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It Doesn't Hurt to Ask . . .

Could requesting an absurd salary actually get you a higher offer?

Written by Nolan Boyle

Applying for jobs is often regarded as a serious endeavor, but even this serious matter can benefit from a lighthearted joke. There is support for increasing your salary offer by joking about an absurd salary.

Todd Thorsteinson, a psychology professor at the University of Idaho has conducted salary experiments and published the results in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

In these experiments job salary negotiations were simulated. In multiple experiments, job candidates for an administrative assistant position requested salaries of a reasonable $29,000, an absurd $100,000 or an even more absurd $1 million. The absurd salary requests were accompanied by a joking explanation. Even though the heightened salary was known to be a joke, those who requested the absurd salary were offered salaries averaging 9% higher than those who requested a reasonable amount. “The key,” says Thorsteinson, “is to make the joking comment prior to the employer’s initial offer, so that the joking comment can serve as an anchor for the employer’s counteroffer.”

Anchoring involves making a decision based on your first impression and resisting changing from that impression as new information is available. Anchoring is important in determining many retail prices including job salaries. The anchor paints a picture of perceived value. Literature on value estimation supports the idea of absurd anchors influencing prices even when they are presented with more realistic anchors. The requested salary is known to be a joke, but it still creates an elevated reference point that led to higher salaries in the end.

It’s difficult to tell if these results would be consistent in the real world. Participants playing employers in the study were not put off by the absurd salary requests so it may be safe to elevate the anchoring with a joke as long as you pick the right timing and delivery.