Discussing Salary: Dreams and Reality

You know you are going to have to talk about money at some point during the process (sometimes as early as when you are submitting application materials), but it always feels like an awkward dance where neither side wants to show too much for fear of exposing a vulnerability.

As the job seeker, if you go too low, the company will lower their salary to meet your expectations, and your salary potential is detrimentally affected for years. Give too high a range, and you’re automatically knocked out of the running for the position.

I’ve always thought that Alison Green of Ask A Manager has a wonderful perspective on what salary discussions would be like in an ideal world:

“It’s not crazy for companies to want to address salary very early on — they don’t want to waste their time if you’re wildly out of their price range. That’s perfectly legitimate, especially if what they’re able to pay is on the lower side of the normal range for the position. But if that’s the case, they really should just post their intended salary range and let applicants decide if they’re interested or not.

“Most of them don’t do that, of course, because if you’re willing to accept a lower offer, they want to get you for that lower price. But that’s short-sighted: If they lowball you now and you figure out later that you’re under-priced for the market, they risk losing you over it. “

The whole salary discussion is somewhat like a car-purchasing scenario, with the companies being the buyers and job seekers being the sellers. Both companies and car buyers know their price range, and they want to get the best deals.

However, the analogy to car-buying isn’t a perfect fit precisely for the reason that Alison states: if a person is hired at a salary that is much below the market, it will be a deal for the company at first, but there’s also the chance that the employee will leave at the first opportunity to make what the market will pay, thus starting the cycle over again for the company. If a car buyer gets a good price for car, they still get to keep the car, period.

Until such time that the whole process becomes more straightforward, here are a few suggestions:

  • Be prepared to negotiate.
  • Have the courage to walk away during the process if it’s warranted and is possible. If you’re not comfortable with the way the salary talks are going, trust your instincts. Do what you have to do to get by, but try to not get in a situation where you feel like the company is taking advantage of you. No matter how much you may need a job, feeling like that is not pleasant.

How do you prepare to discuss salary?

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