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Start a Salary Negotiation With a Ridiculous Request

This article was written by in Career and Work. 12 comments.


There’s some evidence that the first number mentioned in salary negotiations serves as an anchor. As an employee, you can influence the employer’s final salary by asking for a high number up front. That high number, you may know, is out of the employer’s range, but by asking for a somewhat reasonable high number, you’re making an impression that continues to influence the following discussion. If you allow the employer to make the first offer, and it’s low, they may have successfully anchored the number in your mind. As a result, you may accept a salary lower than you would have otherwise.

In a controlled study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers have reason to believe that offering a ridiculously high salary proposal — even as a joke — is just as effective as an anchor. Although both parties may laugh off a $100,000 starting salary for an administrative assistant, for example, the same anchoring effect is at play during the subsequent negotiation. In the study’s simulations, candidates who started off the negotiation with a ridiculous request received 9% higher offers on average.

Here were the parameters of the study.

  • Participants were asked to role play in a simulation. The employer had offered the job of an administrative assistant to the applicant.
  • The applicant had a previous salary of $29,000.
  • When asked for salary requirements, the control group asked for a reasonable salary while the test group kiddingly asked for $100,000.

There’s another interpretation that it doesn’t appear the researchers have considered: starting what is usually a tense and stressful conversation with levity could put all parties at ease, and that might encourage everyone to work together to find an agreeable compromise. Also missing is a true real-world experiment. Simulations are valuable from a theoretical perspective, but until this technique is tested in a real-world environment, it will be hard to say whether a joke salary request will have a real positive effect on negotiations from the candidate’s point of view.

Would you be willing to start your salary negotiation with a joke?

Journal of Applied Psychology, TIME

Published or updated September 13, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Steve Dupree

I have heard that in a negotiation, whichever side mentions a number first is at a disadvantage. But I’ve also heard of Anchoring. The two ideas seem incompatible.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

I’ve heard that as well, but it seems like the idea of putting an artificially high number out there might be a way to get past that disadvantage. The disadvantage stems from the idea that starting out (as a candidate) with a number ensures that you can never negotiate upwards from there… and the company could have been ready to offer you more before you said anything.

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avatar krantcents

I would never start a negotiation with a joke unless I wanted to lclose it down. I would research the going salaries and come up with a realistic starting point.

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avatar Bret @ Hope to Prosper

I was going to say this Krant, but you beat me to it.

I think the term “somewhat reasonable high number” is important. If you request an increase that is way out of line with company norms or your skill set, you risk alienating your company and dead-ending your career there. Of course, if you could honestly get that salary increase from a competitive employer, it falls under the catagory of reasonable.

Twice I asked for reasonable salary increases and received them. Three times, I was hired away by a new employer for a considerable increase. In all five instances, I was underpaid for my skillset and the increases were fair. Constantly improving your skillset helps a lot with salary inreases.

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avatar Briana @ Prairie EcoThrifter

I think it would be an ice breaker, but it would honestly depend on your relationship with your supervisor. If you don’t talk on a regular basis, starting this off could possibly mess up your chances.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

The best salary I ever got, I got by researching the median salary for that type of job, in that particular city, and then I added $5,000. When I asked for median salary plus $5,000, I ended up with the median salary, which is all I wanted.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

there’s no way I would ever start any job interview or salary negotiation with a joke. I would be too focused on presenting myself well and getting the job.

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avatar Buck Inspire

Interesting post. The main objective is to see if the job is a good fit for both. Salaries come later. I might actually go for a high number as a joke to lighten the mood. Shows personality and a quiet confidence, in a tense situation. If you start too low or let the interviewer lowball you, it seems you have to work extra hard to get the number back up to median. If you start high, both parties can whittle it down together.

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avatar Mike Lowell

It really depends on your personality…I would do this in a heartbeat, but I could also pull it off in a light manner. If you can’t and it’s going to come off as rude or unprofessional, you’re only hurting yourself. Breaking the ice is always a good thing, and getting people to laugh around you is even better. The key is to make sure you don’t throw out a number like $250k, then immediately fold like a cheap suit by saying “no, seriously folks…how about $35k?”. Now you just look like a weak idiot.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

No, I would not start my salary negotition with a joke. I could not pull it off and I feel that this ploy is just playing games. I would research and start with a number at the higher end of the range. I would have facts and figures to back up my request. But maybe some people can pull this ploy off to their advantage but I just do not see it.

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

My last negotiation i ended up getting a higher amount than what i asked for. I had notes and details of why i was asking for that amount. Looking at my data the manager was impressed that he took a higher number to HR. Bring your homework with you on your number and start with the homework. Salesmen don’t start with a cost. They sell you on the benefits then the price does not seem so high. Do that in your salary negotiations. You can always try to add value to your check by showing how you will add value to to the company.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I may use this to my advantage if I felt the recipient was open to such noncense. I would certainly go in with research complete and confidence.

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