In real estate sales, the conventional wisdom is that the person who mentions money first, loses – or at least is at a disadvantage during the negotiation. The same notion has been bouncing around the job-search advice-o-sphere for years, but here it doesn’t fit so well. It’s easy to see that if a job-seeker doesn’t bring up the salary topic at some point during the job interview process, he or she stands to be in a bad position when a low-ball job offer is extended. That’s one of the most disappointing experiences imaginable. “We love you, we think you’d be great for our team – does (shockingly low/insulting salary figure) work for you?” We can’t afford to spend all that time in a stressful interview process only to realize at the last second that the employer has no intention of paying us what we’re worth. We’ve got to get some numbers on the table. But how and when do you broach this sticky topic?
My suggestion is to wait until a second face-to-face interview, or to broach the salary topic when an email message or phone call arrives to invite you for a second interview. That’s when you can say “That’s great – I’d love to come back and meet more of the XYZ team members. Just so that we’re not wasting anyone’s time, shall we synch up on compensation now?” When we open the topic, we can expect a screener or hiring manager to come back with “So, what were you earning on your last job?” We don’t have to share our last salary level – although if that number suits you and is in line with what you believe this new job should pay, feel free to spit it out. Lots of people don’t want to share their past salary, usually because it wasn’t representative of the salary trajectory they’d been following up to that point. Maybe they worked for a not-for-profit, or were simply working for a cheapskate employer or manager who didn’t pay them their market value. In that case, we can say “I’m focusing on positions in the $X range.” We can share a salary target, rather than a past salary.
Once we put a number (or a salary range) out there, we can expect the employer rep or the hiring manager to react. We want to make sure the number we mentioned isn’t going to be out of the ballpark for this employer and the time we’re spending on a second interview won’t be wasted. Just in case the person you’re speaking with or corresponding with doesn’t react to your salary number, you can say “Is that number in the ballpark for this role?”
Lots of job-seekers like to play their cards close to the vest. They don’t want to mention a number – they want to react to someone else’s number. But that’s not typically feasible. We have to price ourselves, in the same way a homeowner has to price his (or her) house in order to put it on the market. We can use resources like Glassdoor.com to get a bead on our market value if we’re not confident about that number when we begin a job search. We can’t wait for an employer to bring up this critical topic – they may not do it! In the worst case, we’re presented with an underwhelming offer for a sum we could never countenance. It’s our responsibility to make sure the surprise-lowball-offer scenario doesn’t come to pass, by clearing the air on the salary front before anybody starts thinking about a job offer.