Know the Probable Salary Range in Advance

Approaching an interview without being prepared for discussions of pay is not wise. Although you will have to do a bit of research, knowing what an employer is likely to pay is essential in salary negotiations.

Farr's Salary Negotiation Rule #2

Know in advance the probable salary range for similar jobs in similar organizations.

The trick is to think in terms of a wide range in salary, rather than a particular number. Keep in mind that larger organizations tend to pay more than smaller ones, and various areas of the country differ greatly in pay scales. Find out the general range that jobs of this sort are likely to pay in your area. That information is relatively easy to obtain; all it may take is asking those who work in similar jobs, finding the information online, or visiting the library. See "Sources of Information on Pay for Major Jobs" at the end of this chapter for tips on finding this information.

Bracket the Salary Range

Let's assume that you have done your homework and you know a range that you are likely to be offered for a given job in your area. And let's also assume that you run into an interviewer who insists on knowing how much you expect to be paid. If this happens, I suggest negotiation rule #3.

Farr's Salary Negotiation Rule #3

Always bracket your stated salary range to begin within the employer's probable salary range and end a bit above what you expect to settle for.

Even if you have a good idea of how much a job might pay, you can easily get trapped into making a very costly mistake. Suppose that the employer is expecting to pay someone about $25,000 a year. Your research indicates that most jobs of this type pay between $22,000 and $29,000 a year. Let's also assume that you have run into an interviewer who insists on you revealing your pay expectations in the first interview.

You want to be a clever negotiator, so you say you were hoping for $30,000. You figure that stating that number will make the interviewer think you are not an easy target and will encourage him or her to make a higher offer later. Wrong. In many cases, saying this amount will probably eliminate you from consideration.

If you say you would take $22,000, one of two things could happen:

1. You could get hired at $22,000 a year, probably making that response the most expensive two seconds in your entire life.

2. The employer could look for someone else, because you must be worth only $22,000, and he or she wants someone who is worth more.

Once again, questions about pay during the early phases of the interviewing process are designed to help the employer either eliminate you from consideration or save money at your expense. You could get lucky and name the salary they had in mind, but the stakes are too high for me to recommend that approach. Your best bet is to be informed! See "Sources of Information on Pay for Major Jobs" later in this chapter for tips on figuring out the correct salary range for the position.

In my example, you figured that the probable range for the salary would be from $22,000 to $29,000. That is a wide range, but you could cover it by saying

"I was looking for a salary in the mid- to upper twenties."

This response avoids mentioning a specific salary, and it covers a wide range.

If you were an employer and someone responded this way, how might you react? Most employers take a moment to consider the response and, after doing so, often conclude that your range is the same one that they are considering. The particular number the firm has in mind just happens to be $25,000, and your response "brackets" that figure. The impasse is over, and you can both get on with the interview. You win, and they don't lose.

You can use the same strategy for any salary bracket you may be considering. For example, if you want $28,000 a year and their range is $25,000 to $33,000, you could say "A salary in the mid-twenties to low thirties." The same bracketing techniques can be used with any salary figure.

Talking in terms of a salary range that extends a bit above what the employer was likely to consider often results in one of two positive outcomes:

1. If you are offered the job, you are likely to be offered more than the employer may have originally been willing to consider.

2. It gives you the option of negotiating your salary when it matters mostwhen the employer has offered you a job.

Don't Say No Too Soon

Too often, people lose the ability to negotiate salary because they mishandle the job offer or its discussion. This brings me to rule #4:

Farr's Salary Negotiation Rule #4

Never say no to a job offer either before it is made or within 24 hours afterward.

Many job seekers mishandle discussions of pay early in the interview process. They may not even realize that their response eliminated them from further consideration. That is why you should avoid discussion of pay if at all possible until a firm job offer is being made. Later in this chapter, I'll cover what to do when a job offer is being made. But, for now, it is important that you understand that discussion of pay before a job offer is made is a trap that can easily result in your being eliminated from being considered.

But what can you do if an employer insists on your stating your pay requirements early in the interview? Going back to the original example, you had decided in advance that you wanted to earn about $25,000 a year. Using the bracketing technique correctly, you say you would accept offers in the range from the mid- to upper twenties. In response, the interviewer then tells you that the organization wants to pay about $23,000. Because that is below what you had hoped for, you display some subtle signs of disappointment. The interviewer just might notice that reaction and decide to keep looking for someone who would be delighted with the $25,000 the organization wants to pay. If you had just had a bit more patience, you might have made a good fit. Perhaps that lost job would have turned out to be just the sort you had been looking fora very nice job in all respects except the salary.

Had you handled things differently and not acted disappointed, you might have continued a pleasant chat, and the interviewer would have gotten to know you as the wonderful person you are. She or he just might have been able to come up with a few thousand more, having discovered you were worth it.

To avoid losing the job before the interview is over, you might consider countering a lower-than-hoped-for offer by saying something like this:

"That is somewhat lower than I had hoped, but this position does sound very interesting. If I were to consider this offer, what sorts of things could I do to quickly become more valuable to this organization?"

Or you might say that you would be happy to get more specific about salary later, after you have both gotten to know each other better.

I hope you now see why you should not negotiate your pay too early in an interview. Only later, when employers want you, are wages an appropriate topic. Remember that a discussion of salary is not necessarily a job offer. More often, it is an attempt to screen you out of consideration.

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