Playing hard to get
Apparently employers prefer candidates that are harder to get. I find this absurd.
Back in college, I was always the first to raise my hand in class (a behavior that didn’t win me many friends, let me tell you). Now as a freelance writer, I’m no stranger to that same overeagerness when it comes to work — translated in prompt replies and more than the occasional emoji. Emails, tweets, Slack messages — you name it — being affable and amenable is kind of my thing.
And while conventional wisdom tells us we should eagerly embrace every opportunity that comes our way, playing a little hard to get has its advantages.
Study after study has shown that opportunities are seen to be more valuable as they become less available, meaning that people want more of what they can’t have, according to Robert Cialdini, a leading expert on influence and the author of “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.”
“What the scarcity principle says is that people are more attracted to those options or opportunities that are rare, unique or dwindling in availability,” Dr. Cialdini said. The reason behind this idea has to do with the psychology of “reactance”: Essentially, when we think something is limited to us, we tend to want it more.
Luckily for us, according to experts, it’s possible to harness this concept and increase our appeal in things like negotiations and career advancement. So if you find yourself becoming overzealous over every little opportunity that comes your way, here are a few ways to keep things in balance:
Be less eager
Appearing readily available can work against you, according to Jeremy Nicholson, a social psychologist who focuses on decision-making, social influence and relationship dynamics. This comes down to economics — if you’re in low supply and high demand, you’re worth more.
Think about it this way: If you’re overly excited about a work opportunity, that might communicate that you are in low demand. All the more reason to play it cool. Making something harder to get, Dr. Nicholson said, “tends to increase at least the perception of the value, if not its actual value.”
Part of making this work means keeping your enthusiasm in check.
“Overeagerness can be a sign of naïveté or sound like plain desperation,” said John Lees, a Britain-based career strategist and the author of “How to Get a Job You Love.”
When it comes to things like compensation negotiations, be clear that you are really interested in finding out more about the opportunity, Mr. Lees suggests, but give a sense that you are aware of your skills and your market value.
If you find yourself approached by hiring managers or potential clients, Dr. Nicholson recommends responding in a way that respects their interest without coming across as too eager. In other words, “You’re selective with who you work with, but you would consider working with or for them.”
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Be confident and assertive, Dr. Nicholson advises, with responses like: “Well, I do have a couple of other projects that I’m working on. However, I could prioritize this for you if you want.” By being selectively interested, you’re not being so hard to get that you insult the person who is seeking a relationship with you, he said, but rather letting them know that you have options. “Plus, you’re prioritizing them because they’re valuable to you as well.”
And if you are still nervous about appearing overzealous, give yourself time to recalibrate before answering an email or hopping on the phone.
Better yet: Get physical. Taking a moment to go on a walk has been shown to lower stress and boost your well-being. This allows your brain to quiet a little, said Liz Ryan, founder of Human Workplace and the author of “Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve.” The point here is to decrease your anxiety so you can focus on the negotiation at hand.
Don’t jump the gun
It’s easy to become excited when an unexpected opportunity presents itself, Ms. Ryan said, but remember that your power in any negotiation is related to your ability to walk away.
Once you have interest, channel that into due diligence, Mr. Lees said. “Research the organization as if you were going to invest half your life savings in it,” he said.
It’s also important to continually check in with your gut, Ms. Ryan added, and remember: Don’t accept an offer before fully considering the terms. Playing hard to get can feel scary because you may really need the money, “but no one will value you more highly than you value yourself,” she said. Sometimes it’s a matter of giving yourself the space to calm down and evaluate.
Ms. Ryan recommends asking a lot of questions, reading up on the organization from third-party perspectives, and checking out job-search websites like glassdoor.com to see what employees and ex-employees say about it. Keep in mind: The goal is to approach any negotiation cautiously and with a clear head.
Know your market value
Not only should we do our homework in the moment, Dr. Cialdini said, we should also be continually assessing our market worth, “so that if an unexpected opportunity comes up, you don’t have to rush and do a slack job on this crucial factor.”
Keep an updated spreadsheet on hand with a list of your skills and achievements so you can quickly review it when you have an offer. You also have to know how much to charge for your services beforehand. Ms. Ryan suggests using tools like salary.com, paysa.com andpayscale.com to figure out what others like you get paid in your ZIP code.
The idea is to plan ahead so you’re not scrambling in the moment. Having a firm understanding of how much your skills are worth will allow you to not rush after every opportunity that arises (and yes, this includes hasty email responses).
Adopt an abundance mind-set
Recognizing that there are unlimited possibilities can give you the security and confidence you need to create successful outcomes. “A lot of people that make decisions based on fear are people that are playing small versus thinking big,” said Caroline Castrillon, a business coach and the founder of Corporate Escape Artist. Negative thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies if you say them to yourself enough, she added.
Try reappraising negative self-talk by noticing when it leads to thoughts of failure. Do you imagine losing out on future opportunities if you don’t eagerly accept the ones that are in front of you? As a freelance writer, I’ve often fallen into the trap of taking on too many assignments for fear that saying “no” would limit my options later on.
But according to Dr. Nicholson, we need to reframe how we use scarcity and abundance in our own head before we can apply it outwardly. When you worry about all the things you’re going to lose out on if you don’t take a particular opportunity, you’re using the scarcity mind-set on yourself rather than as a persuasion strategy, he said. “You’re at a real disadvantage mentally.”
Most people tend to tell prospective employers or clients “all the wonderful things they can and are going to do for them,” Dr. Nicholson said, adding, “That’s an abundance mind-set for them,” whereas your own inner dialogue might be full of insecurity. “So it’s about flipping it around,” he said, “and coming at it from the perspective of abundance from inside of one’s self.”
Trust the process
Ultimately, appearing less available isn’t about limiting our enthusiasm or being unnecessarily hard on ourselves. It’s about trusting in our own self-worth so we can be proactive, experts say. This means mindfully aligning our excitement into strategy.
“Emphasizing the uniqueness of your resources and your collaborative approach can help you more quickly advance your goals,” said Shirli Kopelman, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and the author of “Negotiating Genuinely: Being Yourself in Business,” who views emotions as a resource in negotiation.
Part of training ourselves to think differently, Ms. Castrillon said, is regularly stepping outside our comfort zone (and holding off on sending all those overeager replies). Pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do is a good way to train yourself to see possibilities, she added.
“It’s basically a mind-set that if this doesn’t work out,” she said, “there’s something even better right around the corner.”
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B7 of the New York edition with the headline: Play Hard to Get in Your Professional Life. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe