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Negotiating salary is usually everyone's least favorite part of getting a new job. Ask for too little and your base salary -- which forms the foundation for your future raises and bonuses -- won't be as much as it could if you'd just haggled a little more.
But ask for too much and you run the risk that the employer will think you're "too expensive" and won't hire you. Where do you draw the line? Don't worry; we're here to help you negotiate a salary.
Asking for a salary that's way outside the normal range for your job -- either too much or too little -- sends a signal to the recruiter that you might not know as much about the job as you claimed.
No, you're not making close to six figures at a public interest firm, so if you ask for that, you run the risk of the employer rethinking her decision -- not because you asked for a lot of money, per se, but because you don't seem to know what you're talking about.
Don't Negotiate at the Interview
Of the many questions you're advised to ask when the interviewer says, "Do you have any questions for me?" anything to do with salary isn't among them. You haven't even got the job yet, so talking about how much money you might make is a little presumptuous. It's also not a good use of your question-time, which should be devoted to letting the interviewer know you want to add value and to express interest and enthusiasm.
Americans have lost the art of haggling. We walk into a Target and pay the sticker price, then walk out. Salary negotiations are different. Usually, the interviewer or recruiter will toss out an offer; you can always retort with a counteroffer.
An employer who's ready to make you a job offer isn't suddenly going to decide not to hire you just because you asked for more (assuming it's reasonable; see below). Expect that, whatever number you throw out there, the employer will either match it or pick an amount in the middle.
And a Word on "Salary Requirements"
The general rule is that whoever mentions salary first loses. You've undoubtedly seen in job ads a request for "salary requirements" along with your cover letter an resume.
Of course, these are "requirements" as much as they are "requests." When faced with a salary requirement question, offer a range instead of a single number. You're probably not going to get the most you ask for, but you're probably not going to get the bottom number, either. Figure out what you actually want to get paid and put that number in the middle.
As with any part of getting a job, approach salary negotiations with confidence. You'll be surprised what a little personality can get you.