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An old assumption of negotiating is that he or she who gives the dollar figure first usually loses out in some way. You always want to try to get the person interviewing you to give figures first. That puts you in a position of power, the power to not respond immediately, the power to react in a deliberative fashion, the power to put off further discussion - and mostly, to eventually get more compensation out of the process.
Even more important, it is critical for the job seeker to understand that putting off the salary discussion is always to his/her advantage for four basic reasons:
If you come in low, sometimes the other person will assume that your experience isn't so sophisticated as the job requires. People who think like this will equate salary with expertise, unfortunately. That isn't always true, as we know.
Another problem with coming in low is that a prospective employer might "low ball" you; that is, come in with an offer less than he/she originally intended. That is bad business planning, but in a "this quarter" business climate, too common. Later on, you might find out that you're being paid less than your peers and less than market.
Coming in at the right level sounds fine, but there's a problem here, too. You've limited your negotiating stance for later on in the discussion. What if the job turns out to more than you had thought? Then, you're stuck.
Presenting too high a salary might mean immediate elimination from consideration. Most people will think that's good, since they don't want to talk about a job that can't afford them. My contention is that given today's market, salary is not the entire picture and that we need to consider "total compensation," which can be widely variable. And we do want to hear what that total picture is before making a decision or being eliminated from the process, which means GO FOR THE OFFER.
There are many ways of initially avoiding the salary discussion, keeping in mind that the longer you avoid it, the more opportunity you have to build value. A response to the salary question might be, "I hate to eliminate myself from consideration at this point because of a number. Money is extremely important to me, but at this point, fit is the key consideration. Would it be ok if we deferred this discussion until we have a better idea of how my skills fit the situation?"
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