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The Intimidated Job Applicant: Pay me whatever you like!

In the May 3, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a wishful job seeker tries pandering to employers.

Question

I was reading your advice about when to bring up money in a job interview. The advice from outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas here in Chicago is to never bring up compensation until an offer is made.

Puppy beggingWith the job market being more favorable to employers, they suggest that getting into the dialog too early can remove you from consideration quickly. While none of us wants to waste time going through the motions only to discover the salary may be too low, it may be more important to stay in the game as long as you can, getting them to like you. It gives you more of an opportunity to sell yourself, too.

When the salary question comes up too early in the discussion by the employer, they are not focusing on what you can bring to the table. So, when they ask you what you expect to earn, I was told to respond with, “This is a great company/organization, etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”

This throws the ball back in their court. If you stay in the game long enough, and they really like you, you could be offered something else or better.

Nick’s Reply

So Challenger Gray & Christmas told you to warily stroke the employer and say, “This is a great company or organization, etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.” — hoping they’re going to like you and thus not abuse you. Pandering is not a negotiating strategy.

Why am I not surprised at the advice you were given? If your employer paid CG&C to help outplace you, consider that outplacement firms get paid whether you land a job or not. It’s unbelievable that any employer would hire a firm like this to spoon-feed pablum to the people it’s letting go.

The outplacement mistake

Let’s discuss outplacement for a minute. Here’s a cautionary note from Parting Company | How to leave your job, p. 30:

Outplacement might be helpful, but never forget that you are responsible for your next career step. Don’t be lulled into thinking that a high-priced consultant — who works for your former employer — has any real skin in your future. The skin is yours alone…

Outplacement might extend your unemployment, rather than help you land the right new job expeditiously. So, take ownership of your status, and maybe put some extra cash in your pocket. Here’s how.

Some employers will give you cash in lieu of outplacement services, if you ask. (You might have to sign a release to get it. Talk to your lawyer.) This might be the best deal, and it might help you get into high job-hunting gear faster. If you decide to spend that cash on assistance from an outplacement firm that has excellent references, that’s up to you — you’ll get to choose the firm and the counselor. If you use the money to tide you over while you conduct your own job search, that’s also up to you.

It helps to understand how the outplacement industry works. This is from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), pp. 12-13:

Big outplacement firms have a business model. Their objective is not to help you land a good job. The goal is to sell multi-million dollar counseling contracts to big employers that are downsizing. Almost by definition, your individual needs cannot be met by the packaged services these outplacement firms sell. If they really wanted to help you, they’d arrange personal introductions to managers who need you. They don’t do that, because that won’t win them a new gig. To win big contracts, these outplacement firms have to demonstrate a cookie-cutter process for handling thousands of newly-unemployed people. Their clients buy that process, and the more structured it looks, the more it appears to be worth… It’s too generic to work.

The last thing you need is a cookie-cutter approach to job hunting. If you want to stand out, you must make it personal. And that takes time, careful thought, and diligence. Every situation is unique, so these packaged methods you’ve been given aren’t going to work.

Outplacement that someone else chooses for you and pays for could be the biggest mistake you make when trying to land a new job after you get laid off.

Wishful thinking is not business

Let me explain why that lame, over-used response would reveal you to be naive and unsophisticated. It tells the employer that (1) you don’t know what you want or are worth, and that (2) you don’t know how to negotiate.

How businesslike is that?

Let’s say you were applying for a top sales position, and the VP of Sales asked how you’d respond to a prospective customer who asks, “How much do you want me to pay for what you’re selling?” Suppose you gave the CG&C response: “You’re a great company. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”

The VP would never hire you because you’re failing to negotiate by communicating the value of your product. You’re pretending the other guy will figure it out. If you worked for him, he’d fire you — and I’d compliment him.

Wishful thinking is not a sales strategy or a negotiating strategy. It’s childish, naive, and dangerous.

CG&C’s response is canned, silly, thoughtless and nothing but a sign that the applicant has no business in a job interview. Please: Don’t do it.

Negotiating is not a game of appeasement

Many job seekers are intimidated in interviews. And a common, visceral response to intimidation is to appease who frightens or intimidates  you. Trying to be likeable is a childish form of appeasement.

dog bonesIf you think trying to be likeable and saying “I’m sure you’ll be fair” will help you “stay in the game” longer, you’re going to lose because the employer will take advantage of the fact that you invested all that time — and correctly surmise that you’re going to take whatever they offer you. This is one of the oldest psychological tricks used in negotiating — look up cognitive dissonance. People have a tendency to rationalize and accept lousy job offers because they’ve spent so many hours in interviews.

There’s another side to this. If you continue interviewing while knowing an offer is not likely to be in your acceptable ballpark, and then you try to “sell” the employer on a much higher salary, do you really think they’re not going to get upset with you for misleading them?

Don’t play games so you can “stay in the game,” because interviewing and hiring is not a game.

  • Learn how to calculate what you’re worth, so that you’re prepared to ask for a compensation range you can defend. That demonstrates you know what you want. (See How much money should I ask for?)
  • Learn how to ask the salary range of a position before you invest in interviews — that’s how to establish your negotiating position. It also shows the employer you’re not counting on being likeable; you’re prepared to demonstrate your value and to justify what you’re asking for. (See Ask this question before you agree to an interview. Yes, CG&C is so wrong that you should explicitly talk about money even before going to a job interview!)

You’re not a puppy. You don’t need to be meek and likeable so an employer might throw you a bone. I think Challenger Gray & Christmas are wasting your time and that of the employers you’re talking to — not to mention wasting your old employer’s money.

Do employers intimidate you in job interviews? Are you ready to state what you want? Do you ask what the employer is ready to pay? Have you used outplacement services? How did it work out?

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18 Comments
  1. If you are in a market that is in demand, say software engineer in silicon valley, it never makes sense to name a salary or an annual bonus. Always respond with: “I will carefully consider any reasonable offer.” Needs a track record at work and the poker face to say this with a certain level of gravitas.

    Someone wrote an article on this during the previous bubble. Search for “Noel Smith Winkle salary negotiation technique”.

  2. I was told, a few bubbles ago, to go for the gold going in. Raises, bonuses etc. will never ever “catch you up”.

    I find it hard not to laugh at offers that are less than what I’m making now, or less than what I should have been making 10 years ago.

  3. LT, I laugh at anyone that asks me to even interview without a 50% raise.

  4. Potential Candidate: The current range for the position Im in is XXX-YYY. It doesn’t make sense for me consider a position unless the new range is ZZZ% higher.

    Recruiter: Where are you in that range?

    Candidate: Im am currently satisfied with my compensation level but looking to make more by bringing more value to a new employer. Does your range meet my criteria or not?

  5. Another useless outplacement service is Right Management. I used their program 3 years ago and found it to be a huge waste of time. Time that would have been better spent on my job search. They could have cared less if I landed a new job. In fact, they require a mandatory 90 minute session to get started and I asked to reschedule since I had an actual job interview lined up at the same time and they got really huffy with me.

    Take Nick’s advice, ask for the cash amount and use it at your own discretion.

  6. Great advice as usual, Nick!

    I usually ask up front (when the recruiter contacts me) what the pay range for the position is. That way I know whether or not any additional steps are worth my time and the employer’s time.

    Usually the recruiter will give you a range and it’s a much easier ask than asking the company itself. If the recruiter tries to give some sort of “it’s based on experience” answer, I usually explain why I’d like to have a ballpark now — so I’m not wasting everyone’s time. That usually does the trick.

    If they still won’t answer, I’m out. I’m not wasting my time if I’m not sure I’m interested (and I’m not sure I’m interested unless I have an idea of salary).

    BTW, this process doesn’t always work. I had one employer who had given me a range, knew what I currently made, and understood I would not accept less than I was currently making. I emphasized this at several points through the hiring process — phone interview, on-site interview, post on-site interview, etc. When the offer came, it was $10,000 less than my current salary. UGH!!!

    Needless to say, I did not take the job.

  7. Challenger Gray & Christmas remind me of the Kardashians: They are famous mainly because they are famous.

    Put into a serious unemployment market (Puerto Rico and Oglala Lakota County, SD immediately spring to mind) they could not do squat.

  8. @ESI: “BTW, this process doesn’t always work”

    Indeed — some employers just don’t care about integrity or honesty. Sometimes the only way to find this out is to go through the process. But it’s still worth some due diligence — try to track down people who’ve worked or interviewed there. And listen.

  9. Interesting topic.
    Having been on all sides of this, hiring manager, job hunter, agency and inside recruiter, as Nick says CG&C is pitching conventional wisdom. Keep em talkin til they fall in love, and maybe just maybe you’ll win a lottery.
    1st rule of thumb broken is never say never. Nick’s point to do your homework is key, know your worth before you engage…and when it comes to money, know necessary from nice. It never ceased to amaze me that people would go job hunting (voluntarily or involuntarily) without knowing what they/their family needed, the absolute baseline to sustain themselves. Because the never-say-never rule is that there are times when you’ll find something worth the risk of going for (not giving in to) an offer below your worth or what you desire.
    This blog has advised a gazillion times to network for intel. You know what you make or made, you can research salary ranges for your vocation/levels in your venue, and with some good networking you have a good chance of finding out where that “great” company sits in marketplace as to compensations, as well as their negotiating culture.
    If you’ve got that information and let’s say you genuinely would like to work there, then Hell yes put your target on the table. As soon as you feel you & a hiring manager are on the same page. He/she wants you on board and you want to be on board. The hiring Manager. An exception can be a recruiter who’s acting as an intermediary. For example, where I worked as a company recruiter, hiring managers made job offers, NOT HR. So I could cut to the chase and shove aside that CG&C stuff and ask them what it would take to get you aboard. And tell the manager he/she wants this. And get on with it.

    When it comes to negotiation, you need to understand what goes on behind the scenes inside. If your talking with a hiring manager who just marches to the #’s he/she pulls out HR’s salary ranges, sees you’re too High, there is no negotiation. They don’t have the will.
    Real negotiation is most likely between that hiring manager you sold and up the line, his/her boss, bosses boss, HR etc. And if the manager lacks the will you’re done, unless you just cave.
    If you’ve done your homework, and have some idea of what the market will bear, where the company sits in the market, most likely you’re in the ballpark. It’s doable. Or you’re really being unrealistic.

    So before any negotiation can take place, you’ve got to sell your value to the Hiring Manager. not just negotiate with him/her, but to provide the ammunition that manager needs to make it happen. And that’s when you’re talking with one that’s willing and has the guts to buck the system. If you’ve proven your worth to the hiring manager, talking salary can happen forthwith..and the manager should be the 1st one to bring it up. This can happen in the 1st interview. If they don’t bring it up…when your instinct tells you they should, any time from that point is wasted. You can test those waters very easy. You bring it up.
    A good manager won’t BS you. If worth is proven and the manager wants you aboard, the manager will tell you the obstacles, and possible work arounds.

  10. On Outplacement.

    I’ve been outplaced 3 times. I used it because my philosophy was to take everything offered. And good, bad, or indifferent outplacement has street value. That is, as Nick pointed out, as an individual, you could buy such services. In fact those very companies that bid for the massive corporate by-the-numbers outplacement services offer them to individuals too, though I’d not go there as an individual. So when a company offered them, I took them.

    I’m not disagreeing with Nick’s points about them. But I’d add some. Yes by all means, see if you can trade the bulk services off for in-lieu-of cash. And buy your own or use the money as Nick noted to tide you over. If you decide to buy your own do your homework and find a boutique shop, with a small staff, or simply a career counselor with a good rep.

    And this is a good place to note, make sure you know what outplacement services is. The basic premise is that outplacement, career counselors, aim at teaching YOU how to find a job, something if well done will serve you well the rest of your working life. They are NOT companies that promise to find you a job for a fee. Those you run away from. When I was a recruiter I was floored by people I met who paid a lot of money into scams like this.

    If the corporation won’t give you money, then the homework can come in handy for another ploy…ask for the company you found, instead of their contracted service.

    Failing that, if their choice is the only choice, you need to understand that the outplacement companies offer different degrees of outplacement. Quick and dirty with basic (e.g. resume help) good for say about 3 months, a 6 month package with a larger menu e.g counseling, training, speakers, etc. and executive packages. The latter lasts until you land, and is much more expensive. You may be able to negotiate into a better outplacement package from their chosen company. It’s just a package, you don’t have to be an “executive” to use it, the company just has to pay for it & most likely their contract includes X # of seats for each package.

    If you were blindsided and totally unprepared, don’t blow off outplacement especially if you can convince your company to foot the bill. A good counselor/mentor can save you a lot of time by getting you moving in the right direction, in the right way.

    If the company doesn’t offer outplacement, negotiate for outplacement services or of like-value dollars. If a company is small or inexperienced with downsizing, believe it or not, they simply may not know enough about outplacement or not even know of it to offer it. Be their guinea pig. You’ve got nothing to lose. What are they going to do fire you?

    View Outplacement as a tool. That YOU use, not a process that you get sucked into and drift with the tide. If you talk to outplacement people you’ll find that only a minority of people use it when offered, which I think is ill advised. Most blow it off because they’re PO’d at the company and/or more so when they find it’s not a service to find you a job, but rather theoretically teaches you to find one yourself.

    If you go at it thinking it’s not worth crap, then it definitely will meet your expectations. It’s all of what you make of it.

    I said I’ve done outplacement 3 times. Did I get anything out of it? Yes, every time I picked up some pointers that came in handy, met people who were helpful later (networking). For instance, in one tour my “handler” connected me to a hiring manager and I landed a nice contract. In a later tour, another guy in outplacement connected me to someone in his network with whom I kept in touch and he hired me later on.

    Another thing to consider is that once you are in outplacement, you can negotiate with the local outplacement manager. In my case, to keep using the facility after my contract ran out.

    Everything of value doesn’t have to have huge value to be useful or has intangible value. For all practical purposes I negotiated (as did others) an executive package minus some things I didn’t care about. What I got was a fixed venue, a place to go every day, phone, fax, computer, networking access, supplies, reception support, meeting rooms and so on. Like a job. I had a base of operations where I didn’t sit on my ass isolated at home all day. My wife particularly loved that part.

    My point is again, yeah as Nick said, Outplacement is best when you pick the company, the mentor, location etc. But you can get a lot out of the one size fits all service offered by the company. And turn it into something that does have some value to you, as no cost to you.

    Why do companies offer it? Not to be kind. You’re history as soon as the CFO writes you off the books. Outplacement hit its stride when massive layoffs were taking place. Its real value was PR to the outside world (see how much we care?) and a solace to the walking wounded who had to terminate large #’s of you, and/or your former colleagues who picked up your workload and had to live with the ghosts of former friends memorialized by empty offices and cubes. Outplacement is outsourcing ofwe-feel-your pain.

  11. Great advice, Nick!

    I agree; the advice to grovel is bad (shame on the company for peddling it). Very few people respect those who grovel, and I employers are no different. If this is how you’re treated now, what happens when you start working there? They’ll continue to kick you because that’s the pattern of behavior you set.

    You have to figure out what you need for salary, and be reasonable. Your field/profession, where you live, level of education and experience required for the job, etc. should all factor into your equation. Research what others doing the same job are getting paid. If the salary is low, find out about benefits–health insurance, tuition remission/reimbursement, paid vacation (do employees even get vacation, paid or otherwise?), paid holidays, paid sick time, ability to work from home, etc.

    I ask upfront (thanks to Nick’s advice) now about salary, if I can connect with the hiring manager. I’ll ask “what is the salary range budgeted for this position?” or “what is the pay like for this job?” or something to that effect. If they are willing to tell me (more and more often I am finding that employers refuse to share this information) and I think it is low (based on my research), I’ll ask whether there is any flexibility or wiggle room re the salary. Many times there is not–take it or leave it is the answer if the hiring manager is a magnanimous mood. Some refuse to talk further, saying that salary information is not disclosed until the job offer is accepted; others stop any interview.

    Thanks to Nick, I’ve learned, hard as it is, to walk away from employers who won’t discuss salary in an adult manner. If they won’t disclose it, then I have no way of knowing what they will pay and thus I can’t know whether I can afford to work there.

    I remember something my business law prof. told our class–the purpose of a business is to make money for the owners. It’s purpose is not to pay high salaries to employees, to provide benefits for them, etc. In most instances, employees are not owners. Over the years, this philosophy has been expanded far beyond anything I imagined in school. I’d naïvely thought that employees added value for the employer, who would compensate them accordingly.

    The employer is under no obligation to treat you fairly. It is up to you to have some self-respect and pride (although if you’re unemployed, taking a lower-paying job is better than nothing) and don’t just hope the employer will do the right thing.

  12. Side note: a young colleague is applying for full time, professional jobs. After a long stretch of nothing/no interest, she is finally getting some interviews after interminable phone screenings and lots of hoop jumping. She told me that she has had 3 interviews with 3 different employers. One has turned out to be a dead end job, so she will remove herself from consideration. One has turned out not to be what they advertised in the job description, and their expectations are out of whack for the job. She’s disappointed. The last one is stringing her along, setting up interviews and then people who were supposed to interview her didn’t show up (nor did they notify her that they couldn’t make it).

    She also told me that she’s excited to try to negotiate a higher salary for herself–for all of her previous jobs, she was told what the salary was, take it or leave it, and she took it because she needed the jobs. While there is still no guarantee that employers will be willing to negotiate salary now that she’s moved beyond entry-level, she’s willing to try. But she’s not groveling, stroking them, hoping that if she’s nice to them, they’ll be nice to her.

  13. @marybeth

    “Some refuse to talk further, saying that salary information is not disclosed until the job offer is accepted”

    Really? Companies actually do this? They withhold salary information until the job is accepted? Yikes!

    Who would ever accept a job without knowing the salary?

  14. @ESI: Yes, unfortunately they do. A couple of years ago I had an interview, and when I asked about the salary, I was haughtily informed that they never discussed salary until a job offer was accepted. I stopped that interview. I got up, thanked them for their time, removed myself from consideration, and wished them luck in finding the right candidate.

    And no, I’d never accept a job without knowing the salary. I don’t even want to apply, much less interview, unless I know the salary, and I get a lot of push-back from employers and HR.

  15. It’s a total package. I was once shocked by a discussion of a potential salary $25K less than what I’d been asking for. There were only two reasons I entertained it and kept pursuing the place:

    1. It was a FT salary, with benefits (which I don’t get now), in my preferred industry (plastic medical devices).

    2. It was literally < ten minutes from home.

    What I suspect, though, was that they had such sticker shock from my initial asked-for salary that they decided I'd jump at the first chance. (And, if another job offered more within about a 30 minute commute, they'd have been right.)

    What irked me was that this company is within – easily – the greater Boston area salary distortion… yet they attempted to pay me a LOT less than I was making before, for a company farther north and in a lesser position than the one they had.

    Interestingly enough – over a year later the position is still open. GEE, I wonder why.

  16. If a company were to tell me that the salary will only be disclosed after acceptance of the offer, I’d counter with offering to go contract…..but I won’t tell them how many days I’ll actually work until after they’ve hired my services……

  17. @Chris: Ha! I love it! Such analogies are not just funny – they reveal just how idiotic many employers behaviors really are.

  18. @Chris: Oh, that’s a great comeback! I’ll have to remember that one for the next time an employer pulls the “we’re not disclosing salary until the offer has been accepted” line.

    Sadly, I suspect that they’d be deeply offended, or that the comment would go over their heads.

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