07 May 2009
A friend and former colleague has been on three interviews with a company. The inevitable question, “How much were you making at your last position?” was asked. It is the 600 pound gorilla in the room. People know that the question will come up but they dance around the question for as long as possible. My general philosophy is to ask that question up front. In the 13+ years that I have been recruiting, salary can be a deal breaker. Why wait until the candidate has gone on 3 interviews only to find out that (s)he can not accept a salary less than X amount.
There are various stages during the interview process that candidates may be asked reveal their salary information:
- Application process – Some applicant tracking system can be designed to ask all candidates pre-screening questions before their resume can be submitted. Salary could be one of those questions. Employers have been implementing more automated screening tools due to the influx of resumes.
- Interview stage- Human resources professional have different philosophies of bringing up the salary question. Some prefer to ask the question up front. Others prefer to wait during the 2nd or 3rd interview. There are some who wait until right before the offer stage.
- Application form – Every employment attorney and recruitment book/class that I have encountered recommend that company’s require applicants to complete an application form. There are numerous reasons why an application form is important from a legal perspective. One of them is the candidates are asked to list their previous employers including salary history.
Candidates are sometimes reluctant to discuss salary during the early stages of the interview process. I respect that some candidates do not want to be ruled out simply because of salary. As I mentioned earlier, you can not ignore the 600 pound gorilla in the room forever. My friend did not want the prospective employer to stop considering her because of her salary which she suspected is higher than they can afford. Here are your options when faced with the salary question:
- Be up front - Tell the prospective employer exactly how much you are/were making.
- Provide a range - Provide the prospective employer a ballpark idea of your previous salary. You can give a salary range if you prefer. You can also give a salary range you can live with if they should extend you an offer. I recommend reviewing your finances to determine the minimum amount of money that you need in order to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. Add all the other things that you need to keep you sane and use that as a starting point.
- Be flexible and negotiate - If you suspect that this figure might be on the high side, then make sure to mention that you are flexible. (But make sure to mean it otherwise it is a colossal waste of time on everyone’s part if you have a set figure in your mind that is non-negotiable.) You can always negotiate other things into your offer if the employers can not provide you that magic number. A lot of people negotiated stock options during the dot com days. Sales people will sometimes negotiate their commissions and/or perks such as a car/parking allowance. I suspect in today’s economic climate, people might go as far as negotiating severance or retirement packages. The sky is the limit as to what you can include during salary negotiations. Keep in mind that just because you ask, does not mean that you will get it. You will not know unless you ask.