Don’t ruin your perfect “first date” with a potential employer by talking compensation too quickly.
By Andrea Sobel
Job interviews, like dating, have a lot to do with timing. In my many years as a recruiter, I’ve heard the following story countless times from my associates: They had sent the “perfect person” (excellent skill set, right presentation) to an employer for an interview. The candidate could feel it was going well. The job was nearly his. Then the candidate got a bit too confident and “blew the deal” by popping the big question: “What will you be paying me?” or “What kind of raises can I expect in this job?”
While these questions are important and clearly must be broached before a job is accepted, the timing was off. And timing is everything.
Needless to say, one inappropriate question about salary can ruin your chances. Sadly, it is usually impossible to turn that around. The salary discussion has a time and place. Just like in the case of that good-night kiss, it’s generally at the end of the date. In job-search terms, this discussion is best saved for the end of the interview process.
You would never meet someone for the first time and immediately lean in for a kiss.
In the same way, the salary discussion is much more appropriate once the company has “fallen in love” with you.
In other words, a conversation about salary is not suitable until there is a sense of commitment on the employer side. In fact, once the employer has decided you are “the one,” the salary discussion works to your benefit. This generally doesn’t happen at the first meeting. Maybe not the second. There is inevitably an end to the interview process. That is the moment.
Deflect in the early stages
During the first interview, the employer is getting to know you. She is deciding if you have the skills; will fit into the culture; and (usually) whether you will make her look good. The first meeting is all about you selling your skills in relation to the job listings. No matter how well you are getting along, don't lean in for the kiss; this is still not the time to discuss money, regardless of how well you're getting along.
Believe me, even in this first meeting, the money question will come up.
When it does — deflect.
Of course the offer is important to you, but your answer should initially let the employer know that you are seeking a position that includes X, Y and Z. You trust they will make a fair offer. If pressed, you might have to tell the hiring authority what your current compensation is (it’s probably on the application anyway), but do some fancy verbal footwork to indicate that you are looking for the right position with the right kind of company. Do not actually answer the salary question right now. Again, just let them know that your priority is finding the right job. There will be plenty of time to discuss dollars down the road.
Even if the manager tries to get you to commit to a number, you are playing a guessing game at this point. Whatever you say can be wrong — either too high or (perhaps even worse) too low.
One of the benefits of working with a recruiter is that he does all the dirty work in this area. Most likely, he would not have sent you in for a job where it didn’t look like the salary could be worked out. I normally advise my candidates to refer the employer to me (the recruiter) to move this discussion forward. I can be the “bad guy,” even asking for more money than the employer had intended to pay because, for example, they will need to match another offer. This way, the candidate gets to keep her hands clean and can spend all the time selling why they are right for the job. I can make sure all sides are happy in the end.
Now that you’ve gotten the timing down, how to negotiate is always tricky. It is the company’s place to put an offer on the table. So, when you are asked what you are looking for, I recommend throwing the question back: “What do you have in mind?”
Present your case
Hopefully this will give you a good starting point. If the number sounds good, then go from there. If the number is low, then it’s time to present your case. This is when you bring in other offers, what your current situation is (pending raise, possible promotion, great vacation plan). Since you’ve waited till the company has mentally committed to wanting you, there is a strong possibility they will take your information under consideration and up the offer.
You might have to meet them halfway, but you will be considering the whole package, the potential and the company. If it still doesn’t feel right, there is often something else that can be added to sweeten the pot. This might be a sign-on bonus, extra vacation, a work- from-home day or a review at six months instead of a year. Remember, there’s a fine line between being too demanding and feeling like you are walking into a good situation.
All in all, the interview process has two distinct parts: the one where you display your talents and the final part where you talk money. You are looking for a great position , then a solid offer. Approaching the parts of the interview out of turn could be the "kiss of death."
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Andrea Sobel (www.sobelrecruiting.com) is a 20+ year recruiting veteran and owner of an executive recruiting firm in Los Angeles. Additionally, at the request of her client in 2003, she took a four year “hiatus” as Director of Recruitment for two major entertainment firms. Thus, she has the unique perspective of seeing the hiring process from a number of vantage points. Please contact Andrea for career counseling, resume writing, or job search.