What Salary Do You Want?

A media expert stirred up a bee’s nest with her post last week on answering the salary question. She lambasted both career coaches and job seekers who disagree with her straight-forward approach of job seekers blurting out their salary expectations during the interview … saying these tactics are evasive and diversionary on the part of job seekers. 

Seriously? The company who has the budget but doesn’t reveal the salary isn’t evasive … the job seeker is? Then why wouldn’t the company just advertise the salary within their job posting. That would certainly eliminate folks who want more money than the company is willing to pay, right? Perhaps that speaks, quite loudly, about the corporate culture.

Her blog post a few days later tried to clarify the question … saying the salary question was being asked by recruiters, not company decision-makers. There is a difference. 

And I also believe there is a time and a place for the job seeker to put salary on the table or let the company go first. Here’s my perspective on each situation.

Recruiters … Be frank with them. While they don’t work for you, they can’t really be effective in helping you if they don’t know the salary you want and why you deserve it. I coach my CFO and Finance Executive clients to be open and honest with recruiters with whom they have a relationship and with whom they are currently working. 

Job Opening … When you walk into a clothing store and select a suit to purchase, does the sales clerk ask you what you would like to pay for that suit? Of course not. The suit has a value and a price, and it is clearly noted on the price tag. How is this relatively simple analogy different from walking into a job interview for a posted position and expecting the company to be forthcoming about what they have budgeted for the salary? 

The company has the job and the budget and knows the salary range, but they want you to tell them what you want to be paid without the benefit of that inside information? Shouldn't their budget determine the starting point for negotiating a fair and reasonable salary based on the candidate's proven value?

There are some instances (referral or recommendation for example) where an executive can and perhaps should put his well-researched salary demands on the table … but that is long after he has proven his potential value to the prospective company and is certainly not in a first interview. If the salary question comes up in a first interview, it would seem to me to be sending this message: we aren’t hiring for quality, we’re hiring someone who fits within our budget.

Created Opportunity … In an situation where you have artfully gotten your foot in the door and so WOWed a company that it is considering creating a position for you … the salary ball is in your court. You’ve created the value, proven you can make or save a company more than it will cost to bring you on board, and you hold all the cards … so play your hand!

The salary question is not a black and white one … which is why companies often have a range not a specific number. Different scenarios require different strategies. The savvy job seeker knows when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em when answering the salary question.