Just in time for Veterans’ Day, I led a negotiation workshop for female military veterans and military spouses, organized by American Corporate Partnes. ACP is a national non-profit that offers a broad array of career support to veterans and military spouses, so it’s worth checking out! Here are five job search negotiation questions that apply to both military and non-military job applicants:
1 – How do you address online applications that require a dollar figure and avoid being screened out?
Getting the salary question so early in the hiring process is one of the reasons to avoid online applications if you can help it. It’s hard to give a desired salary when you don’t know much about the job. The desired salary should always be about the job at hand, not what you were making before, what you hope to make, even what you think you deserve.
Therefore, if possible, try to get referred to someone and get a chance to speak with people to learn more specifics about the job before suggesting a salary. However, sometimes you don’t don’t have an existing connection into the company, and you want to apply before too many others apply. First, see if you can just skip the question or write a text response (such as “commensurate with responsibilities of the job”). If not, put a nonsensical number like $1 so that you can move past the question. If you get asked about the $1 response in the first interview, then you can mention that you need to learn more about the job fist before estimating the appropriate salary.
2 – How do you avoid mentioning a salary range during your first interview?
Related to the first question, another attendee wanted to avoid giving a salary range, not just at the application stage, but even in the first interview. While I agree that you want to have as much detail about the job as possible before quoting a desired salary, you don’t want to avoid discussing salary at all costs. Some recruiters don’t move forward with a candidate if they don’t have an idea of target salary because the candidate might be too expensive and it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Refusing to discuss salary may prevent you from moving forward.
Therefore, you don’t want to avoid mentioning a salary range at all – just avoid mentioning a salary target too soon. Too soon is when you’re not clear about the job. It’s also too soon to discuss salary if you have not researched the market and may underestimate or overestimate your value. For that reason, you should be researching salaries now, even before you get into an interview situation. You don’t want to be caught unprepared to discuss salary. Your lack of readiness is a problem for you, not the employer.
3 – When during the interview process do you start negotiating the job salary?
Ideally you don’t mention salary until you are clear about the scope of the job. That said, mentioning a salary target is not the same as negotiating that particular job’s salary. Sure, it puts a number or range of numbers out there as a starting point, but you’re not bound to it. If you learn different information during the interview process that changes your view of an appropriate salary for that job, then you can still negotiate a different salary.
But don’t start negotiating a particular job’s salary until the employer has given you an offer or confirms that an offer is being put-together. Until the point you know that an employer wants you, your salary talk is all hypothetical. The majority of your interviews should be spent on the scope and responsibilities of the job, not any part of compensation (whether that’s salary or other type of compensation, such as bonus, benefits, time off, etc). You want to demonstrate that you’re interested in the role and making a contribution to that company, not just the salary or whatever else is in it for you.
4 – How do you negotiate differently for public sector v. private sector jobs?
When you do negotiate a particular job’s compensation, your approach should always be customized to that job, in that company and in that industry. Change the job, and you change the compensation and therefore the negotiation. Similarly, go from public sector to private sector, and you change the compensation and therefore how you should approach the negotiation.
One important difference between public and private sector jobs, in particular, is how compensation may be structured differently. A private sector job may offer equity or profit-sharing potential. That type of ownership element is not possible with a public sector job. Knowing this, you may take a lower base salary at a private job that’s offering equity compared to a similar public sector job that won’t offer that. Understanding the different elements available to your potential employers enables you to negotiate on those different terms. Negotiations at different employers will be different because you need to do customized research for each opportunity, consider different compensation structures for each and possibly propose different terms. This is true, not just for public v. private sector, but also start-up v. established company or companies in different geographies. Change the job, the company, the industry or sector, and you change the compensation.
5 – How do you negotiate salary when returning to a corporate position after consulting independently for several years?
When you’re making a career change, in this case consulting to corporate (but it could also be one industry to another or one role to a different one), it should not impact the compensation you receive. Tie the compensation to the scope of the job. Your background enables you to land the job or not. Once you are the one they want, your compensation should be what makes sense for that job, even if you have an atypical background by virtue of your career change.
This requires, of course, that you know what the job should pay. When you have been consulting for several years, you may be out of the loop on what in-house compensation looks like. You need to do research on current compensation, including salary, benefits and other perks for being in-house.
Negotiating a corporate position after consulting for a while also requires that you’re willing to stand your ground and negotiate. If you are too anxious to land an in-house position and get out of consulting, you might settle for less. This is where research can help again — set an appropriate target and don’t underestimate yourself. Having multiple job leads in your pipeline will also help you stay confident in the negotiation.
Remember, you can negotiate
The exact strategy or approach to best negotiate a job offer varies based on what you want, the job at hand, where you are in the negotiation and who you are negotiating with. However, even these general tips show that there are many actions you can take during a negotiation. With some research and preparation, you do have influence on the compensation you receive.
During the ACP workshop, we covered even more questions. In the next post, I’ll answer five more negotiation questions, this time about career management:
- How to negotiate for flexibility
- How to renegotiate when you accepted a lower salary years ago
- How to keep your salary competitive after years in the same job
- How to negotiate for fairness when your boss plays favorites
- How negotiation changes when you go from employee to business owner
As a longtime recruiter and now career coach, I share career tips from the employer’s perspective. My specialty is career change — fitting since I am a multiple-time career changer myself. My latest career adventures include running SixFigureStart, Costa Rica FIRE and FBC Films.
I am the author of Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career and have coached professionals from Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, Tesla, and other leading firms. I teach at Columbia University and created the online courses, “Behind The Scenes In The Hiring Process” and “Making FIRE Possible“.
I have appeared as a guest career expert on CNN, CNBC, CBS, FOX Business and other media outlets. In addition to Forbes, I formerly wrote for Money, CNBC and Portfolio.