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If you’re in the market for a job, you may be wondering how best to handle the most uncomfortable part of the interview… The salary discussion. Well, I recently ran across an interesting tidbit on the topic from a headhunter named Noel Smith-Wenkle.
Obviously, there are a couple of major factors at play here that you have little control over: location and line of work. These two factors will go a long way toward defining the salary range that is available for the position that you’re interviewing for. The key word in that preceding sentence is range.
In the vast majority of cases, employers don’t have a fixed amount available to fill a position, but rather they have a salary range. Their goal is (more often than not) to keep you at the lower end of the range, whereas your goal is to land at the high end of the range.
More often than not, your prospective employer will bring up the topic of salary expectations, either on the job application, or during the interview. This may seem like a relatively innocuous question, but you’re at a huge disadvantage when answering it. As a general rule, the first person to name a number in such situations will ultimately lose.
If you ask for too little and you may get paid much less than you’re worth – and there’s a good chance that your future employer will try to negotiate you down using this as a starting point. But if you ask for too much, you risk losing the opportunity entirely. So how can you defer the question without coming off like a uncooperative jerk?
For starters, do your homework. Find out how much people with similar backgrounds are earning for similar work in the location of interest. This latter point is huge, especially if you’re relocating. You may not have a good feel for the cost-of-living, so get one. If possible, ask around. If not, start poking around online. There are a number of good sites out there to get you started, such as GlassDoor.com and Salary.com
Based on your above research, you need to define a minimum acceptable salary for the position in question – but don’t tell them what it is. If you’re asked about salary requirements on the application, leave it blank (or write negotiable). When they ultimately ask you in person, respond with:
“I am much more interested in doing (type of work) here at (name of company) than I am in the size of the initial offer.”
This does two things: it allows you to dodge the question, and it also helps to distinguish you from the “thundering herd” of applicants who are primarily focused on the numbers. And, according to Noel, this simple sentence will prompt the hiring manager to come back with a fair offer.
If instead the interviewer asks a second time, respond with:
“I will consider any reasonable offer.”
This is obviously just another stalling tactic, but it’s polite and has enough wiggle room in it that it doesn’t pin you down in any way. According to Noel, only about 30% of cases will get past this point without the hiring manager coming back with an offer.
If you’re asked a third time (and yes, it’s probably starting to get uncomfortable by now) then Noel advises responding with:
“You are in a much better position to know how much I’m worth to you than I am.”
Here again, you’ve been polite, but you’ve refused to name a number. According to Noel, it rarely gets beyond this point, but if they continue to prod, he suggests that you stick with this final answer. Of course, doing so might cost you the job opportunity, but it will protect you against getting less than you’re worth.
The whole point here is to get them to say a number. This establishes a minimum in your negotiations, and you can work up from there. If, on the other hand, you speak first, you have effectively established a maximum, and the final number will likely move down from there.
And of course, once you get them to throw out a number, you don’t have to respond immediately. You might even respond with a bit of awkward silence to see if they’ll revise the number upward on their own.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic, be sure to check out The Salary Theorem. 😉