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Surviving the Salary Negotiation Minefield

It also helps to know what your requirements really are. "Know your bottom line," Polangin said -- what you need to live comfortably or well and what compromises you'll make for the "ideal position." That salary range of your own will be helpful even if you never tell anyone else.

Some candidates may be tempted to pad their salary history so they can justify a higher starting pay. This is dicey at best because most employers will verify salaries -- and most applications have a line that says false information provided could be grounds for dismissal.

If you aim to go much higher than your current level -- or are willing to go much lower -- be clear about that, and why it is justified.

If you feel you're worth 20 percent more than what you earned at your last full-time salaried job, you're going to have to demonstrate your worth -- and that means showing proven results, Sawyers said. You also will want to be clear about how your talents will benefit the new organization and how your approach fits theirs.

For many candidates, health-care benefits, extra vacation or a "dynamic hiring manager" may be as important as a top-of-the-range salary. "It's not just a straight what-I-take-home figure," Sawyers said.

Still, in most situations, it pays to deflect any serious discussion of compensation and benefits until the end of whole process.

"You're more likely to negotiate a higher salary or extra benefits once they've decided you're the best candidate and have more invested in you," Polangin said. That's when the discussion can turn to a signing bonus or some other extras; it's also when you're more likely to reach that top-of-the-range salary.

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