When it comes to job offer negotiations, people's views vary. Some think you should negotiate no matter what. But in an improved yet still uncertain job market, others are terrified of negotiating at all.
Every job offer is a unique event, but the best approach is often well between the two extremes.
G. Richard Shell, Wharton School professor and author of "Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success" (Portfolio, 2014), recommends that people step back and ask themselves two questions before negotiating a job offer: "Do I want the job?" and "What are my goals?"
"People think it's all about salary," Shell says. "They forget that their No. 1 goal is to live in San Francisco or work in the tech sector or have a job that will allow them to work from home. If you lay out your goals, you can see what you ought to be negotiating."
One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to negotiate before they have a job offer. "There's no more fatal way to present yourself than to assume you're going to get the job," Shell says.
The dynamic changes once the offer is extended, according to Lee E. Miller, author of "Get More Money on Your Next JobÉ In Any Economy." (McGraw-Hill, 2009)
"When you want somebody, you want somebody," says Miller, a former human resources executive. "It doesn't matter that there were several other people in the running before. Once you've made that choice, you've got psychological incentive to make it happen."
Miller also stresses that most recruiters, HR executives and hiring managers don't give you their best offer up front because they expect you to negotiate. For high-level roles, a failure to negotiate may even be viewed as a red flag.
"If you don't show that you can take care of your own interests, they wonder whether they've actually made the right hire," Miller says.
But the appropriateness of negotiation depends greatly on the level of the role and whether you bring special skills to it.
"If you're a Ph.D. in physics being hired to be a waiter, you're probably not going to negotiate anything," Shell says. "If you're a Ph.D. in physics and you're being hired on Wall Street, then you probably should negotiate because not many people are bringing that kind of firepower to the financial services industry."
When negotiating salary, go in knowing industry standards for your position and experience, and how the company normally arranges its salary and benefits.
"You don't want to ask for things that they never or very rarely give," Miller says. "Only negotiate things that are possible at that company and preferably that aren't too difficult to get."
Stock options or stock may be easier for a startup to give, while education benefits or bonus opportunities might be more plausible at a more established company. These negotiations should always be done face to face, and with your future boss instead of human resources when possible.
When negotiating, "treat it as a problem to be solved, not as a war to be won," Shell says.
Once the problem is on the table, be flexible. If the problem is money and a higher salary is not possible, then a higher relocation allowance, a quicker salary review or a larger equipment allowance payment might be. "Spread it out a little so there are more moving parts," Shell says.
If you're unemployed, you can still negotiate once you have an offer.
"And if you don't think so, just don't make it a demand," Miller says. "Phrase it as, 'Could you do this?' or 'I was thinking about this. Would that be possible?'"
Just be sure you're negotiating for something that actually matters.
"Sometimes people come to me and say, 'Well, I've got this great offer, it's better than average, it's where I want to be, it's doing what I love to do, how can I negotiate it?"
In that case, don't negotiate. "Say yes," Shell says.