Ah, the dreaded salary question. Candidates hate it. Hiring managers flub it. Even seasoned recruiters can get tongue tied when trying to navigate the increasingly sensitive legal waters surrounding the issue.
It’s not surprising. Laws are changing and in many states you can no longer ask about a person’s salary history. On the surface this seems beneficial to candidates and a point scored against potential bias. This might be true, but it also increases the awkwardness factor and encourages a series of practices designed to circumvent the new regulation.
Instead of asking about prior compensation, HR practitioners have shifted their inquires to “salary expectations” out of desire to play it safe. Let’s face it most recruiters don’t want to risk their reputation by suggesting a 50K person for a 100k job. It’s an understandable concern from their perspective, but it doesn’t make it any more right or helpful for the organization. After all, companies should hire talent not titles.
Instead of simply lamenting the reality the situation, job seekers should take the following actions to improve their chances of securing the best role at the highest possible price point.
- Know Your Value: Do what the HR pros do and benchmark your desired role. You may not have access to salary surveys, but anyone can find an average salary for a given job class through a little networking and research.
- Consult Your Network: Salary websites are helpful for general information, but it’s always better to talk to knowledgeable people you can trust. Find those who are a level or two above the job you seek and ask their advice. Yes, it’s awkward, but it’s one of the most financially important conversations you can have.
- Take the 5th: If a company’s ATS forces a target salary figure put zero and have the conversation during the interview. Also, never speak first. If a recruiter asks for “your number”, pause and inquire about the salary range for the position. If your figure falls in that range, great. If not, see if your experience warrants a higher title or at least ask about the promotion process to get you to where you need to be. Keep in mind, other items like bonus, 401(k) match, and commute time could bridge the gap.
- Consider Cost of Living: Several sites can give you cost of living estimates. What’s important will depend on your personal situation i.e. a single apartment dweller vs. a married, homeowner who has kids in school. In either case, ask about relocation assistance and/or a sign-on bonus to help with the move.
- Measure Total Compensation: Candidates can make a critical financial error when they focus solely on base salary. You have to look at the whole picture. For example, one might quickly accept a job paying 20% more and actually come out losing money when they factor in longer hours, increased commute time, spotty bonus structures, higher benefits costs, and lower 401(k) matching. The smart thing to do is to craft a side-by-side comparison of all financial factors and then make an objective decision based on all the facts.
- Be Mindful of Work/Life Issues: Savvy job seekers will look beyond the monetary elements and consider work-life balance factors, organizational culture, manager style, and even longer-term opportunity costs. For example, landing a sweet gig bartending in college might be the perfect blend of “big money” and ideal hours for that point in your life. However, it’s important not to be seduced by a short-term view. In some cases what looked like a great choice when your peer group was struggling to make ends meet in grad school, may not hole the same luster later on. Flash forward to the family years and while you may still enjoy the work, the definition of “big money” can change and a bartender’s hours may take their toll.
Of course there is not magic formula for everyone. We each value and should chase want is most meaningful to us be it maximizing near term base compensation, long-term wealth accumulation, or simply free time and life balance.
The reality is, there are rich people who are broke and poor people who have wealth…rarely is it about how much you earn.
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Check out my latest book The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi or LinkedIn