Salary conversations at Interviews

Being a skilled negotiator is good for career advancement and can help you navigate career roles, transitions, and challenges successfully. It could even help you get that big pay bump you are looking for! Let’s see how.

Consider a working professional who has experienced a change in pay expectations and believes a job change is the best way to get a salary increase. But a new job doesn’t always guarantee a substantial salary raise. Often people are offered and settle for a 10% or less increase. That’s because getting a raise isn’t easy.

Many of us find money conversations in interviews awkward or unsettling. And yet, salary talk cannot and should not be avoided.

So, here’s a simple guide to understanding and handling money conversations with ease and confidence.

The timing

Bringing up compensation at the right time is important to the success of the negotiation. The right time varies by context – it differs for a walk-in and a multi-step interview.

A simple approach for all scenarios is to learn everything you can about the opportunity before any money talk happens. Doing so may uncover information that could influence your ask. For example, you may discover that the role entails higher responsibility or that your particular skill set is of great value to the company – in both cases, you can ask for more.

Leaving the conversation for too late has its disadvantages too. It’s possible the budget for the position may be high enough for it to be a selling point or low enough for you to withdraw from the process early.

To be right on the money you have to be right on time – neither too early, and nor too late.

 

Who Goes first?

It’s best to wait for the interviewer to bring it up. Companies with tight budgets wanting to screen out unaffordable candidates may bring up the salary question early (think first round/on call). Most will get to it in the second round, while in rare instances, its left to the very end of the process. If your interview gets serious and you suspect they cannot afford you, casually ask the interviewer to give you a ballpark figure for the position, before you invest further time and effort in the process.

The Mindset

Approach salary negotiation as an art rather than a fight. To start with, know your mutual goals. The employer wants to hire the best talent affordable, while you want a good position that comes with a decent/fat paycheck.

After goals, trust is a major factor that impacts a negotiation. Most job seekers don’t trust prospective employers to be fair. Employers too have similar misgivings and try to minimize investment until a new hire demonstrates value.

To achieve your dream job and dream salary, in such a scenario, you need to approach a negotiation with an ‘executive mindset’. Liz Ryan, a leading HR expert describes the mindset in her ‘Job-Hunt Like an Executive’. To her, it means shifting your thinking from ‘I’m a job-seeker’ to ‘I’m a professional in Field X hunting for my next big assignment.” And, projecting a healthy level of confidence that lets the interviewer know that they’re dealing with someone who understands who they are, what they are capable of, and what they deserve for that work.

Now you know the attitude to take – a pleasant and confident one. The next step is to learn and practice a few basic negotiation skills.

 

The Preparation

Research Salary and Benefits. Go into the negotiation armed with information about the role, the prospective employer and the salary trends in the field. Use resources like pay scale, salary.com, Glassdoor, local recruiters, recruitment agencies and your professional network to research the average salary at the employer, the average salary for the position, and the average salary in your location. Once you arrive at a realistic range that’s fair, determine your particular red lines based on your needs and what you think you are worth (based on experience, education, professional training, certifications and peripheral skills).

Investigate benefits as well. Check if the company provides stock options, bonuses, health benefits, paid leave, remote work options, etc. If you like the position and the employer isn’t flexible on the salary, you may be able to negotiate non-cash tradeoffs like additional leave days or remote work days.

Dos and Don’ts:

  • Ignore your old salary. Don’t use it as a base. Instead, consider the value of your contribution to the company and the evidence uncovered in your research to arrive at a range.
  • Go to the interview with a salary range in mind. So, you can tell if the offer is “great” or “acceptable” or if you have to“look someplace else”

The final aspect of the preparation: practicing your negotiation skills. Remember: if you don’t ask for it, you’ll never get it. Also, keep in mind that you won’t score a win every time. So, while you shoot high, don’t forget to temper your expectations by preparing for rejection as well.

(At) The negotiation:

What’s Your Last Salary? Don’t tell. If the question comes up before an initial offer gently deflect/redirect. Be polite – but firm. Say that the number would not be relevant to the current discussion of the position, responsibilities, and companies differ. Be sure to add that you are looking for a position that can compensate you fairly for your skills and experience. Or better yet, use the opportunity to put across your target compensation range. Tell them you are looking at roles in the 8 lakh per annum range (replace with a number you are looking at) and ask if the position being offered falls under the range.

Hone in on the range. The first offer isn’t usually the best, most companies quote a figure close to the midpoint of their actual range. Which means that if you applied for a business development position and the interviewer makes an offer of Rs. 600000/- pa, they may be willing to negotiate a figure between Rs. 550000 to Rs. 650000/-. The Rs. 50000/- difference amounts to an Rs. 25,0000 loss if you were to stay in the role for five years. If you consider that your salary after promotion is usually an increment on your initial salary, the loss is clearly much greater.

Ask. If the offer is lower than the starting point of your target range, you have two choices: decline and withdraw from the process or negotiate. To negotiate, tell them that while you like the role, the pay doesn’t seem adequate to you and give them a number from your target range to consider. If they counter that it’s too high, try to bring the conversation back to the role and leave the money issue for later. On the other hand, if the offer is within the acceptable range, tell them that while their offer seems fair, you were looking at a number closer to x (about 10% percent higher than the offered figure).

Explain. While they consider your number, cite reasons for why you deserve the higher figure starting with those that are of value to the employer. It could be your track record, experience, peripheral skills etc. Be sure to highlight your successes and accomplishments.

Decide. When you and the company have both determined a fit and the salary issue is back on the table, if the offer remains low, you can either try to negotiate non-cash tradeoffs or bow out gracefully. In cases where the initial offer was accepted, but you are negotiating a higher number, if the company agrees to the higher figure, accept the offer to conclude the negotiation successfully.

Negotiations are successful when both sides are happy with the outcome: the classic win-win situation.

By approaching money conversations professionally, that is, by adopting the right mindset, being prepared and by proceeding with caution, you’ll increase your odds of taking home a bigger paycheck.

Confident you’ll ace your next pay negotiation? If you feel like you could use more insights like these to help you make the right career moves, subscribe to our blog.