When Do I Bring Up Salary? Job search question of the week

Jul 22 2010 in Uncategorized by Phil Rosenberg

Recently, a friend asked for advice about when she should bring up salary during a first interview. I answered – You shouldn’t bring it up at all. So when should you bring up salary?

Never. Never ever.

My friend asked “Well how will I know if the job is right for me, if I don’t know about the salary?”

I answered … How will you know if the job is right for you if you scare the employer away? Wouldn’t it make more sense to see if they want to hire you before you worry about salary?

Bite your tongue, your cheek, bite whatever you have to bite, just avoid asking the salary question.

Even if a company were to offer you a job during a first interview, don’t ask about salary. Some hiring managers and HR reps will try to bait you with the salary expectation question – don’t take the bait. Others will try to bait you in the application process, asking on an official looking form or required answer on a web application about salary – don’t take the bait.

Just say no.

Why You Want To Avoid Bringing Up Salary At All Costs:

Simple answer … you want to avoid bringing up salary at all costs, because it will probably cost you if you bring it up.

A salary discussion is a negotiation – a nice negotiation, hidden by flowery words about how much an employer wants you on their team. Most hiring managers have a range that they can offer candidates, and they typically offer the lower end of the range at the beginning. Information is power in most negotiations – this is no different.

Consider this as reCareered’s salary rule: A candidate is never benefited from bringing up salary first.

Corollary #1 to reCareered’s salary rule: The longer a candidate delays revealing salary history/expectations, the more valuable that candidate is to the employer.

Salary negotiations are a tricky dance that is an uncomfortable dance for many. On one hand, you want to maximize your pay and feel valued. On the other hand, you don’t want to start out a new job with a boss who feels that you’re just in it for the paycheck. Even if money is your primary motivation, you’ll likely have a tough time in your new job if your boss feels like you don’t care about the company, the product/service, your boss, or the quality of your work … but only care about the benjamins.

Even in sales, where hiring managers often want staff that’s motivated by money, giving the perception that’s your only motivation bring strong odds of scaring away a potentially great employer.

While my friends question may sound comically pre-mature, you’d be surprised how many candidates want to know this information up front. And there’s a valid reason – the candidate doesn’t want to waste time with a job that won’t fit their salary needs. There are other places to gain this information, other than asking in a first interview and risking both scaring away the hiring manager and weakening your eventual salary negotiation.

Why is a candidate benefited for delaying the salary discussion (Corollary #1)?

If you want to earn more than the bottom of the salary range, you’ll want your employer to realize just how much extra value they will gain from you, compared to your completion. Demonstrating how much value you’ve provided to past employers (see Employer Value Statements at http://recareered.com/blog/2010/03/09/employer-value-statements-make-your-resume-sizzle/) gives your potential employer an idea of how much money you can make their company. Even better, demonstrating that you’ve solved, or helped solve similar problems that the company is facing, makes your accomplishments relevant – so the hiring manager actually cares because you’ve described WIFT (see Tell Your Readers WIFT – What’s In it For Them at http://recareered.com/blog/2010/03/17/job-seekers-tell-your-readers-wift-whats-in-it-for-them/).

If you discuss salary before the potential employer realizes your true return on investment, you appear to be a lower value. In addition, scarcity adds value also. Remember Beanie Babies? People paid hundreds of dollars for little stuffed animals because they had limited distribution – they were scarce. In the same way, the longer you wait before discussing salary, the more your potential employer has to wonder about what other job options you might have … perhaps with their competition. Just like with collectibles, once you’ve decided that you really want something, you’re much more flexible on price. When an employer has decided that they really want you, they will also be much more flexible on salary.

But bring up salary before the employer has made that decision, and there’s no incentive for the employer to give anything more than the bottom of their range, or maybe even the minimum they think you’ll accept.

How Do I Address Salary When … :

There are a number of situations where employers tend to bring up salary expectation/history questions, and there are some great responses for each of these situations:

  1. In the application (written): Some employers with written applications will ask for a salary history or expectations. The candidate isn’t benefited from answering this question so early in the game, as it’s used as both a disqualifier and a later ceiling for a salary negotiation that typically goes downward.Suggested answers:
      • For history, mark TBD or To Be Discussed
      • For expectations, write in Market Value
  2. In the application (online): Some online applications force an answer, by not allowing an applicant to submit the page without a numerical answer here.Suggested answer:

    $1. This answer allows the candidate to force salary into a discussion, and delay the discussion until value has been built

  3. During a phone screen: Some employers and recruiters will ask for expected or historical salary information during a phone screen. This is also used as a disqualifier, and can later come back to haunt a job seekers as the initial ceiling for a salary negotiation. During a phone screen, you haven’t built your value, and you know little about the job (what experience you’ll pick up, benefits, vacation, retirement plans, etc.) that could have a big influence on what salary you’d be happy with.Suggested answers:
      • Salary History: “I’m not comfortable disclosing personal information at this time. I’m happy to discuss salary when I know more about the position and company.”
      • Salary Expectation: “I’d like to learn more about the position before discussing salary. I’m sure you offer a competitive salary with the market.” Make sure you know what competitive market salaries are in your location.
  4. During a first interview (either HR or hiring manager): “I’m happy to discuss details when we are ready to consider a job offer.” or “Isn’t it a little premature to discuss salaries?” Make sure you know what competitive market salaries are in your location.
  5. During a second or later interview: Now you’ve presented your value proposition – the employer is either making decisions between finalists or starting a negotiation. It’s important to determine if the employer truly sees you as the #1 candidate and is starting a negotiation, or one of the finalists and is doing a price comparison. If you are unsure, ask “are we starting a salary negotiation, or are you still considering other candidates?”Suggested answers:
      • Considering other candidates: This means they aren’t ready to negotiate, and are still using salary as a disqualifier – don’t get sucked in. Replying “Do you offer competitive compensation packages? ( … wait for answer ) then continue “Great, if you decide to offer me the job, then we’ll be able to figure out a salary that makes both of us happy!”
      • You’re #1: Now the employer is ready to negotiate. By asking what your expectations are they are asking you to make the first move, which is not in your best interest. What if your expectations are 10% less than the bottom of their salary range? What if you had a below market salary in your last job, but had benefits that made the entire package above market (6 weeks vacation, no cost medical, 401K match to 20% of your salary, 20% profit sharing, 100% reimbursement for degree, free child care at work, being able to walk to work)? In a negotiation, the person who moves first is at a disadvantage – don’t fall into this trap.
  6. Instead, answer “I’m sure your compensation package will be competitive – What is the salary range for this position?” Again, make sure you have researched comparable salaries for the position, industry and geography. Cost of living can make a huge difference in some cities, potentially making a higher salary package less desirable than an offer in a location with lower expenses.

    This answer puts the question back to the employer, politely asking them to make the first move. Do your research first, and expect that a typical salary range is plus or minus 10%. The high end of the range is typically used for employees who have done well on the job for a few years at that company. If you’re making a lateral move to a smaller company, have hard to find skills, or unique industry information, aim for midpoint plus 5% – a new employee isn’t likely to get much higher.

    Avoid asking for the highest point on the salary range – hiring mangers rarely move that far as it limits the raise they can afford to give in year #2 (who wants a wildly successful employee who they can’t afford to keep happy – that employee is likely to feel under appreciated and look elsewhere).

    Attempting to go above the range? This may not be your best choice – hiring mangers typically need executive (or owner) level approval to go offer above a salary range, and typically need to have future raises specially approved if they continue above a salary range. Do you want a job where it’s easy for your boss to give you future raises … or a job where that’s difficult?

    Where To Find Competitive Salary Information:

    Just remember – it’s not in your best interest to bring up or answer salary questions early on. The employer who wants you to work for them will be willing to wait for salary answers, and you’ll probably earn some early respect. Delaying the salary discussion allows a candidate to build more value and to create the impression of candidate scarcity (humans really want what we aren’t sure we can have) so the candidate appears to be a more desirable employee – worth a higher salary.

    Readers – what tips do you have about when to bring up salary, and salary negotiations? Please share your stories in comments below.

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    Author: Phil Rosenberg

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