Once you finally reach the final interview stage for a job, you may be feeling pretty confident that you've got the job in the bag.
But that's precisely when many job offers can fall through, says Christine Mackey-Ross, senior vice president at Witt/Kieffer executive search firm.
Even the most experienced professionals such as chief executives can blow negotiations in the final stage of the interviewing process. She cites a job candidate she worked with who nixed his chances because he asked for $150,000 more a year than the No. 2 candidate.
Although most people won't be looking for that kind of paycheck, everyone can learn a key lesson from this in job negotiations: Don't ask for so much that the No. 2 becomes the No. 1 prospect.
"Most employers have a backup candidate," and you can take yourself out of the running quickly with unrealistic demands, she says.
Before you talk about salary or benefits with an employer, Mackey-Ross advises you to do your homework and know what a similar position offers in your geographic area. Salaries may be higher in New York City than in Omaha, Neb., and sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor.com can give you a better grasp of what is typical for the job and industry.
Salary.com, which offers pay ranges for more than 4,000 job titles, says you also should also take into account your experience or skills that fit the job, which can help you negotiate for more. If you're willing to relocate or work an undesirable overnight shift, you may be able to get an employer to offer more money.
Also become more informed about an employer's compensation practices by trying to find out the salary of the last person who held the job you're seeking, Mackey-Ross says. This can be done more easily if you have contacts within the company, but contacts through LinkedIn also may be able to steer you closer to the actual salary.
Learn what national trends affect salaries. A recent survey from Mercer consultants of more than 1,500 organizations that it says represents more than a tenth of the civilian workforce shows that employers are offering pay raises of about 2.8% this year, and about 2.9% next year. So also factor that into what you need in terms of salary.
At the same time, keep in mind that a job may come with benefits such as health insurance, flexible hours and a 401(k) match. When determining what pay you need, also factor in the value of benefits so you're considering the total compensation package.
Mackey-Ross also advises that when in final negotiations for a job:
• Look for flexibility. If working from home one day a week is important to you, then you may be able to negotiate that in exchange for less money.
Make a list of "absolutely must have" items, followed by "would be nice to have" items and finally those items that would simply be "gravy," she says. This will help you stay focused during negotiations on what you can be flexible on and the must- have items.
• Stay curious. When an employer makes an offer, you can ask, "Can you talk me through how you arrived at that number?"
Then you can say something like: "Well, I was really hopeful we could get close to $50,000. I love this company and really want to try to work on this."
• Look for solutions. "Would you consider a small sign-on bonus?" is a way to try and get more money on the table besides just asking for more annual pay. Or try, "Would you consider a re-evaluation in six months to review the pay?"
• Stop talking. One of the keys to effective negotiations is to quit babbling and let the other person try to work things out.
"I really want to work for you. Help me to make this work," you can say. Then shut up.
• Be ready to back off. If body language or other clues hint that the other person is becoming upset or angry by your negotiations, back off.
Saying, "I'm going to negotiate this hard for you when I have the job" is not effective, she says. "If you want the job, back down and apologize. Just say you're trying to take into account your financial needs and didn't mean to upset the other person."
Anita Bruzzese is author of 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy ... and How to Avoid Them, www.45things.com. Twitter: @AnitaBruzzese.