So you're zipping through your job interview and nailing every question. The hiring manager is clearly impressed by your answers, and you're pretty sure you've got this job on lock. Then they ask you, "What are your salary requirements?"

And you freeze. You remember a salary range on the job description, and before you can stop yourself, you blurt out the number at the low end of the range. Or the hiring manager throws out a number, and you immediately say yes, even though it's lower than you expect.

Sound familiar? You're not alone. Many job seekers don't know how to negotiate starting salaries. Others avoid doing so out of fear that by trying to negotiate, a prospective employer will pull a job offer.

But by accepting a salary offer less than what you want, you could lose out on money the firm might have paid you, as well as seriously depress your lifetime earnings. Before your next interview, don't just prepare to answer questions about what you bring to the role. Take the following steps to prepare effectively to negotiate for the salary you deserve.

Do Your Research

Look up how much others in comparable positions are making, with websites like:

Use this information to determine a range of salaries you'll use in your negotiations, as well as an absolute minimum amount you'll accept for the position.

Avoid Discussing Salary in the Interview

If asked for your current salary during the interview itself, politely evade answering. When you provide this information, you may give your prospective employer a reason to disqualify you as an applicant. You're also giving them the information they need to lowball you.

Rather than giving them a direct answer, try to redirect the conversation. Say you'd be happy to discuss salary later, but right now, you'd rather focus on whether the position is a good fit. Or ask the hiring manager how much they've budgeted for the position. But if you can't avoid giving a direct answer, share both your current salary and the range of salaries you'd accept for the job.

Make Your Case

If the firm offers you a job with a low starting salary, first, thank them for the offer. Next, share with the hiring manager that based on your research, your position's average salary falls within the range you found, and ask them if there's a way they can increase their offer. You may be surprised by how often firms increase their starting salary offers for candidates they really want.

But if they refuse to change their offer (or only increase it marginally), you have to choose whether to keep negotiating or walk away. If you decide to keep negotiating, use your research to reiterate that their offer is below market standards. Politely remind them of the value you bring to the table, and respectfully, ask them to reconsider.

Salary negotiations can be challenging. But by doing your research and confidently making a compelling case, you're more likely to be successful in obtaining a higher starting salary.