The Dreaded Compensation Conversation

By Hallie Crawford

The compensation conversation with a potential employer is the part of job search dreaded by almost everyone. If you have been out of the workforce for any period of time, this conversation can seem daunting and nerve-wracking. It is hard to know exactly what to say, and often we read conflicting advice about how to best handle this part of the interview process.

First off, there are no hard and fast rules for negotiating salary. Every situation, company and candidate is different so you do not want to take any advice as the end all, be all. You need to do your homework and also go with your gut instinct about what is right for the situation you are in. For example, how are they handling the process so far? Are they more formal or less so? Do they communicate with you directly or indirectly? How open do they seem to discussing salary? All of these things play into your decision about when to bring up compensation, and how so.

Here are some common questions and advice to get you started on becoming more comfortable with the compensation conversation.

When should you bring it up if they do not?  You certainly do not bring it up in the first conversation and not in the first interview, if the first conversation is a screening call for example. There are sometimes exceptions to this; for example, if they talk benefits in the first conversation, you can mention it at that time. You need to find out their process and the steps they are taking during the interviews. How many interviews will you have and with whom? Answers to these questions will help you determine the right time to discuss salary. A general rule of thumb is if they have not mentioned it and they seem to be closer to offering you the position, bring it up. 

How do I know what to ask for? Do your homework. Conduct informational interviews to find out what salary range you fall into based on your skill set and experience. Talk to recruiters to determine a range. Look on Salary.com, Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com to get a range of what positions are paying in your area.

How should you go about it, especially if you are worried it is below what you require? Ask what the salary range is that they are offering. Do not seem hesitant or worried, ask confidently and directly. And do not make assumptions, you could be wrong that it is low. Do your homework per above so you have a sense of the typical or expected range and are not surprised.

When they say the range, if it is low, do not flip out, just say thank you and that you will need to think about it. If it is so low you simply cannot accept the position at that range, you can mention that and discuss other options right then and there. But it is usually best to think on it overnight to assess those options and your response before getting back to them. Go home and think about whether it is worth it to you to take that salary. For example, is this job a stepping-stone to something else? Do you think they have wiggle room in their budget and are you willing to ask? Can they offer you something else, like working from home one day a week or freelance or consulting work? Are they able to offer you a review in 6 months with the possibility for a raise at that point?

How do you move forward if the range is below what you were thinking but you are not at the offer stage yet? You have a decision to make. If the salary is too low, the job is not one you are dying for or you have other offers and you just cannot accept their range, you can let them know and withdraw your application. If you tell them why, there is a chance they may be able to increase their number – a small chance, but you never know. If it is below, but you really want the job and is has other benefits you are interested in, continue through the process and negotiate for more.

The bottom line is, be prepared and do your homework. The better prepared you are, the better case you can make for the higher salary you want and feel you are worth. Learn more about how to get the compensation you want during the interview process in our YouTube below:

Keep in mind that salary is critical, but some people will take a lower paying job in order to transition into another industry ,and it is worth it for them to get their foot in the door. So sometimes taking a job with a slightly lower salary is a strategic career move depending on your situation and long-term goals.

allie Crawford is a certified career coach, speaker and author from Atlanta whose coaching company, Create Your Career Path, helps people identify their ideal career path, navigate their career transition and nurture their careers. Her team of coaches 
work with people of all ages, have clients worldwide, and have helped thousands of people achieve their career goals.

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