How much money are you worth?

I recently read an article that stated job seekers hate being asked what they made in their last or current job.  It went on to say that the question is “not relevant to the job interview and it’s impolite.”  The writer further throws fuel on the fire by saying “it is none of an interviewer’s business what you are earning now or what you’ve earned at any job.”

My Current Pay is None of Your Business

This style of writing is popular these days.  It fans the flames of dislike until they burn with disgust and hatred.  As was said in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing “Yo! Hold Up! Time Out! Time Out! Y’all Take a Chill!”  Anytime you are asked a question that you do not like or do not want to answer first chill out and ask yourself “why are they asking the question?”  If you do not want to discuss what you currently make you could always re-frame the question by answering it this way:

My current employer has very strict rules around sharing our compensation.  I am seeking a salary between $x and $y as part of the overall comp package.

As a recruiter I want to ask; why is this an issue?  Some interviewers ask what salary you are seeking rather than asking what you have been making but the fact of the matter is, money is an issue.  Usually, when someone asks about your current or past pay, they want to know if you are within the company’s price range for the position.

Many people talk about equal pay.  Is everyone’s work equal?  What if it takes you 20% longer to produce the same product as the person next to you, is that equal?  Or how about if you have a bad attitude and people do not like being around you?  I think we should re-frame the compensation discussion around what is fair.  I fully admit this is from the perspective of a white male but this will always be an issue when we have a free market.  There is an interesting perspective on the gender pay gap from Freakanomics.

Before you start talking comp with a company you need to be sure you do your research.   You want to research both the industry and your budget.  Both are important for different reasons.  You want to know the pay in the industry so you know where their salary range should be and you need to know your budget to have a minimum you need to make.  Just as a company may be willing to hire someone with a little less experience or skills if they cost less, you may be willing to take a position you are more interested in for less money.  But you still need to pay the bills.

Here are a few sources for compensation research: – You (supposedly) get the information from people who currently or previously worked at the company.  They also review companies. – You can do research on your current position, research another field or evaluate a job offer.

O*NET Your tax dollars at work.  You can see median wages, projected job growth and more.

The One Who Talks Compensation First Loses

I do not believe this statement.  In my interviews I always bring up compensation first and I tell people what our compensation range is before I ask about theirs.  After I tell them ours I do frequently ask what they have been making so I can tell them if that is possible here or how long it would take to get back in that range.  I hire sales people.  It is a real concern for employers if we are offering less money than you made at your last position.  Why?  Mainly, once you make a certain amount it is difficult to go backwards.  I know because I have done this twice personally and once as a family.  It sounds easier than it is.  Also, many people measure their value in dollars and cents.  Making less is possible but it is tough and leads many people to keep looking for more, which can lead to turnover.

As a candidate you need to understand that a company / department has a budget and they usually have a bean counter somewhere that has budgeted a certain amount of money for the position in question.  That means that if they offer at or below budget it is easier, above is more difficult.

I Changed My Mind

What to do if you tell the company a number then you change your mind?  You better have a good reason.  Is is VERY frustrating for a company if you tell me your number, then I offer that number only to have to say that is not enough.  Think of it like dating.  You ask someone out to lunch and ask where they would like to go.  They tell you tacos sound good and you name the local taqueria, they agree.  But when you all get there they say that they changed their mind and they want steak.  Frustrating?  You bet it is.

But it can be done with some tact and discretion.  There are a few guidelines  I suggest you follow:

Don’t ask for too much – If you first told them $50k and now you are asking for $60k that is a 20% jump.  Maybe a 5% – 10% ask is easier.

Why are you asking? – State a reason.  Maybe you are moving for the position and housing is more expensive than you thought or their insurance costs are higher than in your current position, which changed your personal budget.  Maybe the increase would allow you to move out of your parent’s house.

Ask the question – I encourage candidates to start by asking something like “I am excited about the position!  Since we last spoke I started looking at housing in the area and it is more expensive than I expected, is there any flexibility in the offer?”

Know your number – If their offer is below your bottom number and you know it won’t work, just tell them.  Be nice but be direct.  The earlier in the process the better.

Reiterate your interest – When renegotiating terms be sure to remind them why you are the right person and confirm your interest level.  “I really hope this can work.  I found the perfect place twenty minutes away and I am looking forward to starting next week!”

My salary situation at ‘Morning Joe’ wasn’t right. I made five attempts to fix it, then realized I’d made the same mistake every time: I apologized for asking.
Mika Brzezinski

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