Love and Money in the Interview

“What salary are you looking for?” Everyone hates the question.  Everyone. Talking about salary is awkward for most jobseekers, and for good reason.  If you mention a figure that’s too low, you leave money on the table if you get the offer  – and that’s the best case scenario. You’re also in danger of being overlooked for the position because you aren’t qualified.  After all, salary offers are based on two things:  the value of the position to the company, and the perceived value of your experience and skills. The key to getting a better salary offer is to prove you’re a good match for the job –  and to have the company fall in love with you before they talk about an offer.

I use the term “fall in love” advisedly.  We’ve all experienced “falling in love” with a product or service; we’re willing, even happy, to pay more for it. (IPad, anyone?)  You don’t bargain, especially if what you love is in short supply.  You always grab the last pair of shoes in your size or the last chocolate croissant. 

How to make the company fall in love with you is your challenge.  This post is about how to avoid talking price until they do.

First, you must set your bottom line.  You do some research and decide what you’re worth in the market (here’s a guide to research in a previous post.) Whatever your bottom line is, you must mentally prepare yourself to walk away if the offer does not meet it.  If you can’t do that, then don’t worry about what the offer is- you won’t be in a position to negotiate it anyway. Take the market research (location, education and experience factored in) and integrate it into your personal range. 

Let’s say your bottom line for this job is $40,000.  The market research indicates that the range for the position could be from $35,000 to $50,000. There are a couple of ways to speak about that if the recruiter brings up salary. “Based on my research, this job could pay anywhere between $40,000 and $55,000 for someone at my level of experience.  Will this job fall within that range?”

Another tactic is to ask the recruiter about the range first. No matter what she / he says, say something to the effect of: “That sounds reasonable, based on what I know now about the job. I’m sure if I’m a good match for you, we can work it out.” Then go back to helping them fall in love with you.

If the offer comes and it’s not what you expected, you have nothing to lose by asking to negotiate.  This moment – the moment between their decision to hire you and yours to accept – is the most leverage you’ll have with the decision maker.  A simple and friendly approach is best: “Gee – I was hoping for a little more than this, based on my experience.  What can we do to get closer to my figure?”  The worst case scenario is that they can’t make a move.  If the offer is below your bottom line, you should decline gracefully. It’s hard to do, but it’s even harder to do your best when you’re starting out resentful and feeling underappreciated. And it may be a long time before you make up the difference between your offer and what you wanted.

The economy is improving, although it’s moving much more slowly than any of us would like to see.  Despite that, people are getting offers every day. You’ll be more comfortable negotiating when you know that other, maybe better, offers will be coming along eventually.  Work on making the company fall in love, and the money will come.

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