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A new study finds that asking for a dollar amount during a negotiation is more successful if you put it at the bottom of a range instead of just asking for it outright.
So for example, if you’re targeting a salary of $52,000, you’re best off asking a prospective employer for something between, say, $52,000 and $56,000.
The finding, by Daniel Ames and Malia Mason of Columbia University, might seem obvious at first glance—but it actually contradicts existing schools of thought. Some experts have theorized that you should not open salary negotiations with a range because doing so could make you seem either uninformed or manipulative and might cause the person you’re negotiating with to consider only the lowest number in your offer.
Instead, the new research found, couching your request in a range can actually make you seem more cooperative and flexible—and make it harder for a prospective boss to counter with a much lower salary number without seeming impolite. The key is choosing the right high and low anchor numbers so you don’t accidentally low-ball yourself.
“The lowest number is the point offer you are aiming for, and the high number is more ambitious,” says Mason. “People who want $100,000 will often ask for $90,000 to $110,000, but it is going to be most effective to ask for $100,000 to $120,000.”
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes a different tactic might be more effective to gain the upper hand during a salary negotiation. Another study Mason conducted showed that that asking for specific, unrounded figures in negotiations can be better than asking for rounded ones, because it makes you seem more informed. So to use the same example from above, if you want about $52,000, you might want to ask for $52,500.
Those findings aren’t necessarily inconsistent, Mason points out.
“Context is important,” she says. You might be better off using a precise number if you want to send the message that “you have done your homework. But if it seems important for you to appear flexible, then you could signal that by offering a range.”
That’s one reason to pay close attention to the cues your interviewer is sending out. If he or she drops a lot of language about adaptability and cooperation, naming a range might cast you in a more positive light. Alternatively, a specific number might be appropriate if the job description seems to emphasize preparedness, knowledge, and thorough experience in the field.
But none of this is to say you should suggest a salary without being asked about it directly, says Mason. Top recruiters agree that—when you can help it—it’s best to let a potential boss be the one to bring up a number first.