I blew it big time. I was at an interview yesterday for an administrative assistant position with a law firm. The human resources manager asked me what my salary expectations were for this exciting full-time position. Needless to say, the amount was not communicated in the job posting much to my sorrow. I responded by asking a question: “What are you willing to pay me?” That was it. The interview was over, and so was my candidacy. I felt trapped and I felt tricked.
Please could you give me some advice as to how to respond effectively and appropriately to this difficult question.
Signed: Tricked and Trapped (TAT)
This is definitely a tricky question to answer. It’s almost as if you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If you give a salary which is too high, you may ruin your chances to be considered; if you give a number which is too low, the hiring manager may think you aren’t qualified. Don’t feel so badly. According to Cynthia Shapiro in What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here?: 44 Insider Secrets That Will Get You Hired (2008), “gone are the days of the straightforward interview designed to allow you talk about your skills and qualifications” (p. 74). Today’s interview, she continues, is designed to help the recruiter find out if you can do the job, as well as what kind of person you are and if you have potential to cause the company any problems. Asking a candidate to state their salary expectations is a question which definitely falls under this category.
There are two suggested ways to respond to this question at the interview. The first one is to change the priorities by stating “My priority is to find a growing, successful company where I can make a contribution to and continue to learn and grow and practice my profession. I want to be compensated, but is not the most important thing for me. I am flexible”.
The other (and arguably, better) strategy is to do your research on the internet on current salaries and be prepared to respond with a reasonable range, such as: “I have done my research and I understand that this position as an administrative assistant would pay between $30,000 – $40,000″. The JVS Toronto Employment Counsellors who wrote our Interview Workshop manual recommend that if you wish to show your eagerness for the position, you may add, “But I’m flexible.” Some suggested websites are Payscale, Salary.com and Monster Salary Centre. LinkedIn can also be another source for compensation information. Be careful with the data, because it is not always accurate. Salaries vary in terms of location, time and job, and the ranges are wide. Another suggestion is to locate an employee in the firm and ask about salary range (people won’t want to disclose their salary, but most are willing to share a range).
Last but not least, Employment Counsellor and the editor of this blog, Karin Lewis, has some advice for responding to the salary expectations in the cover letter. “I think job searchers should not specify their expectations in the cover letter because they don’t know enough about the job and what it entails. It means limiting their ability to negotiate in the interview. I suggest clients write: Regarding salary expectations, I am flexible and open to discussing specifics at the Interview”, or — probably better — propose a wide salary range and express openness to be flexible.”
TAT, I am sure you will get another interview as it seems like your resume is working and you will have plenty of opportunities to prepare an answer to the salary question which the hiring person will want to hear.
Finally, remember not to mention money or salary expectations in the interview unless you are asked by the interviewer! (It is acceptable, however, to ask about when salary will be discussed, but make sure to keep that question to the end of the interviewing process).
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