You’re ready for your dream job. You’re already picturing your business cards. Then comes the big salary question. Are you ready to negotiate? As an executive recruiter, I’m regularly negotiating salary on a candidate’s behalf. It’s not always easy, but it’s an important and necessary part of the job search process. There are a few rules I live by, and having honed my negotiation skills with practice, I enjoy sharing my know-how with candidates. Here are my top three tips for negotiating salary:

First, always wait to negotiate salary until you have the greatest leverage. In short, don’t negotiate until an offer is forthcoming. It sounds intuitive, but many people settle for a lower number by kickstarting the conversation before the decision-maker is ready to hire.

Also, always know how to answer questions about numbers if they come up before you’re ready to negotiate. If you’re asked about salary expectations at the beginning of an interview try saying: “I’m open to a rate that would be in line with the market for the job you want done.” Then say you would rather discuss salary once you have a better understanding of the role.

Third, if you’re looking for a large increase from your current rate, you must be able to justify why you’re worth it. If you started working at your current company for a less than market pay rate so you could gain additional skills or experience, your new skills now make you worth more. Know what the skills that you’ve gained are worth in the market and be prepared to justify your expectations.

If you don’t get the amount you were looking for, ask for a trade off in other benefits. This could range from a flexible work arrangement to more vacation days available to you sooner. I also recommend candidates getting – in writing – an agreement to have a formal performance review within 3-6 months with a pay increase commensurate with your contributions.

These are my top negotiating salary tips. I look forward to hearing yours!