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9 Ways to Win the Salary Challenge When Job Hunting

How to stay ahead when negotiating

So you've made it to job interview and are breathing a sigh of relief. Until the question arises: "What do you want to earn?"

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This can quickly become a game of chess, as neither party wants to reveal their strategy. How can you negotiate the best salary when this question emerges?

Your best response is to give a general range, and then shift the emphasis. Most employers want to know that you're passionate about the job itself; the nature of the work in the department, the company and industry. So the less you talk "money" during the conversation, the better, particularly if you're not sure you've sealed the deal just yet.

Salary negotiations are an emotional intelligence challenge put to the test. You must gauge the response you're getting real-time, in order to deliver your best pitch. Once you see a shift occur where the interviewer is selling you, that's when you have the best leverage to go forward and address your salary expectations.

Here are 9 tips on winning the salary challenge:

1) Do your homework. Your best argument will be the online research you conduct on salaries for similar positions, at such sites as Glassdoor and Payscale. It's okay to explain your sources; that adds specificity.

2) Talk ranges. This will give you room to negotiate in case your expectations are too high, or too low! You can introduce the idea of being flexible should that become the case.

3) Listen first. The best negotiators don't spill all the beans upfront. Try your best to hear what the hiring manager has to say first. Watch for body language signs, such as eye contact, leaning forward and gesturing, or in contrast, crossed arms and a monotone speaking style.

4) Bridge into "the job itself." When you're asked for your ideal salary figure, take the opportunity to segue into your range. You might say, "Well I have a few ideas on that, but salary isn't my main focus. I place a lot of importance on [growth opportunities, team orientation, etc.] Then wait and see where that takes you.

5) There's more than salary. Inquire about the whole compensation package, not just salary. Hidden benefits count, and they may range from bonuses and health benefits, to 401k's, vacation time and/or other perks.

6) Be consistent. Be sure that once you've described your salary expectations that you don't cave. In a classic scene from the movie "Defending Your Life," Albert Brooks rehearses his salary negotiation with his wife and seems quite in control.

7) Be honest and reasonable. This is a bad time for exaggerating to get the best pay, as your interviewer may find out your real salary through your common networks. Not to mention, you don't want to start the relationship on the wrong foot. Similarly, be reasonable. A 10-20% increase is generally a great achievement today, depending on your background and industry.

8) Watch for red flags. If your hiring manager is vague or evasive about the exact salary, which can happen in positions involving a lot of incentive pay, be persistent but also cautious. You don't want to work for an office tyrant - and should feel 100% comfortable with the compensation arrangement, which you'll ultimately get in writing.

9) Fast forward. If the offer is close, but isn't quite what you wanted, you can also ask to be reviewed in 3, 6 or 9 months. That shows flexibility as well as confidence in your abilities.

While salary negotiations can be awkward, this is your opportunity to know where you want to be - and have a solid strategy for getting there.