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The Salary Negotiation Secret to Get You the Biggest Pay Hike

The largest raises you'll likely ever get in your career are a result of your quitting your current job and going to work for another employer. At least that's true if you learn the strategies necessary to negotiate your salary and benefits. And, you must learn to avoid the minefield of mistakes common to most over-eager applicants.

A key concept to learn is this: Whoever mentions money first loses. That means if the employer asks you to mail in a salary history (one quarter of employers do) you need to simply ignore this request. Employers admit that they use the salary question as a device to screen out applicants. While you worry that the employer won't offer pay high enough, in reality, oftentimes, employers eliminate you because your previous salary was too low, thus automatically downgrading your skills. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than what happened to Kathy, one of my clients.

Kathy, who spent several years at a large prominent company, kept taking on new managerial duties as her job expanded. She excelled, but her requests to upgrade her salary seemed to get lost behind other items her boss found more important. When she left on maternity leave she just never went back to that company. Two years later she decided she wanted to return to work. In an early interview Kathy made the mistake of telling the hiring manager her previous salary. A friend inside the interviewing organization later told her that once the hiring manager heard the low figure her last employer had paid her, he devalued her skills, deeming them lower than the level he needed. It cost her the job. Too late, Kathy learned that the best salary negotiation technique is to never reveal a previous salary. She never made that mistake again. A few weeks later, she masterfully dodged the salary questions when interviewing with a prestigious high-tech company. Coupled with good answers to interview questions and solid work examples, Kathy landed the job that brought her a 45% increase in pay over the job she left behind.

Of course some people know they are underpaid and aren't sure how to negotiate. James had an MBA and wanted to get promoted but his company had a salary freeze. His worked was praised and he got new job titles, but no raises came his way. He got fed up and became a recent client of mine. He was motivated to get a better paying job. We created a resume that promoted his accomplishments and rehearsed how to deal with salary questions. An international marketing job caught his eye, and he was well prepared for the interview. He wrote to say, "My interviews went so well, I know they truly liked what they saw. Using the work examples as props and adopting a conversational approach was a real hit. I also followed your advice on salary, didn't disclose a thing."

He got hired, and wrote again to say, "I am really loving it here, and growth opportunities are everywhere. I just got my first paycheck, and WOW it's one BIG paycheck. Just wanted to say thanks again; this is more money than I ever dreamed I'd make."

Everyone should be paid a salary commensurate with his or her true value. There are three cardinal rules to all salary negotiations that you must master so that you can enjoy a more prosperous future.

Rule #1 -- Never reveal your previous salary.

Rule #2 -- Never break Rule #1.

Rule #3 -- Never EVER break Rule #1.

Why? Whoever mentions money first loses, so don't let it be you. This "secret" preserves your negotiating power! Once the employer decides they want to hire you they are more motivated to pay whatever it takes to entice you to join the team.

My advice is TRY to negotiate! Many applicants simply accept the offer as given. Too bad -- because in the last few months I've seen employers offer higher salaries and more lucrative benefits packages, simply because the prospective employee asked for them.

-Robin Ryan

Copyright 2005 Robin Ryan. All rights reserved.

America's most popular career counselor, Robin Ryan, is the author of four bestselling books: 60 Seconds & You're Hired!, Winning Resume & Winning Cover Letters, and What to Do with the Rest of Your Life. She's appeared on over a thousand TV & radio shows including Oprah, Dr. Phil, and has been published in most major newspapers and magazines including USA Today & the Wall Street journal. Contact her at 425.226.0414; email: