Negotiating your salary to get the pay you want is a delicate dance.
To master it, you need to push without offending the hiring manager or undercutting yourself. At the end of the day, it’s an awkward conversation that you’re obligated to have. Both parties need to walk away feeling like they fared well and got what they wanted.
To get a sense of how the pros do it, three headhunters revealed their secrets. Below are their most strategic tips:
1. Keep silent until the interview process is over.
The more the interviewer talks, the more you learn. You want them to do the talking, and you want them to make the first offer. However, this is not something you can always control, especially if they ask you about your salary in the first interview. But if you can hold off divulging your pay until the last minute, you should, says Dan Martineau, president of Martineau Recruiting Technology.
“Once they’ve decided that they have to have you, only then are you in the position to negotiate,” he says. “It’s no different than when you buy a dress, car, or house. Once I understand the value of that car, the prestige, the power, that’s when I’ll pay for it.”
But what if the hiring manager brings up pay at the beginning of the interview process? Martineau advises to put the spotlight back on the employer. For example, you can say: “My present salary is X. I’m looking for the best offer based on my experience and education. What’s the range for this position?” If you’re underpaid and you think revealing your salary will put you at a disadvantage, you can be honest and say: “I like my company. I like my job, but frankly, I’m underpaid.”
2. Know enough not to over-ask.
Make an educated guess as to how much the employer is able to pay you by asking other employees working at the company carrying out some other research.
“At the end of the day, a candidate has a number in mind as to what they think they’re worth,” says Eddie R. Koller III, managing director and partner at Howard-Sloan-Koller Group, a technology and media recruiting firm. “But a company has limits to what they can spend.”
If you tell the employer a number that’s much higher than the range they’re able to pay you, they may eliminate you in that moment.
3. Give a salary range rather than a target.
Once you determine what the job is worth competitively, you should offer a pay range instead of an exact number. This opens up room for discussion and shows the employer that you’re flexible. A range also “gives you a cushion,” says Martineau, in case you are asking salary is too high.
“Most companies will meet you in your range, even if it’s the bottom third of that range,” he says. “Basically, if they want you, they don’t want to send the wrong message by not meeting you in that range.”
4. Use an odd, extremely precise number.
One executive recruiter based in New York City revealed that using a weird, precise number makes sense during a negotiation. For example, instead of asking for N70,000, you’re better off asking for N68,500.
Martineau agrees: “There is definitely relevance to precise numbers.”
Malia Mason, lead researcher in a study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, also revealed that using a precise number instead of rounded numbers will give you a “potent” anchor. It also gives off the appearance that you’ve done your research.
“What this all suggests is that the level of precision at which a speaker chooses to convey a quantitative estimate — as ‘7 days’ versus ‘1 week’ — signals to message recipients the magnitude of error around the estimate they should expect,” says Mason.
Even when giving a range, you should use precise numbers.
5. Always counter-offer, but don’t do it more than once.
Once you receive the offer, you are expected to make a counteroffer. No employer wants a pushover. However, Koller says that you should not go back to the negotiation table more than once because then “it becomes annoying to the hiring manager.”
“Once it gets really drawn out, it gets frustrating for both sides,” and you don’t want to start a new job off on the wrong foot, he says.
6. Be excited, but not too excited.
You should reiterate your excitement and stay positive, but don’t be so excited that you seem desperate. You have no idea how many other candidates the hiring manager is interviewing so play it cool, says Martineau.
“Desperate is problematic. Eager is not. I want people who are eager and excited,” he says. “It’s only a good investment on my end if it’s a good investment on your end.”
However, Koller says that showing the employer that you’re excited about working for the company does make them more inclined to give you want you want.
Originally appeared on Business Insider