On salary negotiation during job interview

I have mixed feelings after reading the article The answer to the toughest interview question on salary negotiation during job interview. Also, there is much valuable advice in the over 160 comments, but some of them only deepen the confusion.

Penelope’s advice is to never give your desired salary, but make the interviewer state their range first (using your slick negotiation techniques). Some of the commenters agree with this while other say that it’s best to simply state a number that will satisfy you and you’ll either get a job with a satisfying salary or not get a job that you would not accept anyway. I’d like to share my experiences, which are somewhat different from most of the people commenting there, mostly because the situation and apparently the law is different here in Poland.

Salary negotiation

First, almost no company ever discloses a salary range in their job postings. I’ve read hundreds of them in last years and I’ve seen salary ranges maybe 5 times. Mostly they were from companies based abroad (UK, Ireland, Germany) and requiring the candidates to relocate to the company’s home country.

There is also very little salary negotiation as such during job interview. The most common scenario is that the interviewer (sometimes being just a Technical Lead, clearly with no decision power on salary) will ask you for a number or a range, scribble that on your CV and that’s all. No negotiations, no games, you either get contacted after the interview or you don’t. And if you do, it’s mostly because they want to hire you with the salary you stated.

Why “no”?

It’s very rare for a company to contact you to say ‘no’. From my experience, if they don’t want to hire you, only about 20% of companies will bother to notify you of this fact. Even if their HR people assure you they will contact you no matter what their decision is, still about 50% doesn’t. They must be really busy people…

And it’s even rarer that they tell you why they won’t hire you. I had only 2 such cases among over 40 times I was interviewed. The first time they said that my expectations are reasonable given my experience and skills and they would be happy to pay that amount if they hired me, but they think I’m overqualified for the job and I will get bored and quit in a few months. The second time they said that my experience was very impressive, but my expectations are beyond their budget. And that was the feedback I really appreciated and I respect those companies for that even though they didn’t hire me. There is also a benefit for the companies for doing that — if they contact me in the future I will look at their offer much more positively.

But most of the time there is a silence or at the very best a bland, automated email from HR lady that says that they won’t hire me. That leaves me with a dilemma: were my skills not good enough or did I want too much money? Maybe I should say I’m flexible? Maybe my skills were OK and expectations were OK but I failed the interview because of something else? That stupid ‘how to measure a tree weight without cutting it down’ trick question?

It gets extremely frustrating when you really need a job or want to work at some specific company. For example I really would love to work at Opera here in Wroclaw and I have even been interviewed but a month after that I got an email that said they closed recruitment process for that position. OK, process is closed, but will they hire me?? Apparently no. Talk about clear communication.

Salary depends on job responsibilities?

I don’t understand that “my salary expectations depend on job responsibilities” argument. Maybe in some professions or positions (management?) this is valid, but normally your skills are pretty well-defined (e.g. you’re a developer and you’re an expert in some languages and/or technologies) and that’s what you will do if they hire you.

If they said “you will write code but you don’t have to design it (or test it or document it)”, would you accept working for 30% less? Of course not. It would be insulting to you. Also, I wouldn’t work for half-pay because it’s Ruby (which I like) instead of Java (which I like not that much). Maybe if the job requires you to do something unusual (e.g. assist nightly deploys) you could use that to ask for a higher salary, but that’s all I can think of.

My salary expectations are between “the amount of money I need for my family to survive” and “the maximum salary on the market for a person with my experience”. It’s that simple. There’s nothing about job requirements here. Of course, if I have a job, the minimum is “my current pay plus x% raise plus additional costs the job change may bring (e.g. longer commute)” where x is at least 10.

Don’t waste your time (and mine)

Many commenters mention the waste of time when the fact that the salary range for the position is way lower than your expectations comes up late in the recruitment process. I couldn’t agree more. Being an experienced developer I get invited to a lot of interviews but my expectations are pretty high (because I’m an experienced developer, you know) and very rarely I get an offer. I’m pretty confident that my professional skills and interviewing skills are not a problem, so the cause in most cases is probably that my expectations are too high for them.

In most cases I can see that they suddenly lose interest (I’m not blind to body language) and just continue the interview because they think that it would be rude to end it after I told them how much I want to earn. But, in my humble opinion, it’s even more rude to pretend they’re still interested and waste both theirs and my time.

I wonder what are the HR people thinking when they invite me: that I want to be paid the same as a student fresh out of university? It’s reasonable that experienced employee wants to earn good money and if it’s outside of their fixed salary range for the position they won’t hire me even if the interviewer said I was the best coder in the world. That’s a waste of time for both parties and next time I get a call to invite me to an interview I’m going to ask them for the salary range then and there, on the phone. I wonder if they’ll tell me…

Don’t go overboard

Some people advise to start with much higher salary expectations than would make you happy so you have a room for negotiation, but I think this is a very dangerous advice. Although I was never in a position where I could decide whether to hire someone or not and for what salary, I spoke with a couple of people who did and at least two of them told me they would never negotiate with someone who expected way more money than they could pay.

First, this candidate will hardly accept anything less than the top of the range but if their skills, for example, fall in the middle they will be overpaid. Second, and even more important, even if they accept a salary lower than they expected they will not be satisfied with it and just accept the job to buy some time to find a better position.

That’s why you shouldn’t go overboard with your stated expectations — you’ll probably just hurt your chances of getting a job offer at all.

Last salary

It’s strange what commenters say about disclosing your last salary when you get an offer (and that some companies insist that you document it). Is that a law in the US? I was never asked about that and I can’t imagine that prospective employer would insist that I disclose this information. If they would, I’d ask “Is that your company policy that all the salary data is transparent and available to anyone? If so, please tell me how much do you make?”

But sometimes I would use this information when asked for my salary expectations. Mostly when I wanted to get an offer so I can ask for a raise at my current job, I would say “I currently make X and I would expect at least Y% raise”. In this case, your current salary is a proof of your market worth.

Speaking of which, a job offer from another company is the most effective way of getting a raise (of course, if they still want you at your current job). If you’re a key employee, it’s amazing how high you can go…


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