Answering the Salary Question

Sometimes they’ll ask you to send your salary requirements within your cover letter.  Other times it’ll be a question on your application or they’ll ask you during the interview. Regardless of how they ask, they will ask.  

The discussion of salary is a dance between employer and potential employee. As the employer, I want to know how much you’re willing to take first.  That way I’ll know if I can get you for less or if you expect too much all together.  As the potential employee you want them to give you a number first for the same reason. You don’t want to give them a number that’s low and risk losing a higher salary and you also don’t want you to price yourself out of a position.

As a jobseeker, the standard rule is to say open. This allows you to see what they’re offering first so that you can determine how to negotiate.  Most employers will press you for a number after you say open so be prepared to offer a relevant range.  Your salary range isn’t an arbitrary amount that you think you should be paid.  This range should be based on research for different positions in your industry/sector related to your level of experience and education. 

Recently during a telephone interview I asked the candidate about her required salary.  The number that she gave me was about 20K more than we were willing to offer for the position.  It was also about 20K more than her current salary  More importantly, her experience and background didn’t warrant a salary that high even if we did have the higher amount in our budget.  She effectively priced herself out of that position.

As a job seeker you should know how much people are being paid for the kind of work that you want to do and you should be able to justify why you should receive that amount.  You should also be able to  realistically figure out where you would be within the range that you provide.  Let’s say the salary range for your position of interest is $40K – $55K.  If you have limited experience (entry-level to less than 3 years) without a Masters degree (if it’s preferred), expect to be on the lower end.  Concurrently if you have more than 5 years of experience plus supervisory experience and an applicable Masters degree, expect to be on the higher end.

Several factors go into salary offers: your current salary and salary history, program/organization budget, the outgoing person’s starting salary, possible room for an increase down the line (if your status might be changing in a few months with a new certificate or degree, there’s a chance they’ll offer you more at that time so they can start you off lower to make room for that increase), industry salary standards for that position, etc. Ultimately the employer wants to remain competitive but at the cheapest price possible. 

 In order to make sure that you’re still in the running, do your research and come to the table prepared.  If your range is on target for your field and you can provide concrete evidence that  XYZ pay rate is justified (i.e. skills/qualifications, educational background, increased level of responsibility, etc.), you’ll be able to settle on an offer that makes both you and the employer happy.

Websites to Research Salaries

http://www.payscale.com (Nice site.  You can evaluate your current salary to see where you fall within your field, evaluate offers, and research)

http://www.salary.com/(You can research specific positions to see national averages and generate salary reports. They also break things down by level of experience).

http://www.glassdoor.com/ (Most people are familiar with this site.  Besides salary information it’s also good to read reviews)

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Tell Me About Yourself…

Probably the most difficult question to answer.

Most interviews will begin with, “tell me about yourself and what brings you here today,” or some variation of that statement.  This is your opportunity to intrigue your interviewer with your personal elevator pitch.  It’s an opportunity to focus the interviewer on your strengths and successes and to make them think about what kind of impact you could possibly have within their organization.  It is not the time to discuss your favorite pastime or random hobby. (One person told me about their love of “hanging out” and dancing then asked what I wanted to know).  It’s a great time to highlight important information. The employer wants to know what you deem as important information.

Ideally your pitch should be about 30-60 seconds long. Too short – what did you really tell your interviewer, too long – did you lose them along the way?   It should effectively summarize the pertinent strengths that you possess and relevant accomplishment. You want to sound confident and composed so take time developing and practicing your pitch.

Where to start

Your pitch is specific to you and will sound the most authentic coming directly from you but here’s a roadmap to help get you started (feel free to tweak and adjust as necessary):

1. Most recent degree and college information (mention what you studied, how it relates to your professional interests, specific skills learned or licenses acquired, etc.)

2. Previous jobs and accomplishments (mention relevant accomplishments achieved or skills learned that would make you a good fit for the position that you’re interested in).

3. Segue into current interest (link your previous experience with what you want to do now).

Example:  I graduated from XYZ University in 2009 with a Masters Degree in Social Work and earned my LMSW in 2010. My concentration in community organization, planning and administration provided a solid background in necessary management and leadership principles, advocacy, and program development.  As director of workforce development for ABC Settlement, I put my educational skills to practice and effectively designed a standardized evaluation program that allowed all program directors and senior management staff to have a realistic view of program performance in real-time.  From this project I realized I wanted to work on a tool that allowed an agency with multiple departments to evaluate each program individually against contract demands and collectively against each other; the senior program officer position and DEF Global seemed like the right fit to transition into this role.  

You want to sound authentic, not rehearsed.  Draft your pitch and practice. Practice it in front of a mirror then practice in front of a friend.  Practice until you feel comfortable.

When you’re called for an interview, the employer is about 75% sure that they could offer you a position.  The actual interview is your time to alleviate any fears and affirm to them that you are most certainly the right candidate for the position.   The best way to do this is to start the interview with a confident, composed highlight reel of your past experience that will make them think of how great of a job you will do for their company if hired.