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Let's Talk Salary: The Rules

On the subject of salary, I believe there are several clear rules:

  1. Don't put your "salary history" in a resume as a matter of course.

  2. Don't respond to any job that requires this with a mention of what you're earning unless you absolutely, absolutely want the job and are willing to be discarded right at the beginning because your salary is too high or too low. (Yes, I know that some HR groups will discard a resume that doesn't have your "salary history" in it, and that's the chance you take.) In other words, don't put your salary history in, ever.

  3. With a recruiter, you can talk frankly about salary and whether what you've earned matches what they're willing to pay. The recruiter can often tell you, based on her experience, what the "wriggle" room is and if this is above or below the market average. The recruiter will often ask this to make sure you "fit" in the range the employer is willing to pay, so that neither of you wastes time.

  4. If asked in an interview, either a preliminary "screening" interview or a later one, about your salary requirements or what you've earned, your response needs to be, "What's the range for this position?"

    The dialogue goes thusly:

    "What are your salary requirements?" or "What level of compensation are you looking for?" asks the interviewer.

    "What's the range for this position?" you respond.

    "What kind of salary were you earning?" they ask again.

    "What's the range for this position? If you can tell me that, I'll be glad to tell you if I'm comfortable with it," you respond once more.

    "What did you earn in your last position?"

    "If you can tell me the range, I'll be glad to tell you if it's acceptable..."

    I believe you can go through this gambit at least three times without irritating the questioner, if you do it right. This is extremely difficult for most people to do (i.e., not to answer a direct question and respond with one of your own), but it can be done with practice. This gambit is successful perhaps 60% of the time, maybe more if you're really charming or the interviewer is weak, and the axiom is: The first person who names a figure, loses.

  5. In the early stages of interviewing, it is a good alternative to say, "I'd like to put salary aside for the time being, and concentrate on the requirements of the job and how I can make a substantial contribute first..."

  6. Some people have successfully used this line: "I've earned quite a bit and very little in previous jobs, and at this point in my career the important thing is what kind of match there is between my experience and what the job calls for, so could we defer talking about salary for the time being?..."

  7. You also can always say: "I'm sure you've set a fair salary for this position, and therefore whatever you've set will work for both of us." (This may be an outright lie but it can also serve to get beyond that point.)

  8. Always try to get the going rate for such a position from your network or from a salary comparison survey. Then you can say, "The range for this, according to the XYZ Guide, is from $--------- to $--------. Is that what we're talking about?"

  9. It is acceptable to name a range when, and if, you give up and decide to respond to a question about what you want to earn or what the range is.

  10. Never try to negotiate salary until you have been told conclusively that you have been chosen.

Lawrence M. Light, Job Coach
eJobCoach Unlimited
(949) 716-3581
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