dollar-sign.jpgThe one question I get asked often is when to bring up salary requirements during the interview process.

Some hiring managers I’ve talked to over the years have told me they don’t like when money is the first thing out of a job candidate’s mouth. But sometimes a job seeker just needs to know right away so they’re not wasting everyone’s time. It’s a fair thing to want to know and that’s exactly the dilemma of one of my long-time readers HikingStick. andrew.jpg

If you missed it, check out his recent post on how he’s handling job loss.

I promised to update you all as he went through the job-search process so below is his latest installment, including his when-to-ask-about-pay problem. He expects to make less money than he did at his old job, but he needs a gig that will pay the bills, and can’t afford to lose unemployment if they pay is too low.

I’d love to hear from HR folks and hiring managers about what he should do to deal with this. Comment below, or email me at (Check out the great input on when to ask from HR experts at the end of this post.)

I had a phone interview today. It went well. The interviewer indicated that I would be contacted for a face-to-face interview later this week or (more likely) early next week.

That’s great news, but it raises a question about when to talk salary. As you may know, the Unemployment Insurance system requires job seekers to accept all offers of employment–you can’t turn down a job and still receive unemployment benefits. My wife and I have worked the numbers and we know how much I need to make in order for us to stay above water. If my face-to-face interview goes well and results in an offer with a lowball wage, I’ll be obligated to accept it (otherwise I’d lose my unemployment benefits). Can you sense my quandry? I want work, but need to find work with a sustainable wage. At what point is it appropriate to ask about the salary range for a position? I certainly don’t want to waste an interviewer’s time if the position would not work for us, financially.

At a minimum, if I make a lateral move, I’d still need to offset commuting costs (assuming my next job will be in the city, one hour away). Technically, I could take a lower paying job, but that would likely mean that my family and I would remain on public assistance programs for food and possibly medical coverage. It also would require us to file for bankruptcy.

Were I in a strong position, seeking other employment while still holding a job, I wouldn’t even discuss salary until an offer is on the table. That puts me in a better position to negotiate–once they’ve said they want me, the question becomes “how much do they want me”. If such negotiations failed, I still had my primary job. As I am currently unemployed, I’m not in such a strong position.

Is there a best way to approach the situation? Is it appropriate to contact the employer and ask about the salary range before accepting another interview? Does that look desperate? Arrogant?

Anyway, I guess I’m glad that I have to wrangle with this issue–at least I had that initial interview.

By means of update, with our temporarily lowered mortgage payment, we’ve been able to make our finances work through the rest of this month, paying everything that is due. We’ve postponed plans to talk to a bankruptcy attorney until we’re in a month where we clearly won’t be able to make our payments.

I’ve also been working my LinkedIn network. One of my contacts put me in touch with two individuals last week–one the owner of a tech firm (that provides, of all things, managed services–precisely what displaced me), the other a tech recruiter with a placement firm. Both have turned into fruitful contacts: I have a morning meeting with the owner of the tech firm on Friday, and I had a good conversation with the recruiter this morning. He’ll be sharing my information with the other recruiters on his team, and he feels confident that they should be able to find some openings that match my skills, ambitions, and preferences. The company he’s with does a lot of work for Cargill, one of the companies I’ve been targeting. This may finally be the leg up I need to get in the door there.

Aside from that, I’ve spread the job search duties more broadly across the week–a little more each day, rather than trying to keep it mainly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That’s allowed me to enjoy some of these late autumn afternoons, fishing either alone of with some of the kids. Things are still lean going into my eldest daughter’s 18th birthday celebration this weekend, but we’ll find a way to celebrate.

Here’s some feedback on the issue of when to ask:

Jon Mazzocchi, Partner and General Manager in the Accounting & Finance Permanent division at Winter, Wyman focusing on the New York area:

The rule of thumb in any negotiation is he/she who speaks first will lose. If at all possible, you should try to find out the other person’s hand first.

However, it is never appropriate to ask an employer what the salary range for the position is. If you are working with a recruiter/headhunter, you have the luxury of knowing what the range is or at least that you fall within it, so that makes it easier. However, when working directly with a potential employer, it is important to be selling yourself throughout the interview process.

By asking salary ranges, the intent can oftentimes be misconstrued by the employer resulting in a lack of interest in your candidacy. So, how do you get this information so you don’t waste your time? Most employers may ask you what you are currently earning either verbally or through an employment application. It is imperative that you provide this information (and accurately) which will allow the employer to either continue the interview process or prevent it from moving forward if your salary is out of their range. If they haven’t asked nor provided an application, then I would recommend continuing the process through to offer stage.

They may ask at some point what you are looking for. The knee jerk reaction is to throw out a number, but if your number is too high, you might scare them away. If it’s too low, you are leaving potential dollars on the table. Once again, you don’t want to throw out the first number, but how do you answer it? You can simply state your current salary and explain that your main focus isn’t salary but finding the right job where you can have a direct impact on the company and bottom line….sell yourself. If they claim that’s all fine and good, you can turn it around by saying: “It would be difficult for me to give you an exact number since I don’t have all of the information I would need to do so.

I would really need to digest the role, growth, short and long-term opportunity, overall benefits, etc. However, I’m not sure what someone with my qualifications and skills would be earning at a company such as yours. What should I expect if I were working here?” By turning the tables, you may now be able to get a feel for what they are thinking and can plan accordingly. They may throw out a nominal figure or they may simply change the subject and move on.

Either way, you will either get additional info that you can use to your advantage or you can wait until they present an offer and renegotiate at that time. The bottom line is, you want to get to the offer stage and you need to continue to sell yourself throughout the entire process. Once you know they want you and have made you an offer, you will have much more leverage.

Until that time, you run the risk of biting the hand that may feed you and losing a potential job offer. Play it cool, wait for them to make the first move and you will be sure to get the maximum offer possible.

Mark Stagno – Principal, New England Software Technology Permanent Division, Winter, Wyman:

Top five tips for salary negotiations:

1. Make sure the job is right

After each interview, reflect carefully. Does the job and company have the core components I want? Will the position help me meet my career goals? If you are unsure, continue with the process and gather more information. If you know it isn’t right, communicate that to the employer or your recruiter. There is no point in getting an extra few thousand dollars to accept the wrong job. The search can get emotional, so don’t forget to step back and remember what you originally sought out to accomplish.

2. Do your research

Markets are dynamic and the salaries candidates are getting today could be vastly different than a year or even six months ago. Advocate for yourself based on facts about the market, your achievements and experience. These are the things that will resonate with the employer.

3. Be prepared

Before you start salary negotiations, determine the number you’d be happy accepting and the number that would make you walk away. Think, too, about how you’ll respond to that grey area in the middle. Considering these scenarios in advance will prevent you from accepting an offer lower than you wanted, or throwing out an unreasonably high number.

And while these numbers should be based on facts, when you add benefits to the equation, it’s not always straight forward. When the time is right, find out about health insurance costs, vacation time, etc. so you can use that information to help determine your salary. Just be careful; you don’t want to be presumptuous and ask for benefits too early, as this can be viewed negatively. Lean on your recruiter for help, or wait until the company has communicated interest in you.

If you plan to ask family, friends or professional contacts about salary, do so before you have the salary conversation with the company. You don’t want to say you’re looking for $80K and then go back the next day looking for $85K. This can be frustrating to the people on the other side of the negotiation.

4. Offer a range

When it is time to communicate a desired salary to your employer, start with your current salary and let them know that ideally you’d be looking for a bump. Avoid using a strong tone that implies, “Give me what I want or else I’m not accepting the job.” It’s better to use a calm delivery, which sends the message that you are there to work with them through the process. And avoid talking yourself in circles, saying, for example, that while you want $85K, you’d probably accept the job at $75K. Offer the range and then let the employer respond.

5. Tell them you want the job

While some salary negotiating advice suggest otherwise, there’s a difference between saying, “I want the job” and “I will take the job even if you offer me $5k less than I’m making now”. Particularly with smaller companies, I’ve found that employers are more willing to stretch their range for someone they know wants the position, rather than the person who is considering several other options. The hiring manager wants to work with candidates who are excited to jump on board.

While salary negotiations can be tricky, being well prepared, tapping into the experts, and staying professional through the entire process can help you get the salary you deserve.

One tactic to avoid: Playing Coy

When asked about salary, don’t clam up. You can’t always expect the hiring manager to make their best offer for your consideration. While negotiating 101 suggests letting the other party speak first, I think it’s best to throw out a carefully considered number. If you say nothing and the client makes a blind offer, it’s probably not going to be their best. Answering the question of what you feel you’re worth is your opportunity to advocate for yourself and start the negotiations out in your favor.

And don’t forget, the process of finding a job is not like buying a car. You’re not trying to get the best possible price, going back and forth endlessly like a Nadal/Federer Wimbledon rally. This is the first step in a relationship with a new employer that will hopefully last for years. If you repeatedly use the “offer/counter-offer” approach, you may jeopardize the offer and the relationship. This is a red flag for the people you’ll be working with and could cause an offer to be rescinded.

Tucker Mays and Bob Sloane, co-authors, “Fired at 50 - How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge.”

“First, look at the job specifications to confirm if your skills and experience are a good fit. Second, network via LinkedIn and other professional outlets to research company employees or former employees to learn what the compensation likely will be. Third, during the interview don’t tell them your salary needs; instead ask them what salary they are offering. The reason behind this is we have found that the first person to give a number loses bargaining power.”

Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

“Whoever talks money first loses. Candidates should know the range for a position and the pay strategy the company has before they interview. Companies choose to be lead payers, mid-market payers, or on the low side. Companies can also choose to vary that greatly based on how competitive a market it is for your specific area of expertise. Knowledgeable search people may be able to share this kind of market data with you. Speaking in ranges of compensation is also going to help you get a better package. Figure out what you want – really want, and what you’d be willing to give up. Early in the interview process start keeping track of what the employer wants from this job and what makes their eyes light up about you as a candidate. You’ll need all these points later to work into the conversation when they make you an offer and to remind them of why you aren’t the “average” candidate getting the average compensation.”

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