Salary Negotiation Trends

It used to be that we said, “The first person who mentions a number [for salary] loses.” Is that still true today?

Not according to Liz Ryan, whose article on Forbes titled “How to Negotiate A Job Offer” labels that advice as old-school thinking–true maybe as recently as 1995 but not anymore. As Ryan says, “For the most part, job offers today are surprising on the low side, if they’re surprising at all. Once a lowball offer is lobbed at you, you’ll have a tough time getting the hiring manager to budge more than a few thousand dollars. You’re better off communicating your target range early and letting the hiring manager deal with it then. If it’s not a fit, better to know that early, right?”

Why Bring Up Salary–and When?

Ryan suggests strongly that you should introduce the subject of compensation reasonably early in the process. “When somebody calls or writes to invite you for a second interview, that’s the moment to share your target range.”

I can think of one potential drawback that Ryan’s article doesn’t even mention. What happens if the prospective employer brings up the salary question very early in the process–such as in a telephone prescreening interview. It happens…and all too often, based on the stories I hear from clients and others. (More on that in a moment or two.)

One aspect of Ryan’s suggestion that at least merits careful thought is the idea that you want to avoid wasting your time and the company’s time by going through one or more additional interviews for a position that turns out to be too far out of your financial ballpark–the range you have determined you want or need to target.

Assuming you’ve been able to get to the end of the first interview without encountering the subject of salary expectations or salary history (not necessarily one and the same thing), you might want to look carefully at the situation before moving ahead. As indicated in the quote from her article near the beginning of this post, Ryan believes you’re better off knowing where things stand financially before you try to take the next step.

Bring Up Salary or Don’t Bring It Up

I mentioned above that you might not be the one who brings up the subject of salary. This is something I’ve touched on in the past as well. Employers do prescreening phone interviews that determine, to a large extent, whether you get invited for an in-person interview, and it’s not uncommon for them to raise the subject then. This is generally done in one of two ways: “What salary are you looking for in your next position?” OR “What salary are you receiving in your current position (or have you earned in past positions)?”

I agree with Ryan that you should have a realistic range in mind, before you begin interviewing, which of course means you should have done your due diligence on what your market value is likely to be (as well as what your income needs are). However, I tend to believe that salary negotiation trends don’t necessarily mean you have the option of being the first to bring up the subject of salary. I still suspect that many employers will preempt your choice of the timing. If it turns out that you do get to choose, Ryan’s warning about not going too deeply into the interview process before you discuss salary might be a point well taken.

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