How to Bring Up SALARY on a Job Interview
I wrote this story about how to deal with lowball salary offers, and as usual when I write about sticky human topics, my inbox got slammed. People love to share their job search horror stories and I don’t blame them, because a job search is nothing if not a daily accumulation of epic ups and downs, a soap opera that surpasses anything on TV.
At times on a job search, you feel like you’re slogging through mud up to your knees. Every inch of ground you gain represents a heroic effort. When the wind shifts and things start to go your way job-search-wise, your heart is light. You laugh at your friends’ bad jokes, you’re so happy. Life is grand, so why not spread the good stuff around?
A job search is Mood Swing Central. That’s hard on your body. It’s exhausting. It makes sense that when you have an opportunity on the line, you’d be hesitant to say or do anything that might feel forward or pushy. You don’t want to knock yourself out of the running by being overly demanding.
What job-seekers don’t realize is that things work in just the opposite way. The more you stand for yourself in the job search process, the more employers will respect and value you. I’m referring, of course, to employers with spark and mojo themselves – the only kind of employers who deserve you. Fearful managers prefer to hire docile, sheeplike employees. Life is too short, as you know, to work among people like that. If you do, you might become one.
After that lowball-salary-offer story, a few people wrote to me to say “In some cases, you can’t bring up salary during the interview process. There was nothing I could do. I had to wait and see what kind of offer I got. In the end, the offer sucked monetarily and I was devastated.”
I feel so sorry for a person in that situation. I can imagine how crushing it would be to see your hopes for an awesome new job melt suddenly into a disappointing, confidence-bruising waste of time.
At the same time I have to gently call bullshit on the assertion that we are ever prevented from talking about salary on a job interview. It is suspicious to me that the awful, conventional wisdom “Don’t mention salary – let the employer bring it up first. Whoever speaks first, loses” fits so nicely with many job-seekers’ natural aversion to broaching sticky topics like money.
That advice is repeated everywhere, and it couldn’t be more mistaken. In a job search, you have to price yourself like a house. You have to let employers know what it will take you get you on board. If you wait for the job offer to finally learn what an organization is planning to pay you, you’re in the world’s worst negotiating position.
After all, it was your obligation to show (not tell) these folks what you’re worth, during the interview process. If you’ve been through two or three interviews with a gang of people and they subsequently decide collectively — maybe delusionally as well, but that’s a different topic — that you are worth $X, then in their eyes you are worth $X, and you’ve already missed your prime opportunity to show them differently.
If someone is going to scoff, bristle or get apoplectic hearing your perfectly reasonable salary expectation, you want them to do it early. Let them fall down on the floor convulsing when you name the figure. Good! They need to do that. You are just an outlet for their fearful reactions. Blessings to them on their path. You couldn’t care less what they think, right?
You are not here to please people. If you’ve researched your salary (I will tell you how in a second) and know your number is realistic, it is good for you to get a range of reactions to your number. Don’t be swayed by those. There will always be disconnected-from-reality people who will try to convince you that you should work for peanuts and be grateful for the offer. Ignore them.
The Reactionometer™ at the bottom of this page is a tool for job-seekers. If people don’t get you, they don’t deserve you. The last thing you want to do is spend valuable mojotrons trying to make people like you better or find you more valuable dollars-and-cents-wise. When you get that reaction, move on, brush it off, and go get a gelato.
There is not going to be a time over the course of your relationship with an employer where they value you more than they do at the point just before they make a job offer. If they don’t value you at that moment, things can only get worse over time.
So bring up the salary issue. Here’s how.
Know Your Value
You have to know what you’re worth on the talent marketplace. Salary, Payscale and Glassdoor are three good resources. If you know a local search consultant or two, ping them for a range based on your experience, too. Be ready to supply a number for a full-time salaried gig and a consulting assignment, both. Know what various benefits cost and are worth to you, in case you get into negotiation and need to start talking about the moving parts of your offer.
Not on the First Date
I’m old-school enough to believe that in the white-collar world, you don’t bring up salary on the first interview. You young kids out here today, zooming around on your skateboards past Granny’s knees all the time, you gotta do things your own way and Granny understands that. I’m just sayin. Granny got opera glasses for her ninth birthday and was overjoyed. Different world today. I still recommend that you get home from your first interview and wait to hear the employer say “We’d like to come back in” before you broach the salary topic.
When they call you or write to you to invite you back for Interview Number Two, it’s your move. “Is this a good time, and are you the right person to have a salary-synch-up conversation with?” you will ask. The person on the other end of the line will probably say “What were you earning over at Acme Explosives?” You’ll say “I’m focusing on roles in the $60K range, so that’s a good starting point. Is this role in that range? If so, it makes sense for me to come back for a second interview.”
If you follow this approach, you won’t go on any second interviews unless you and the company HR person or your hiring manager have heard one another say “We are in the same ballpark compensation-wise. It makes sense for us to keep talking.”
Nonetheless, have another conversation with your hiring manager (the guy with the all-important business pain) before you take any other steps to move the process forward. Don’t send your job references over, don’t talk about start dates, and don’t sit down with the company shrink for a psych eval before you and your hiring manager get to the brassiest of brass tacks and lay out what it would take compensation-wise to get you on board.
There is no need for a job offer negotiation to be a cat-and-mouse game. It doesn’t benefit anyone to go through those machinations, but some people get off on it. If the dickering becomes extreme, that is a sign to hit the Greybound bus station and get out of town. Like I said before, these guys will never love you more than they do right now.
Who Trusts Who?
Sometimes you’ll get hiring managers or HR people saying to you “I’m sorry, we have to do this salary verification and I really apologize, but I have to have your W-2s for the last three years. Sorry.”
Don’t fall for that garbage. Who is supposed to trust whom, in a selection process? You have no idea whether your boss will still be employed tomorrow. The guy could be fired before you show up for your first day of work. One time I worked with a man who ended up in prison. You have no idea what’s going to happen with this organization. The employer isn’t showing you its financial statements. Tell them your financial information is private, your accountant would have a cow if you shared it, and if they aren’t comfortable based on your conversations extending an offer, you totally understand.
Our Role Models
Here’s a trivia question for you: Which group of working people has always gotten a job this way (stepping outside the lines in their approach to hiring managers, their correspondence and their resumes)? Executives have. When’s the last time a C-level officer flung a resume into a corporate Black Hole? The answer is never.
What I am encouraging you guys to do is find your voice, feel your feet under you and job-hunt the way executives have done forever. It’s a matter of mojo. When you know what you bring and don’t feel you have to grovel to get a job, your altitude is higher. You see the pluses and minuses of each situation and see how to navigate. You don’t approach a job search as an exercise in pleasing other people, but in learning what you need and want in your life and going after it. I want that for you, because you deserve it.
As a matter of fact, let’s go whole hog and promote you – there! It’s done. I just flicked my wand at you, between the last sentence and this one. Congratulations! You are now CEO of your own career. Wow, your rise to the top was tumultuous, wasn’t it? But here you are. You’re driving the bus. Where are you going to take it?