Hey! How much money do you make?
What’s your take home pay?
You got a raise? What’d they give you?
You’re expecting a bonus this year? Like how much?

Most likely, these are questions you’ve never been asked, because in our culture, we view them invasive and impolite. Money, and specifically, our salaries. It’s never a comfortable topic, but there’s one crucial moment when it’s essential to speak up, and that’s when you’re negotiating your salary in a new position at a new company. You must be able to unflinchingly state your salary requirements, without appearing apologetic or unsure of yourself.

So how do you prepare yourself for a money discussion? Here are eight tips for salary negotiation success.

1. Begin by looking within.

Breathe, calm your mind, and then remember that this is not necessarily an adversarial situation! In fact, nothing prevents a salary negotiation from being a positive and successful interaction—for both parties. Think of it this way: the hiring manager, assuming she represents an ethical company, wants to hire you at a fair and reasonable starting salary. And you, the prospective employee, want to be compensated at a rate that’s commensurate with your skill, education, and experience levels. In theory (and most likely in reality), you’re both on the same side, so start with a cooperative attitude. There’s nothing wrong with showing a little enthusiasm, even! Behave and speak as if you believe your salary negotiation is going to be a pleasant, successful endeavor—and it just might turn out that way.

2. Do your homework.

Research, as much as possible, what you believe you’re worth. Make sure you take into consideration your educational level, your experience, the specific job market you’re in (there’s a big difference between salaries in Los Angeles, California and Bloomington, Illinois, and understandably so), the scope of the job you’re applying for, and everything else you can quantify.

There are actually two reasons for doing your homework and knowing your stuff before you open your mouth: First, you’ll feel (and look and sound) much more assertive, self-assured, and powerful if you know, in your heart and mind, that you’re not asking for anything outrageous or unreasonable—you’re asking for what’s fair. Second, when you’re able to politely and assertively site some facts and numbers about contemporary salary ranges, you send the message that you’re not someone who can be bamboozled into accepting a salary that’s below the mean standard of salaries in your geographical area, or within the discipline in which you’re applying.

3. There’s more to this than just the dollar amount.

Remember that you can negotiate for more than just your base salary. Let’s say that a hiring manager tells you he can’t offer you more than such-and-such an amount, because of the company’s strict salary caps for various classifications of employment. Then think creatively! What else could you ask for? More time off? A free parking pass? The promise of earlier consideration for promotion? Often companies will be willing to grant you more leeway on the perquisites side of the equation than in the straight-up salary area. Consider asking for more personal days, a shortened probationary period (assuming there’s a raise at the end), more personal days and/or holidays, flex time, working from home on Fridays, performance bonuses, or stock options. It never hurts to inquire, and even if the hiring manager can’t give you exactly what you’re asking for, it might prompt him to offer you something neither one of you had yet considered. Present it like a back-and-forth brainstorming session, where the two of you are going to figure out a way to make his offer work.

4. Don’t be afraid of countering.

This one’s tough for most people. You don’t want to appear ungrateful, and you certainly don’t want to lose the offer that’s currently on the table. But the fact is that nowadays, most companies assume you’re going to make a counteroffer. (This definitely didn’t used to be true, but it is now.) So once again, make sure you’ve done extensive homework that backs up what you’re asking for, and then, using your most assertive and positive voice, thank the hiring manager (sincerely!) for her offer, and politely counter with what you want—making sure you reference your research.

Bonus tip: you’re not required to accept, reject, or counter a job offer on the spot. It’s perfectly OK to thank the hiring manager, and then let her know you’d like some time (not more than 24 hours) to consider the offer and get back to her. Just make sure you respond in timely fashion, or you might lose the offer.

5. Play it like a card game.

If at all possible, don’t show your hand first—avoid throwing out the opening number. You’re in a much better position to negotiate if the hiring manager tells you about the salary opportunities related to the job you’re applying for—and by the way, if salary hasn’t been discussed, it’s completely acceptable to ask! (Imagine looking at a car you want to buy, and not being told if it’s even in your price range.) It’s always reasonable to ask for information that aids you in your decision-making process, no matter what the situation—car buying or job hunting.

However, if you’re pressed to share your salary requirements first, you’ll have no choice but to go for it. Just make sure you reference your research, and then throw out a range, rather than a specific number. That way, both you and the hiring manager have some wiggle room as you negotiate your way to an agreement.

6. Your base pay is not your take-home pay!

You have to remember that you will have taxes, insurance, public transit charges, gasoline bills, parking lot fees, toll road tariffs, and all sorts of other potential requirements that will eat away at that salary number, and you can definitely use this information as a negotiation point. There’s nothing wrong with explaining to the hiring manager that, after taxes, insurance, etc., your take-home pay “won’t actually cover the median cost-of-living requirements of my local area” (or whatever other persuasive fact your research reveals).  There are some excellent cost-of-living calculators out there on the Internet (and they’re free!), and it’s a good idea to check out what your take-home pay looks like before you accept the position. It’s possible that by explaining “deduction realities” to your hiring manager, you just might nudge the base up by a few dollars—and every little bit counts toward a victorious negotiation!

7. Both parties need to feel as if they’ve “won.”

This is possibly my most important point: salary negotiations really must be a win-win, or things will go terribly wrong, fairly quickly. If you, the employee, feel as if you accepted a salary (or employment package) that was beneath your requirements, you won’t be happy—and it’ll show through your attitude and work output. And if the company feels as if they had to “dig too deep” in order to hire you, they won’t be happy either—and again, it’ll show, through their treatment of you once you’re on board. It’s imperative that both parties feel as if your employment agreement is fair, equitable, and beneficial—to everyone involved. And by the way, that’s exactly what any employment agreement should be

8. Practice, practice, practice!

We’ve come full circle here. I began by mentioning how difficult and unnatural feeling it can be to discuss your salary—even in a perfectly appropriate setting, such as a salary negotiation. So how do you overcome your reluctance and awkwardness? By good old-fashioned practice! Same as driving a car, snowboarding, or public speaking—talking about money feels daunting at first, but you’ll become more self-assured through practice. So grab your best friend, your roommate, or your mom, and practice stating your salary requirements without flinching, wincing, or looking as if you’re about to crawl under your chair. After all, you’re about to agree on the price of your most treasured asset, your most valuable commodity, and hopefully your favorite thing in the entire world: YOU! You are an accomplished, competent professional, and you deserve a salary that reflects your awesomeness.