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How to Negotiate a Higher Salary, According to a Professional Poker Player

Think more like a high-roller and you may just win the jackpot.

by Dana McMahan /
By revealing all your cards to a potential employer, you’re leaving money on the table.Duncan Nicholls and Simon Webb / Getty Images

Most people getting a job offer might ask for a few more thousand dollars, if that. Software engineer Haseeb Qureshi took it to a whole new level, ending up with more than double what another prospective employer offered for a similar role. Following a stint at a software development boot camp, the former professional poker player negotiated his way from a $120,000 offer from Yelp to a quarter million dollars (counting signing bonus and stock) at Airbnb. And he didn't do it just by following the old adage of “don't give a salary number first.”

The former English major and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin may have just not known any better, he told NBC New BETTER. “A lot of people I know, peers ... had better backgrounds. I was never really socialized in a way that people who go to nice schools are and taught the way you're supposed to behave in a job market, being subservient to people giving out jobs. I didn't approach it with this mindset of 'I'll be so lucky if a I get a job.'” Qureshi is also “something of an entrepreneur,” he says (he recently left Airbnb to launch his own venture), and his high-rolling background also lent him a different perspective than most job-seekers.

Don't Leave Money on the Table

“I don't know why, but a lot of people have this mindset of having zero power,” when it comes to a job search, Qureshi says. “They give it away before they walk into the ring.”

That's a costly mistake, he believes. “People are definitely leaving money on the table. Most candidates do not negotiate at all. Then you have the people who read an article that says they should negotiate. They'll get an offer and ask for a nominal amount more and they'll feel like a badass and be satisfied. Then there are the people who negotiate well and this is a very small minority of candidates.”

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A lot of people have this mindset of having zero power ... They give it away before they walk into the ring.

A lot of people have this mindset of having zero power ... They give it away before they walk into the ring.

Here's where the majority of us are going wrong. “Most people imagine jobs are a limited resource in the world and their goal is to acquire one. They see companies as gatekeepers and if you're nice enough and prostrate yourself and wear a nice suit maybe they'll be kind enough to give you a job,” Qureshi says. “That is a totally backwards concept. It is a marketplace. It's simply a way to exchange labor for money. Like any deal it ought to be negotiated.”

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The trouble, he says, is negotiating has become this “strange cultural taboo.” In reality, though, “to be good at negotiating, you have to be honest and it turns out people respect that.”

How to Negotiate a Higher Salary

So how do you get good at negotiating when you don't have this perfect storm of factors that make Qureshi such an ace? It's tough, especially when the majority of information on the topic is “garbage advice,” he says, that's “completely meaningless like 'wear the right suit and be confident.' The only advice I'd ever heard was 'don't give the first number.' You can't navigate a conversation with that one piece of advice!”

"It is a marketplace. It's simply a way to exchange labor for money. Like any deal it ought to be negotiated."

"It is a marketplace. It's simply a way to exchange labor for money. Like any deal it ought to be negotiated."

Based on his wildly successful experience, Qureshi turned conventional wisdom upside down in a massive (almost 12,000 word!) two-part blog post with his 10 rules for negotiating. Written like a letter of advice from a way cooler and smarter older brother, it's well worth reading and rereading. Don't have the better part of an hour to devote? No worries. For NBC News BETTER, he picked his top three tips.

1. Don't be afraid to stay in the game

“You have to be in control,” he says. “You have to decide very thoughtfully when [the process] begins and ends. Companies almost always try to end it prematurely. The number one mistake is [candidates] feel compelled to make a decision on the spot.” And when they do, he says, it's “almost always in the interest of the company.”

(They do say the house always wins.)

2. Know when to hold 'em

“Companies often capitalize on information dis-symmetry,” Qureshi says. “They want to know how much you make and want to make. But if you ask the company 'how much did you pay somebody in my position?' they think it's not okay. This is purely a socialized thing. It's the way the job market evolved.” Even though some jobs — like government positions — post the salary, “in private markets it's considered totally unreasonable,” for candidates to ask.

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So likewise, “It's very advantageous [for people] to protect some information about themselves,” he says. That doesn't mean be adversarial. Just “be mindful that the company is protecting information and you are not forced to give up information. Period.”

3. Study your opponent (and what they need)

“This one is the most fundamental,” he says. “If you understand what they're trying to hire you [to do] that's extraordinarily valuable.” A savvy candidate, he says, is empathetic to what the person on the other side of the table needs.

“If you come in and show them, 'I understand what you're looking for and here's me showing you I'm going to double down to provide that,' that's so rare in a candidate. If you can effectively signal that they're going to pay more.”

“Most people get that wrong,” he says, “and it would instantly improve most people's negotiating.”

This advice comes with a a caveat, of course. “I am obviously an outlier,” Qureshi says. “I wouldn't expect that most people can double their offer.” Silicon Valley is its own animal, and negotiating is always undergirded by culture, he adds. “Depending on where you are and your socioeconomic status and intersection it might not be a good idea to negotiate.”

But when it's appropriate, think more like a high-rolling poker player and less like a subservient asking for a handout and maybe you, too, could come away with a jackpot.

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