Money Talk: Let’s Discuss Salary

Posted by Chrissa Dockendorf

Want to talk about salaryTalking about money is one of those things that always seems to make people uncomfortable. Whenever someone brings up the topic of money there always seems to be weird silences and stumbling sentences.

Meanwhile I’m over here excited about finding a Marilyn Monroe look alike dress in a vintage store for $5! When people find a deal they get excited about it and want to share. But when that deal is your salary, it isn’t as exciting.

Side note: I was going to say it seems to be a “taboo subject” and reference other things that are taboo, but that got awkward quickly. Don’t Google it. You have been warned.

I was a dancing mouse.

When I got my first job making minimum wage hosting birthday parties and dressing up as a ridiculous mouse who sang happy birthday while dancing around like an idiot, we were told not to discuss your pay with anyone or you could be fired. At 16 years old I didn’t really get it, but I didn’t want to get fired so my rate was my secret.

Looking back, I know they didn’t want us knowing what others made and realize they hired us at a steal, because we didn’t know any better. It would be blasphemy if we started asking for raises once we realized someone else actually had the wherewithal to figure out how much they should be getting paid, because you know, screw equality and fair wages.

When I started in the recruiting industry as a coordinator the manager that was training me and the HR Director specifically talked about not offering up our salary ranges and bill rates to candidates. “Let them give you a number first.” Often times this ended up becoming a standoff between myself and the candidate to see who would drop a number first. I often “won” because I am super stubborn and sit comfortably in awkward silences.

No Bullsh*t.

I say “won” in quotes because as I started getting more experience in recruiting, I realized that this whole standoff was dumb and no one was really winning anything. So much to the dismay of two of my former employers, I started doing the unthinkable. I gave candidates the salary range and bill rates!

Not all recruiters will be that upfront with you. I do know plenty that don’t put up with BS, but let’s say the majority won’t have that conversation with you. So when do you talk about salary, how do you do it without shooting yourself in the foot?

When to discuss.

This is going to be a personal preference for you, but most recruiters are going to ask you in that first conversation what your salary requirements are. The fact of the matter is they most likely have a range they are working in, and if you don’t fit in that range they can’t consider you. They like to get that out of the way up front.

Some recruiters like to draw you in to the company before discussing salary. They think if they can lure you in and get you to love them first, you won’t care about the salary later.

As a candidate you need to own the salary discussion, but in my opinion I would want to know if my requirements are doable right up front. Get it out there and see what happens.

Nothing is worse than going through the interview process, falling in love with a position and company and then getting the offer and it is nowhere near what you need to make. It’s like emotionally investing in an awesome new relationship and then finding out the other party forgot they are already married. You’re heartbroken and hurt and don’t even want to think about moving forward.

But I don’t want to price myself out.

Why not? If you are really worth the money you are asking and the company isn’t willing to work with you on that number, then move on. You don’t have to settle on a range that makes you unhappy because that position at that particular company isn’t willing to pay for you. It is okay to walk away.

Know where you are willing to bend.

Try not to go into a salary discussion with one number in mind and refuse to consider anything lower. If money is your driving factor and the main reason you are seeking another job that’s okay, but don’t get so caught up in the numbers that you are missing out other perks that could balance that number out. Make sure you are considering other benefits that could make up lost base pay money. Does the company offer stellar healthcare coverage? Is there childcare assistance available? How about that 401k? At the end of the day if your base is a little lower, but you can retire sooner, maybe that is something to think about.

Be confident in your ask.

If you go into the salary discussion hemming and hawing about a number or unsure what you are worth, then you are setting yourself up for failure. Do the research, figure out what someone with your skill set makes in that metro area, then add and subtract accordingly for level of security clearance, education, certifications, tools, etc. and use that number as your jumping off point.

You may discover that you are making below market and need to bump up your requested range. If the company asks what you are making currently and there is a significant difference, confidently let them know you feel you are underpaid based on market values and are working to get to a fair wage.

If you find you are way above market value, you may find yourself having a hard time making as much as your current salary. Figure out if you can comfortably take a cut if needed, and be willing to discuss that. Remember there might be ways to get back up to that amount with different benefits or bonuses.

Seriously, know when to walk away.

Not every job is the right job and if you and the recruiter arrive at a stalemate then walk away. There are other jobs out there and other companies that will make you feel more secure in your decision. Never accept an offer that you are not comfortable with, because once you start you will immediately be looking for an exit. If you can’t see yourself in that job for at least two years, then it isn’t the right job for you.

The salary conversation doesn’t have to be awkward. It is another part of the initial discussions as you get to know a company and figure out if they are right for you. The best way to set yourself up for success is to own the conversation, be confident in your worth, and be open to a discussion around other options.

And if that doesn’t work I’m sure there is still a need for some dancing mice.

Chrissa DockendorfChrissa Dockendorf is a recruiting resource manager and employment branding specialist for G2, Inc., supporter of transitioning military, a coffee addict and BoyMom to 4. Follow Chrissa on Twitter @MissionHired.


This entry was posted on Monday, February 06, 2017 6:29 am

6 thoughts on “Money Talk: Let’s Discuss Salary”

  1. I am interviewing now and find it awkward when the interviewer asks, “how much do you need to make?” I usually end up stating what I made at my last position and I was happy with that (even though I could/would settle for less). Any recommendation for a response to that question?

    1. Rgr: I ask this question almost daily as I talk to candidates. The key word being, need. We all have an amount we need to make to pay bills, buy groceries, have a life so be sure to cover that when you give them your ask. It is fine to offer up your current salary, I usually use that as a jumping off point for discussions when someone is unsure what they want, just be sure to let them know if a lateral move is ok. Never leave the salary discussion at just a number, there should always be more discussion. If the work is interesting or helps you move forward in your career and you are willing to take less then discuss that. But understand why you would want to take a cut, don’t take one to take one.

  2. This is a great article. I think some people are really uncomfortable with this aspect of job hunting. So uncomfortable, they may end up short-changing themselves. Doing research is key, because every individual should know his or her own worth, and be confident in that knowledge. When I was getting out of the military (years ago) I filled out a job application at a job fair that requested all the salary information for my previous jobs. I left that portion blank. The recruiter pointed out that I hadn’t completed the form, and was missing the salary information. At that moment, I experienced a sudden burst of self-confidence, and told the recruiter that my previous salary as an Army E4 was not representative of the knowledge, experience, and dedication I would bring to their company. I saw his eyebrows raise, and figured I had screwed up. They ended up offering me exactly what I asked for. Confidence can definitely go a long way.

    1. Good for you! That is so true. When I work with transitioning military members the salary question is one I always try to address. Often times there is a disconnect between military and civilian pay. I have had Hiring Managers ask me to target military so they “can get a deal” on the salary. It’s disgusting but a real issue. Knowledge is power and knowing your worth can really open doors.

  3. Mrs. Dockendorf, what are yours thoughts on employers offering contract to hire opportunities and working as an independent contractor initially for six months without benefits up front and then you receive them after the six months.

    1. This is a pretty common situation and honestly it tends to be a way for companies to test drive candidates before committing to them. There are companies that churn people out that way to keep costs down but I would like to think the majority of companies would actually hire you on. In situations like that I like to follow Beyonce’s lead, if they like ya then they should put a ring on it.

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