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Use a “poker face” for your next salary negotiation

Here’s everything you need to know.

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Based on data compiled by the human resource firm Robert Half, only 39% of new hires negotiate their salaries in a job offer. Of those who do make an effort to negotiate, 46% are men, while 34% are women. A number of factors can hold people back from a salary negotiation—inexperience or discomfort in how to talk about finances, unawareness of their worth in the market, intimidation of being told, “No,” and desperation just to be hired, to name a few possible scenarios. 

But as it might surprise you to learn, those who “attempt to negotiate their salary in a constructive way are perceived as more favorable than those who don’t negotiate at all because they are demonstrating the skills the company wants to hire them for,” notes Robin Pinkley, co-author of Get Paid What You’re Worth. If you are a current job seeker or new recruit who is not quite sure how to initiate this conversation, take your cues from the poker table. Many tactics used in this game can also be applied to salary negotiation, and below are some to utilize.  

Know the Strengths and Skills that You Hold in Your Hand

In poker, the value of a hand is determined by how the card sequence adds up—the more a hand is worth, the more your odds of winning increase. The same concept is true in a salary negotiation, so it’s important to research what your job qualifications are worth and how much the majority of professionals in your role earn, on average. 

Take into account your level of experience, transferable skills, ability to collaborate, previous success rate and other unique assets you have to offer, then measure these against tools such as Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth calculator, and use this information when it’s time to play the hand. “It’s important to advocate for yourself—especially if you’re a woman or person of color. Make it clear to your employer what value you bring to the organization and how you believe you should be compensated,” notes Samantha Cooney, an editor at Time Magazine.   

Look for an Employer’s Tells—And Be Aware of Your Own

When it comes to salary negotiation, more often than not, an employer has the upper-hand, but there is one area in which you have absolute control—your poker face. If you remain composed, inscrutable and manage your “tells,” this communicates that you should be taken seriously. In poker, tells refer to “changes in behavior [that] can unintentionally broadcast what cards someone has to the entire table,” Global Poker School explains, which are often signs of weakness, vulnerability, or desperation. 

For instance, some tell that you’re nervous or lack confidence can be avoiding eye contact, shifting in your chair, taking shallow breaths, or chewing your lips. These can also make you seem too eager, which undermines your clout as a negotiator. As you learn to tamp down those behaviors, be on the lookout for tells in the employer too. Observe facial expressions, mannerisms, tone of voice, and other cracks in their facade.       

Calculate the Risks Involved Before You Resort to Bluffing

Finally, you might have luck bluffing at the poker table since—based on how persuasive you are—this tactic can force out strong hands, so your weaker hand can win. However, in a salary negotiation, bluffs are usually not worth the risk. Aside from it being an unethical business practice, if the employer calls that bluff and requests proof you cannot deliver, this harms credibility which might cost you the deal.    

“Job seekers sometimes claim they’re currently earning more than they are, figuring this will help them get a higher offer from a new employer. But this can backfire because employers verify salary histories, wither by asking to see a recent paystub or W-2, or by checking with the previous employer directly,” notes Alison Green, the author of How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager. 

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