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The Starting Salary Question

By Jeff Lipschultz

When an employer asks you what your salary expectations are during the early stages of the interviewing process, you are trained to say you are open-minded on salary and are more concerned about the opportunity.

And from there, the conversation can go in a few directions hopefully leading to an ideal result.

When working with an external recruiter, the process is slightly different. An external recruiter is sometimes viewed as a gatekeeper to employment opportunities.

As an extension of the company, it is their job to only present qualified candidates who meet the job requirements (and often times, budget). So when they ask you about salary, they need to understand your true requirements.

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But First, Are You Qualified?

Recruiters first want to know if you’re qualified. Salary is secondary.

Sometimes, if you’re an A-List Candidate (the perfect match and maybe a little more), they can represent your best wishes to maximize your offer. But first they have to understand the value you bring to the table.

By sharing how you meet all the needs of the position, you have gotten yourself past Step 1. But by sharing additional talents that may benefit the recruiter’s client, you have gotten to Step 2—the recruiter is not only your advocate, but can validate why your salary might need to exceed their budget. Either way, you’re in the door, and the salary question will come up.

The Want and The Need

Often times, you are faced with providing a range of your salary requirements. The lower end is what you need (to balance the checkbook each month) and the upper end is what you really want. It is fine to express this to the recruiter. They just want to know your range overlaps with the client’s.

At this moment in discussions, many candidates throw out the same response as above: "I’m open." This is not helpful.

Granted, many recruiters know the market rate for your position (also taking into account your capabilities and years of experience); however, you may end up with an offer below your expectations. In essence, you are not quite as "open" as you thought.

The Reality

You need to communicate your true feelings about salary as the recruiter will be able to set your expectations about the opportunity and allow you to evaluate whether you want to interview for the position.

Keeping the recruiter in the dark, or worse yet, misleading the recruiter, can lead to a bad experience for you, them, and the hiring company. By knowing exactly what you are worth (your market value), you can offer a realistic range that is likely to be accepted.

One caution: do your homework well when determining your value. Salary curves and data can be skewed. Don't rely on one online source, and don't believe everything you read.

Keep in mind, it is not uncommon for hiring companies to ask for W2/salary history information. If there is a large disconnect between last year’s earning and your salary request, you’ll have to justify the difference.

In a good economy, candidate’s have the right to ask for a 5 to 10% raise for taking a risk when leaving a current job for another. This number gets lowered during bad economic times, especially if there are many candidates vying for the same job.

Recruiter’s Point of View

In my case, once I know you overlap the client’s budget, I hold off the salary discussion with the client until the offer stage. I want them to figure out what they think the candidate’s value is based on the interview, not salary data or history.

In other words, you still have the opportunity to maximize your offer. It is a matter of communicating your value to the hiring company. They know based on what they hear how you compare to their current employees and they will provide a fair offer that hopefully meets your standards, but also is consistent with previous hires’ offers.

I recently had a candidate start with a high salary range and later accepted a lower offer. I’m sure he didn’t appreciate having to step back during the offer stage process, but as I stated, the company knows what they feel is fair. What you want must match their expectations in the end (if you want the job).

Know What Is Most Important

Yes, we all want as much salary as we can get, but at what cost? I’ve seen great opportunities passed up by candidates over a $5,000 salary difference. That’s $208 per pay check, before taxes. Make sure you take into account long-term growth potential, benefits (that could include monetary impacts), and quality-of-work life.

Bottom Line

Working with a recruiter can make the process easier. By being open with them, you are guaranteeing that you are not going to reach a salary issue roadblock later in the process. Your only concern will be "winning the job" by interviewing effectively and proving you are worth every penny.

About the author...

Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. He is a unique recruiter with Lean Engineering experience and a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Learn more about him through his company site Follow Jeff on Twitter (@JLipschultz) and on GooglePlus.

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Handling Special Situations:

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