Negotiating salary. An undertaking that freaks out many a job seeker and one that’s ripe with potential pitfalls.

Should you always negotiate on salary? Or is it never? Or if it’s dependent on the situation, in which ones should you maybe raise your hand and say, “More, please?” (And in which instances will you either look like a jerk or, worse, risk losing the offer altogether?)

There there. It’s not always as complicated as it appears. Let’s simplify things with a few down and dirty tips on when (and how) to negotiate — and when not to.

Consider negotiating when


1. You have the (written) offer in hand

Having been a recruiter for 10+ years, I’ve seen more than a few missteps among job seekers who start playing hardball over moolah before it’s even been established that an offer is forthcoming.

Basic rule of negotiation: You have way more power when you know they want you. So if you do have an offer in your hot hands, and it’s not quite what you were anticipating, now would be a decent time to put together a thoughtful counteroffer.

If you’re still waiting for that official letter? Hold your horses.

2. You can clearly spell out the value you’re bringing in

Here’s a very important thing to remember: Your future employers do not care how much your rent, your car payment, or your kid’s braces are costing you. They care about what you’re going to walk in their doors and deliver.

So if you’ve got that offer in front of you and are ready to negotiate, you absolutely must pull together a pitch that demonstrates that you’re worth the extra cash. What value will you bring into the organization that will make the extra investment make perfect sense? Make these your negotiation points.

3. You know you might resent the job quickly

If, when looking at the number they just presented to you, you feel annoyed, anxious, or downright mad, stop and think about how you’re going to feel in a month, six months, or three years if you say yes to a salary that’s actually not at all OK for you.

Your next employer deserves having a new hire who is excited about the opportunity and ready to light things up. Not to mention, you deserve a job that you enjoy and for which you feel fairly compensated.

4. You’re going to decline unless the salary is higher

I’ve lost a candidate or two after they were offered the job at a salary lower than they were hoping for. I lost them because, rather than carefully negotiating on a disappointing initial offer (see #2 above if you want to know what I mean by “carefully”), they just got indignant and walked away. I think this is somewhat idiotic if you really like the company and role.

Rather than flat out decline, absolutely consider proposing a more favorable package first. The worst case is the same either way, so, for goodness sakes, at least take a run at it.

Think twice about negotiating when

1. You already accepted at the lower number

Say you got all excited about the offer and blurted out “Yes! Yes! Yes!” And then you went home and your wife kindly pointed out how she needs a new car, you remembered that student loan debt, or you got invited to a big wedding in Cabo. And these things require cash.

Should you attempt to squeeze a few more dollars out of your new employer? No, you should not. They’re going to be annoyed and wonder if you’re going to be a total prima donna. It’s always best to thank a potential employer for the offer, and then say you’d like to sleep on it.

Give yourself some contemplation time before you kneejerk your way into something you’ll regret.

2. They tell you this is their best offer

When your new team really wants you — especially when they know the salary you require is at the top of their budgeted range — they may come right out of the gates with their strongest offer. Oftentimes, they will accompany said offer with something like, “We really want you to join the team, so we’re giving you our best offer.”

If you aren’t going to decline at that number, it’s quite risky to ask for more at this point. You will look like you either have a hearing problem, or you couldn’t care less about the company’s budget.

Hiring managers and recruiters typically don’t spell it out so directly if there is, in fact, wiggle room in the offer.

3. You simply have no justification

If you’ve done your homework, and you know that the salary being offered is right in line with your industry, your experience, and your geography, don’t negotiate just for the heck of it. If you’ve got no justification for your request for more, think long and hard before you push for more.

Above all, realize that every situation is different. You need to evaluate the pros and cons as you consider negotiation. Think about how much you really want or need the job. Look for cues. And, if you decide to take a run at more greenbacks, build a proposal that makes it clear to your future employer why you’re worth it.