THE BLOG
01/13/2011 03:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Salary - Chicken and the Egg

Pete was laid off from a position he had been in for 15 years. The good news was he had an interview next week and just needed a little advice on interviewing. We scheduled him in and put him through a mock interview.

At the end of the mock interview we asked him what he was making at his last job. He said, "I'm so glad you asked that because I want to know how to handle that question."
How to "handle it?" We told him to just answer the question - tell them what your base and bonus were at your last job. He was adamant, "I have no problems telling you, but I'm not going to tell them. Not before I know what the range is."

This conjured up a picture in our heads of him sitting across from the interviewer holding playing cards and saying, "Go Fish!".

2011-01-13-playingcards2.jpg

We explained to Pete this is not a game you can win with the strategy of - show me yours then I'll show you mine. Revealing your salary doesn't change what the range is and doesn't give you less bargaining power. Then he argued, "If I don't know what the range is they can offer me a salary below it." Not likely. Companies go to great lengths to establish competitive salary ranges, often hiring consulting firms who research the marketplace and then design a compensation structure for them. A company wouldn't make a salary offer below the range because it would throw off parity within the organization and marketplace.

Pete countered with, "But if I don't know the top of the range, then I'm selling myself short - leaving money on the table". Possibly, however, companies typically don't offer the top of the range because they like to leave room for future raises. We told Pete if it made him feel more comfortable, that after disclosing his salary, he could ask what the range is, understanding that they are under no obligation to tell him. Pete felt at a real disadvantage.

We reminded him that what a company offers is not necessarily their last offer and that there may be room to negotiate. And it's always easier to negotiate when you have established that you are upfront and easy to work with. During the initial interview is not the time to negotiate salary. If after mentioning your salary no discussion about it emerges, you can assume you're in the range.

Pete was still not convinced. We were clear - companies expect you to tell them what your salary was and being hesitant about that may raise a red flag. It may indicate to them that you will be difficult to work with or that you don't have the self confidence to negotiate. Or worse, that you believe people are trying to take advantage of you.

So, what did Pete do? During the interview he elected not to answer the salary question. He received a follow-up call from human resources about this and he explained his rationale for not telling them. The HR person said, "I'm sorry you feel this way. We'll be in touch." Pete knew he had blown it. When he called to tell us this, he said "Lesson learned." Unfortunately, especially in this marketplace, it was an expensive lesson. If companies have to struggle to get information from you, they may not bother.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success