Although we can all relate to this question, there is no one right answer. Different circumstances will require different strategies. However, there are a couple of key points to remember:
1) Have some reasonable idea of what the position will pay before agreeing to an interview. If you are working with a recruiter, you should already know the general range. If you have responded to an Internet posting or classified, you should have a good idea. Do not waste your time or the prospective employer's if your salary needs exceed the range or if you wouldn't accept an offer at the high end.
2) Establish what you are looking for during the first interview. There is always at least one person during initial interviews who knows exactly what the position pays. Without sounding money-motivated, when your interviewer asks you at the end of the interview, "Do you have any questions?" use this opportunity to probe the salary question. Too often we fail to bring this up early enough in the process. In a nice way, ask the direct question: "What is the salary range of this position?" You will gain valuable information early enough to determine if this opportunity is what you are expecting. If talking about salary now is difficult for the prospective employer, you most likely will be disappointed with the eventual offer, if it comes. Avoiding the subject could result in wasting everyone's time.
3) As the employer's interest increases, you need to provide some idea about what you are looking for in the total package. Remember, base salary is typically just one component of the package. It is your right to expect fair treatment as the process continues. This is where a professional recruiter adds value to the process. He or she should be discussing money on both sides of the equation. Walt Kennedy, a great recruiter from the old Source EDP regime, had a saying on his desk that read "No Surprises." He meant: why wait until the end of the process to discover that the employer or candidate had unrealistic expectations regarding salary, job function, or some other deal-killing issue. You will know where you stand as you proceed.
4) When an employer asks what you are expecting, answer thoughtfully. You should already have a very good idea of the potential offer range. This is when you should, in a professional way, state that money is not your primary motivator and that the job content and potential is why you're here. Proceed by revealing what you're currently earning, plus this bonus or other perk, and, by the way, I'm due for an increase in X months (unless you've recently been reviewed). Continue by stating that you've "been impressed with the company and the people so far, and I'm sure you would make an offer that takes into consideration a reasonable increase." At this point, they probably won't lowball you, but if they do, they may explain what can be done to get you where you want to be. This is the critical juncture -- where many offers are won or lost. If a recruiter is involved, he or she should be counseling you as well. Most employers like to make an offer that is accepted without a lot of tinkering, at least when the written offer is generated. More and more employers are using a signing bonus if the candidate is already near the top of the range.
Kurt Wilkinson is the principal of Wilkinson SoftSEARCH, Inc.© 2003 CareerBuilder.com
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