Asking for a precise number during salary negotiations can give you the upper hand

It’s a question that many job seekers ask, especially in the early years of their career: “How much should I ask for?” Naturally, it’s a difficult question to answer, and there are a host of variables which need to be taken into consideration. One thing, however, that seems certain, according to researchers at Columbia Business School, is that you should request a specific salary amount, as opposed to a ballpark figure. According to Professor Malia Mason and Daniel Ames, asking for a specific number can give you the upper hand when negotiating any quantity. 

 “What we discovered is there is a big difference in what most people think is a good strategy when negotiating and what research shows is a good strategy,” said Professor Mason. “Negotiators should remember that in this case, zeros really do add nothing to the bargaining table.” The research is to be published in the forthcoming Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and looks at the two-way flow of communication between 1,254 fictitious negotiators.  The subjects were placed into hypothetical scenarios in which they had to negotiate for quantities, such has purchasing jewellery. Some subjects were instructed to negotiate using rounded-off dollar amounts, such as R5000, while others were told to use very specific numbers, such as R5432.00.

The results showed that the subjects that negotiated using very specific numbers were perceived as more informed about the true value of the offer being negotiated. This perception led to these subjects gaining an upper hand in the negotiation and ultimately performing better.    “It makes sense. If you ask for a very specific salary, then it communicates to your prospective employer that you know your worth, and are generally more confident than someone who asks for a ballpark figure,” says Pollock & Associates CEO Caz Pollock.  

With this in mind, the next time you walk into an interview, you should have decided on a firm and exact salary figure, so that when you are asked what you would like to earn, you can confidently respond with an exact number.

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