How to negotiate your salary in an interview

How to negotiate your salary in an interview

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You should negotiate your salary at every job interview you attend – so learning to negotiate it should be part of your overall application plan. In this article, we have put together the most important things to consider and say in a salary negotiation that takes place in an interview.

 

Yesterday we had a meeting in a shared open office (imagine a big hot-desking space used by many small companies). At the next table, a job interview was taking place and we couldn’t help overhearing. It sounded like a management/strategy consultant applying for a growth start-up.

The chap was doing quite well. He answered all the technical questions precisely and seemed to have the right qualifications and experience. The interviewers were obviously impressed.

Then came the question: “what are your salary expectations?” 

The candidate was clearly flummoxed. He gabbled for a while and ended up saying “salary’s not important to me”. Uh oh.

After the candidate left, the interviewers debriefed. They concluded that this chap was nearly as qualified as their current favourite, but they would be able to offer him a much lower salary than the other contender. So on balance, they’d be getting a good deal.

On the one hand, it’s great news for the candidate we’d overheard – he’ll likely receive a job offer. The downside will be a far lower salary offer than he could have achieved. That’s not to say that he couldn’t negotiate upwards; just that by not negotiating his salary as soon as the question arose, he put himself in more difficult situation than it could have been.

This is a thorny question and one you need to answer strategically. There are some things that you should do to prepare:

Know your worth 

Don’t just jump into a pay negotiation blindfolded. Research compensation packages (salary + bonus + benefits) for similar jobs (industry, seniority). Trawl through jobs boards and ask friends/colleagues. Understand the salary progression with your current employer and decide when you’re likely to be promoted/get a raise. And check how your salary compares to people in your peer group and industry here.

Ask the question first

It’s not inappropriate to ask the employer what the compensation package is before you schedule an interview. If you’re a good candidate, they need to attract you and not vice versa. It’s also OK to ask the question in the interview, particularly a final round (although the reply might come “what are your expectations?”). In other words, don’t be scared to negotiate your pay. All the best candidates do it.

Decide the strength of your position 

This applies during and outside of the interview. During the interview, be sensitive to the signals that your interviewers are sending you. In the example above, it was clear to us that the employers were keen on the candidate; for instance, they were using the phrase when you work with us” rather than if you work with us”. If you sense that they’re keen, you can confidently ask them to show their hand first or aim high with your opening position.

Outside of the interview, your negotiating position is stronger if you show other options available to you (i.e., with your current employer or with other prospective employers). It’s stronger still if you have another offer on the table.

Put yourself in the employer’s shoes 

Be sensitive to the size and type of firm that’s interviewing you and think about where they might be able to be flexible – it is important that your negotiation adapts to their reality. Are they likely to offer high fixed salaries and small bonuses or the opposite? Is there commission? What are their benefits worth? Could they offer you share options? A sign-on bonus? If it’s a young company/start-up, could they offer you equity? What would their competitors offer?

Prepare an answer 

There are a number of questions that you should prepare for prior to any interview. What you are hoping to earn is one of them. Your answer may change depending on how you perceive the strength of your position. In this case, prepare a few answers and decide which one you’ll use when.

Be confident 

If the interviewer senses weakness they’ve gained the upper hand.

After you’ve prepared, there are a number of options for how you answer:

The “right back at you

Salary negotiations are just that; a negotiation. So it’s reasonable to ask the employer to make the first suggestion.

The straight answer 

Decide what’s reasonable and stick it out there. The downside is that it will be very difficult to negotiate upwards from this point. As a rule of thumb for negotiation, salary or otherwise, he/she who declares their hand first normally comes out worst off.

The range 

If you’re not comfortable declaring a specific figure, you can take an alternative approach and still negtiate your salary: come up with a pay range where your current salary is somewhere towards the bottom (assuming the industries and companies are comparable). This will give the employer confidence that you’re in the same ball park. You might provide sources for your range i.e., “given my current salary and industry average wages…”. Just make sure that your high figure doesn’t come across as ridiculous.

The delay 

In an interview, a job offer isn’t on the table. An employer asking about your salary expectations is just testing the waters. It’s a reasonable answer to say something like “I’d request that this discussion takes place once an offer has been made. I trust that the package will be appropriate for the industry and my level of experience. In the meantime, I’m very interested in learning more about the role”. 

As with most aspects of a job search, negotiating a salary will be easier if you have done your research, prepared an answer and have a firm view on what you want, including the compromises that you are, and are not, willing to make.

 

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