or a ridiculously low anchor (“I would work for $1, but really I am just looking for something that is fair”).
The control condition only presented the relevant anchor, the candidate’s prior salary of $29,000 a year. Given that the candidate was a good fit for the job, participants were asked to type in a salary offer.
As expected, a higher “anchor” resulted in a higher offer – even when that number was intended as a joke. When the bidding started off with the mention of $100,000, the employee received an average offer was $35,385 compared to an offer of $32,463 for the control group.
“The high salary joke actually paid off with an extra $3,000 a year,” the 2016 article said.
That same principle is one that advertising guru and entrepreneur Cindy Gallop uses as well. Her favorite piece of guidance for salary negotiations: “Ask for the highest number you can say without bursting out laughing,” she advises women who ask her what they should ask for.
Name a precise number
When asking for higher pay, there is power in using specific numbers.
There is power in using specific numbers in negotiation instead of “round” ones, according to a 2013 article from Columbia University researchers in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The researchers found that candidates who asked for strangely specific numbers, like $51,115 did better than those who asked for $5,000.
“Here, we examine whether a first offer’s potency also depends on the precision with which it is expressed ($5115 or $4885 versus $5000). We argue that negotiators who use precise first offers more effectively anchor their counterparts because they seem more informed of the good’s true value than do negotiators who use round first offers,” the research said.
The researchers found out that precise numbers— instead of round ones— could imply to the employer that you’re in the know. Chalk it up to human bias: there’s something about specific numbers that demonstrates expertise.
“Precise numerical expressions imply a greater level of knowledge than round expressions and are therefore assumed by recipients to be more informative of the true value of the good being negotiated,” the research said.
Be prepared for pushback
With all those techniques in mind, know that an extreme asking price could derail the conversation.
“In practice, if one’s negotiating partner opens with an offer that is too extreme, the most common response is to disengage from the negotiation,” Rachel Croson, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and director of the school’s Negotiations Center, told Fortune.
That doesn’t mean the talk is over, however: salary negotiations should involve some back-and-forth. Some classic advice still works: never accept the first offer.
So even if your first asking price gives the other side cold feet, consider coming up with a strategy to get the dialogue back on track.
Know when to walk away
A key piece of advice for negotiations: the power lies with the person who’s willing to walk away.
Declining an offer is probably the strongest tactic, but it can also backfire: unless the employer is really into you, there’s a good chance they’ll be offended or take “no” for an answer. So only walk away if you’re really ready to walk away, not as a psychological technique. Be authentic — which doesn’t mean spilling your guts, but does mean honoring what you want and need out of a job.
Danny Ertel, a founding partner at negotiation consulting firm Vantage Partners, LLC, told the Harvard Business Review about how to decline a job offer.
“You’d like to walk away in such a way that if their needs change tomorrow, you can walk back in,” Ertel told the Harvard Business Review.
One of the major keys to any salary negotiation: you have power over your actions, and you can drive a better outcome. Think about what a company’s salary or job offer could mean for your life, and move forward in your process with respect, knowledge of your worth, and assertiveness.