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Bruzzese: Know just how much you're worth when negotiating

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Once you reach the final interview stage for a job, you may be feeling pretty confident.

But that's precisely when many job offers fall through, says Christine Mackey-Ross, senior vice president at Witt/Kieffer executive search firm.

Even chief executives can blow negotiations in the final stage of the interviewing process. She cites a job candidate who nixed his chances by asking for $150,000 more a year than the No. 2 candidate.

Although most people won't be looking for that kind of paycheck, there's a key lesson: Don't ask for so much that the No. 2 becomes the No. 1 prospect.

“Most employers have a backup candidate,” and you can take yourself out of the running quickly with unrealistic demands, she says.

Before you talk about salary or benefits with an employer, Mackey-Ross advises you to do your homework and know what a similar position offers in your geographic area. Salaries may be higher in New York City than in Omaha, and sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor.com can give you a grasp of what is typical for the job and industry.

Salary.com, which offers pay ranges for more than 4,000 job titles, says you should take into account your experience or skills that fit the job, which can help you negotiate for more. If you're willing to relocate or work an undesirable shift, you may be able to get an employer to offer more money.

Become informed about an employer's compensation practices by trying to find out the salary of the last person who held the job you're seeking, Mackey-Ross says. This can be done if you have contacts within the company or through LinkedIn.

Learn what trends affect salaries. A survey from Mercer consultants of more than 1,500 organizations that it says represents more than a tenth of the civilian workforce shows that employers are offering raises of about 2.8 percent this year and 2.9 percent next year. So factor that into what you need in terms of salary.

At the same time, keep in mind that a job may come with benefits such as health insurance, flexible hours and a 401(k) match.

Write Anita Bruzzese in care of USA TODAY/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22108.

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