The art of negotiation is a lofty topic of discussion among business circles, but when it comes to negotiating your salary — it's a lot more scientific than you think. Countless people across the country share your same occupation, and all these people are getting paid, too. That means there's a treasure trove of data out there that you can harness and bring to your meeting to help you make your case for pay professionally, rather than feeling like you're just pulling numbers out of thin air.

By examining average pay rates across locations and adjusting them for your own market, you'll have data that you can rely on during the discussion to ease those jitters and help the process go along more smoothly. Here's how to get salary information ahead of time, how to effectively negotiate salary (minus all of the stress) — plus, a whole lot more!

1. use a salary calculator or salary comparison tool

One of the easiest ways to find the right pay range is to use a free online salary calculator or salary comparison tool in advance of your negotiation.

Since pay rates are always fluctuating, salary data that's hosted online can be easily updated, ensuring you’ll be proceeding with relevant information.

To get started, select your job title and category and you'll get results displaying average salaries in several major markets.

2. find the right market and years of experience

The results will usually be broken down by cities to serve as reference points. But even if your exact location isn't shown, you'll still have enough information to begin setting your range by finding the closest comparable location.

That will give you an average number, but you'll want to settle on a comfortable range before going into negotiations to provide some leeway in either direction. A good rule of thumb to creating a basic range would be to tack on between five and 10 thousand dollars on either end of the average salary spectrum depending on your experience. For instance, if the salary comparison tool listed a role in a nearby city at $50,000, then you'd want your range to be between 40 and 50 if you're at the entry level. If your experience is approaching or exceeding 10 years, then bump it up to 50 to 60.

Once you've found the numbers for your area and matched them to your years of experience, you've found the range that will be your guide during salary negotiations.

3. formulate your salary negotiation plan

Finding the right range will get you started, but you will have to do some negotiating to bring it all home. The good news is that many of the common fears that job seekers have around salary negotiations, like coming across as too pushy or demanding, will be alleviated by the prep work you did in steps one and two. There's nothing pushy about presenting fair numbers — and now you know where to go to get them.

Sometimes, an employer will open the negotiations with their number, other times they'll wait for you to make the first move, so prepare for both scenarios. In the case where they give you their number first, you'll already have an idea of whether or not it falls within the fair market range and you can respond accordingly.

If it's up to you to open, look even closer at your years of experience to settle on a solid starting point. For instance, there's a big difference between one and five years of experience, yet the range you set would be the same for both. Scale your starting point based on where you are in your career. Closer to one? Aim for the low end. Pushing five? Open with something higher.

Remember, numbers don't lie, so stick by your range, and you'll be able to navigate the negotiation process confidently.

next steps for salary negotiation

Gathering pay data and finding the right range is an important step in the salary negotiation process, but navigating the meeting itself may require some additional preparation.

If you've found your salary range and are ready to prepare for the negotiation itself, the next step is to learn about the best salary negotiation tactics — and how to finalize your big pay day. Or, if you’re ready to land your next opportunity, start searching for jobs today.