Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. Once a hiring manager chooses you from what is probably the largest pool of candidates she’s ever seen, you know you’re a top candidate. The current economy won’t give you the edge to ask for first-class air travel, but you do have options that can improve your salary outcome.

1. Don’t disclose your pay requirements during the interview process. The first person to provide numbers establishes the range. If you give a number first, the interviewer will either tell you you’re in the same ballpark as him, or you’re too high.
If you ask for less than the interviewer was considering, you’ll probably get it — and never find out you might have earned more. So interviewers always want you to disclose your requirements first. (Do not try to remedy this situation by giving an unreasonably high number because then you will sound unreasonable.)

Your first line of defense is to say you’d like to talk about salary once you have an offer. Still, a good interviewer will persevere. So try asking the interviewer what HE would pay someone for this job. Whatever number he gives, you can say, “That will be a fine starting point.” (You will ask for more later.)

2. Do not negotiate until you have an offer in writing. Here’s why (and you should remember this for when the tables are turned): Let’s say the job pays a salary and a performance bonus, but you don’t know about the bonus part. If you do not get a written offer specifying the pay elements before you start negotiating, then you might negotiate a higher base salary but lose a portion of your bonus. That’s because the bonus gives your hiring manager some “wiggle room.” She can take it off the table before you know you’re supposed to receive it. (Then she can report back to her boss and say, “I saved us $5K.”) Get the full offer in writing so you know what you have to work with during your bargaining.

Once you have that written offer, ask for a night to think about it and come back with a counter offer. Admittedly, you may hate confrontation and feel you’re a poor negotiator, but you have nothing to lose and you’re likely to get more money. Plus you will get better at this each time you try. Remember, almost no one loses a written offer because he asks for more money.

3. Do your research and plan your attack.
To know what to ask for in negotiations, you MUST know the pay range for your position. Check out salary surveys online and in trade journals. Do not quote any numbers from surveys conducted earlier than 2001. They are inflated. Get more recent information. Talk with friends in similar jobs or recruiters who regularly fill this type of position in your geographic region. Find the top of the salary range and ask for that. Show the hiring manager your research and remind her why you are worth the top of the range.

If you are fortunate enough to find out that your offer already is in the high end of your salary range, then propose taking on more responsibilities so you can ask for slightly more pay. Suppose you are a marketing manager with a background in technical writing. You can say that while most marketing managers pass off technical writing in marketing documents to someone else, you will handle this yourself. This entitles you to ask for slightly more.

4. Know what you need.
Each person is compensated in different ways — and not always monetarily. For instance, if you love what you do, you may not mind earning less than your neighbor with the same degree. Likewise, if you have a shorter commute. Friends can advise you, but you are the one in the job, and you must decide if you want it, regardless of the size of your paycheck. No salary survey can tell you that. Decide what’s important to you and what trade-offs you’ll make pay wise, but be honest with yourself. Don’t give up being paid more because you hate negotiating. Self-knowledge, good negotiation skills — and a little chutzpah — will help ensure you earn what you deserve starting with your next job.