So we all know the “What’s your salary expectation?” question. I was talking to a very nice recruiter who asked me that on our first call. I said $X. The recruiter presented my information to a company, including my desired salary. They said “We can’t offer $X base pay, but we can meet her at 90% of $X and then offer $N on top of that in bonus and incentive pay.” My question is, is it okay to feel like I am negotiating salary before I have interviewed? Does it leave room for negotiation at the offer stage? I have not come across this scenario before so I am just curious how you would advise to handle something like this in the future?
I think the best way to get hired and get a salary that’s right for you is to challenge the employer not to hire you. But why would anybody suggest an employer should not hire them? I’ll explain why (and how) you should do just that! But first let’s address your question.
I wish all employers would start negotiating salary before an interview even takes place! It’s a great way to establish whether everyone is on the same “money page” before investing a lot of time!
Of course, it’s best to give a salary range, so you have room to maneuver later. (See Salary Negotiation: How much to ask for.) But the logic underlying this early negotiating strategy is simple, and you set the stage like this.
How to Say It: We’re gonna talk money
“Thanks — it seems we’re in the right ballpark, so I’m willing to invest some time to talk. Although I read your job description, I don’t really know what the day-to-day demands and deliverables of the job are. We’ll get into that in our interviews. So my compensation requirement could change depending on exactly what’s required of me — and what I can do for you.”
You just created a salary opening we’re going to drive a truck through.
Employers rarely can describe what the work is really all about in a job description. Job descriptions are HR-ese — keyword salad. (When I do presentations to professional audiences I often ask for a show of hands: “Who’s job today is what the job description said when you applied for the job?” Everyone cracks up and no hands ever go up!) Until we’re talking shop in a working meeting, we can’t figure out what a job is worth — and how much pay you can negotiate for.
If you’re in the right ballpark, it’s worth talking. But now you need to find out how you could relieve the employer of its pain.
Try something like this.
How to Say It: Why you should hire me
“Please tell me where it hurts. That is, what do you need me to fix, improve, make better, deliver — and I’ll do my best to show you how I will do it. That is, I’ll sketch out a kind of business plan about how I’ll take care of your problem. If I can’t do that for you, then you shouldn’t hire me. And if you don’t offer me enough money, then I won’t take the job. But as long as we’re in the ballpark, let’s roll up our sleeves and I’ll do my best to show you why you should hire me. Let’s talk shop!”
I find that volunteering that it’s possible there is no match is incredibly disarming. It changes your meeting from a job interview to a test that you yourself are proposing. It opens the door to discussing the employer’s most important needs. It tells the employer you are taking the load off their back and you’re going to explain to them why you’re the best hire because you’re going to show them.
And that can change how they evaluate all your competitors.
I find this takes the interview way beyond your resume and the job description. You’ve raised the stakes because you’re not just applying for a job like everyone else. You’re about to present a business proposition, and that raises the employer’s expectations for all applicants. It leaves the door wide open to negotiate for more than they expected because no employer expects the job candidate to actually have a plan.
After you’ve learned the whole story about “where it hurts,” after you learn what they really need — the actual deliverables — then you’ll have a lot of control when negotiating salary.
Suggesting they should not hire you if you can’t talk shop and show you can fix, improve, make better, and deliver on what the employer really needs sets you up to have their complete attention.
Of course, you’d better be ready to prove what you can do in this meeting. Because if you haven’t prepared to do that, then you have no business in the interview.