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The only time to talk about salary with a prospective employer is after you have been told, in clear, unmistakable terms, that they want to hire you.

Once you are certain they want you, then talk money. The most basic principle in your salary negotiation should be: get them to propose a number first. Unless the company is unwilling to negotiate on salary at all, you are in a better position to obtain the highest possible figure if you find out what the company is willing to pay before you disclose what you want.

This is why:

The offer may be for more than you were going to ask. You end up with a better salary just by accepting their initial offer.

If you disclose your number first and you are very low in relation to the prevailing market, they may think you lack confidence, and begin to have second thoughts about you.

If you disclose your number first and you are far too high, they may think your price is out of the question and break off the discussion.

If you talk first, the company knows the figure is the maximum they have to pay to get you. You set a ceiling on your price tag, because once you quote a number you can adjust it downward, but not upward. They will probably make an offer below your figure, knowing they can always come back up to that price if they have to.

In a salary negotiation, when the company talks first, you can be certain the figure they mention is their minimum offer, and you should be able to nudge it upward from that point. If they mention a salary range, come back with your own range at the upper level of theirs. Say the employer tells you they are going to pay somewhere in the range of $45,000 to $50,000 for this job. You reply that considering the hard work you will put into this job to do it right, you feel your salary should be in the area of $48,000 to $53,000. You set up a bargaining situation in which you should be likely to strike a deal at $50,000 to $52,000.

Your salary negotiation is not complete until you discuss the future. Even if you start at a generous salary, it may be a poor deal for you if you simply cannot get a decent raise until you are old and gray. Before you accept any offer, ask about company guidelines and timetable for advancement.

In order to be considered successful, what would you be expected to accomplish in the first six months on the job? In the first year? Without an understanding of what the employer believes constitutes successful job performance, you may have a tough time knowing how you are doing, or in justifying a salary increase when the time comes.

When will you receive your first salary review?

Assuming your performance is top-flight, what sort of increase might you resonably expect to receive?

The employer will not make any firm promises to you at this point, but you should be able to get some indication of what it takes to be successful in the company and what short-term rewards you can shoot for.

Bruce J. Bloom is a respected writer on job-hunting and career opportunities, and contributor to the hard-hitting career strategy website Fast Track For Women ( His career manual Fast Track To The Best Job was published by Blazer Books.