September 25, 2012
Negotiation nuances: talking money before the interview
Cold sweats. Anxiety attacks. Incoherence.
What do these three things have in common? They're all behaviors you might witness the moment you corner a job candidate and ask: "How much money are you looking for in your next assignment?"
In the old days, this question didn't come up much -- at least not in the opening rounds of interviewing. It was generally considered impolite to ask candidates about their compensation needs or salary history before mutual interest had been established and the final-offer stage had been reached.
Fast-forward to the new millennium, however, and there's no escaping it. You'll find that a preponderance of recruiters and employers decide to hit you up for your salary parameters before your gluteus maximus even gets settled in the interview chair!
And yet most job seekers detest the idea of having to get specific about money right off the bat. They fear they'll either shoot themselves in the foot by giving a number that's too high, or throw out a figure that's too low, potentially leaving money on the table.
Unfortunately, in most cases, there's no getting around this hurdle. Employers today have the upper hand in most interviewing scenarios, so they get to call the shots. And if they feel that getting salary data right off the bat will save them hours of time -- and avoid situations in which a person is seeking far more money than the job would conceivably pay -- they're not going to be shy about trying to do that up front.
As a result, I'd advise any serious job hunter to be locked and loaded for this line of questioning. Have a well-rehearsed strategy in place to field the issue in a diplomatic way. What would this sound like, exactly? Try this exchange on for size:
Interviewer: "Gertrude, thanks for coming in today. Before we get too far along, would you mind telling me what your salary expectations would be for this kind of role? How much money are you looking to make?"
Candidate: "You know, Ebenezer, that's a perfectly fair question. While ultimately money is only one part of the equation in terms of what I'm looking for in my next opportunity, I can certainly give you my initial thoughts around it. If I understand the responsibilities of this position correctly, and the caliber of person you're seeking in this role, I'd expect it to pay anywhere in the range of [insert big range], depending on the scope of your benefits package and a few other factors we'd likely discuss down the road. This seems to be the range I'm seeing out there for these types of assignments with other firms around town. Is this fairly close to what you folks had in mind?"
Feel free to put your own spin on this, using whatever language is most comfortable to you. You get the idea: Instead of trying to dodge the question or turn it around, get the interviewer to name his or her number first. This type of response gives the employer an honest assessment of your needs while still leaving you plenty of wiggle room.
What's more, I think it radiates tremendous confidence. You're not only demonstrating that you've done your homework and have a good idea of what your skills are worth, but also that you're not intimidated -- or afraid to give a straight answer to a straight question.
Once you practice this answer a few times, I guarantee you'll feel far more comfortable when the salary question surfaces in your next interview.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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