Article #1 From the "What If ..." Library on Salary Negotiations

What If ...

An Employer Gets Aggressive About Salary

These days, salary negotiation skills are not just a luxury to get more money, but are critical as you fight for survival in a competitive job market. Lately, many people have been complaining about being screened out of contention for jobs because they're "overqualified" (read: highly paid). They've asked us about responding to aggressive employer tactics around salary. I've always preached that the first rule of salary negotiations is to avoid salary discussions until the employer offers the job.

Talking about salary too early may lead the boss to decide that:

  1. He can underpay you; or
  2. You are not as qualified as the smooth-talking candidate, who earns $15,000 more than you; or
  3. You are too expensive, and not worth an interview.

This aggressive employer probing can strike fear into the hearts of job hunters. Let's look at how to respond to these tactics.

  1. THE EMPLOYER DEMANDS YOUR SALARY HISTORY This tactic is not new. Many job application forms have boxes for you to fill in your previous salaries. Likewise, job ads sometimes request a salary history. Often, these ads threaten that you will not be considered if you fail to comply. Solution: Don't give them the information, but be polite. Leave the salary boxes on the job application blank, but put an asterisk with a phrase like, "would be glad to discuss in an interview." If you are responding to an ad, write in your cover letter, "I am making a competitive salary for a _____ (your position) with ___ years experience, and I will be happy to discuss salary in an interview." Probably, some employers actually do eliminate candidates who fail to furnish salary information. However, we've found most employers are interested in finding good talent to solve their problems--with or without a salary history. We think it's a far better risk to not disclose salary. Revealing it opens you to being screened out because your salary is too high or too low--or you might box yourself into being underpaid.
  2. TELEPHONE SCREENINGS The second tactic is also not new, but is becoming more common. Employers screen candidates by phone before agreeing to a face-to-face interview. During the screening, the employer will abruptly ask about past salary or current requirements. Solution: As in a face-to-face interview, your strategy is to convince the interviewer that salary will not be an issue. You might respond, "I'm sure you pay fair salaries, don't you?" or "I'd like to fit into your salary structure, if you think I'm the best candidate. Can we talk about the job?" If the interviewer is persistent, you might say, "I'm very uncomfortable talking about money at this point, since I don't want to get screened out because I was making too much or too little." If the interviewer still persists, you might say, "Could you give me the range you have in mind? I'll tell you if we're in the right ballpark."
  3. COMPANY WEBSITES FORCE SALARY DISCLOSURE The third tactic is new. Some company web sites now present job applicants with a screen that demands their desired salary range. Without that information, applicants cannot advance to the next screen and complete the application. Solution: Give a salary range that you feel will not get you screened out for the position. Negotiate for what you are worth later. This carries some danger of being boxed into a low salary, but good negotiations can compensate for any damage done. Unfortunately, the only alternative is to not complete the application. Many people believe that you're either born with negotiation skills or you're not. We hope this small illustration demonstrates that you can learn and improve your past performance, and will spur you to learn more about how to be effective.