How A Stupid Joke Can Earn You More Money During Salary Negotiations

How A Stupid Joke Can Earn You More Money During Salary Negotiations

You’d think a salary negotiation is the last place you’d want to crack wise, but there is one type of joke that can actually influence your salary offer for the better. It all comes down to the “anchoring” effect.

Photo by Jason Ralston.

Anchoring is a psychological phenomenon that happens when someone names a number first in a negotiation. In the case of salary negotiations, a job candidate suggesting a number will influence the employer’s ultimate offer. If you start too low, they might offer you something less than they would have. But if you start high, it can actually net you more money — even if you’re making a lame joke.

Todd J. Thorsteinson, a psychological scientist at the University of Idaho, used multiple experiments to show just how effective anchoring can be. In the experiments, Thorsteinson found that opening with an offer of a ridiculously high number would net job candidates more money on average:

Incorporating a joking comment about implausible salary expectations may be a relatively easy way for job candidates to establish a high anchor and minimise negative reactions from employers.

Participants who joked that they wanted $US100,000 ($135,292), or that they made six figures at their last job, were offered an average of $US35,385 ($47,873) — which is almost $US3000 ($4,059) more than the control group and way more than the low-ball group. That’s one joke that will keep you laughing all the way to the bank. Obviously, there’s no guarantee this will work for you. But a joke like that does show confidence, a sense of humour, and that you at have goals you’re striving for. Most employers can appreciate those qualities.

How Cracking the Right Joke Benefits Salary Negotiations [Association for Psychological Science via Science of Us]


  • Does it have to be a “high, but not TOO high” offer? I mean, if they ask what I want to make and I do the Dr Evil gesture and say “one BILLION dollars…” is that going to work? Or is that too much and it needs to be in the “that’s way too high, but it’s still actual money” range?

  • I was on the receiving end of this one once. I asked a candidate what salary he was looking for and he said he wanted a million dollars.

    This was literally the answer that cost him the job, because the other finalist’s nominated salary was in line with our expectation to pay.

  • I dunno…..I’m a bit skeptical that a joke amount could be counted as an anchor. If I was on the other side, I might give a polite ‘haha’ and then completely ignore that figure.

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