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Doing the Salary "Dance" in Job Interviews

By Martin Yate

Doing the Salary "Dance" in Job Interviews

When you think about the most important skill needed for success in your career, you will realize that, bottom line, it’s your ability to turn interviews into offers. This skill, the one that puts food on your table, is also likely to be your weakest professional skill, because you have so little experience doing it successfully.

Many people are so weak in this area that they usually accept the first reasonable offer that comes along. This means they are just changing jobs, not making the strategic career moves that result in long-term success. Winning job offers is a bit like dancing -- all you must do is learn the steps.

Succeeding at the Salary Dance

To learn the salary dance, start with a new approach: Go to interviews with the single intent to improve your ability to get job offers.

Every job interview gives you time and practice to build this critical professional skill with a new headset.

Remember to focus on what you bring to the table for the employer. Research to learn as much as you can about the employer and the opportunity. Emphasize how you can deliver what the company wants.


Offer Killers

Don’t discuss salary, vacation, benefits, or anything else that helps you evaluate an opportunity before an offer is made. It is not that these questions are invalid, just that the timing is wrong.

Bringing up topics like these before you have an offer is asking what the company can do for you. Instead, keep your attention (and the discussion) on what you can do for the company. Once you have made "the sale" (an offer is on the table), ask the questions that help you decide if the job is a good fit for you. First, concentrate on making it clear what a good fit you are for the job and the employer.

Asking for Too Little or Too Much

When the interviewer asks how much you want, be prepared to negotiate to your best advantage. You know that if they jump at your number, you’ll kick yourself for years and with good reason: For example, when a thirty-year-old under-negotiates his or her salary by just $4,000 on a new job ($76 a week), it will cost a minimum of $140,000 over the course of a career. Why? Because every subsequent raise will come from a proportionately lower base. Factor in inflation, and your loss spirals.

If on the other hand, your number is rejected out of hand, you’ll still kick yourself for years – this time for asking too much. Nothing hurts more than getting close enough for money to be discussed, and then failing to land the job.

Competitive Salary Research

It makes sense to know what salary is being paid by employers to people in this job and this general location.

Many factors lead to wide salary variations in how much others are paid for the work you do. Geographic location is especially important -- it costs more to live and work in Manhattan than it does in Jacksonville, Florida. Some employers prefer to be known as "the place" to work because they pay well. Other employers want to spend as little as possible, without worring about high employee turnover.

Here are some resources to help you do some competitive salary research:

You can also Google “salary calculator” and “salary report” maybe including terms such as your job title, profession, and industry. Do each of these as a separate search, and test different search engines.

Additionally, salary ranges on job postings are increasing, and recruiters and headhunters you speak with usually know the salary range for your position and geography.

Get Smart: Define Your Own Salary Range

Using these resources to define a broad salary range, next you need to decide not on a single figure, but a salary range that fits your circumstances. It’s an easy three-step process.

Step One. Given your skills, experience, and location, what is the least you would accept for a suitable job with a stable company? “Least” means what it will take to keep a roof over your head. You will rarely ever mention this number to anyone. It is normally used to establish your baseline.

However, sometimes a strategic career move can require taking a step sideways or even backward in your salary to take you forward on the career path you want to pursue. In fact, the most important job change of my life involved a shift in career direction that required me to take a 50 percent pay cut, but, as I expected, it changed my life completely and forever.

Step two. Given the same considerations of skills, experience, and location, what would you consider a fair offer?

Step Three. Given the same considerations of skills, experience, and location, what would be the figure that would make you smile, drop dead and go to heaven on the spot?

At the end of this process, you’ve got three dollar amounts:

  • A minimum
  • A midpoint
  • A dream salary

Having come up with these three dollar amounts, kick out the lowest leaving you with your own salary range - midpoint to your high point.

Every job you interview for has a carefully approved salary range from $X-$Y and now you too have a salary range. When the issue of money is raised, by offering your salary range, you dramatically increase the odds of your salary range clicking with theirs; and you need no longer fear selling yourself short or asking too much.

They Want to Hire You

When a hiring manager has made the decision to talk money, it means s/he wants to wants to be done with this, and get back to work. So, with a range in common, negotiations can and will commence. This is the time to start asking questions about benefits, reviews, and vacations, and many more factors (we’ll handle that in another article) to determine the job’s suitability to your needs and goals.

Because they want you, your questions will be treated more seriously and become part of serious negotiation. Negotiate in good faith with the right tactics, and your negotiations will be accepted in the same way. Negotiating job offers is handled in detail in the “Negotiating the Job Offer” chapter of Knock Em Dead 2017.

About the author...

Successful careers don't happen by accident. Professional resume writing expert Martin Yate CPC is a New York Times best-seller and the author of 17 Knock Em Dead career management books. As Dun & Bradstreet says, "He's about the best in the business." For FREE resume-building advice and to view Martin's resume samples, visit the Knock Em Dead website. Join Martin on Twitter at @KnockEmDead.

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