Sidecar Perspectives: The Salary Dance

The Sidecar Perspectives series of experience-based business stories is named for the place where I do some of my best reflective thinking - in a motorcycle sidecar on the open road.

“Please forward your resume, along with salary requirements, to .....”  

Let the games begin!  Being asked the salary question in a job ad is a bit like going to the senior prom with your cousin ... unwelcome, contrived and just plain uncomfortable.  For both of you.

So why do employers do it?  Most will tell you it’s because they need to eliminate those applicants who require a salary higher than the employer is prepared to pay.  Fair enough.  We don't want to waste your time or ours if the salary divide is too wide.  But really, if that were the only reason we’d just post the salary range of the position and hold those who apply to negotiations within the stated parameters.

The less appealing reason is that especially in a fluctuating economy, most employers are terrified they might over pay for talent and are testing the market to see what the talent pool will ask for.  It's real time validation of their own salary research. Not a bad reason, but its about as comfortable as those slow dances with your cousin.

It’s unlikely this practice will change, so if you’re looking for a job in a fluctuating market you'll need to carefully consider how to answer this question.  Do you say what you think you’re really worth and risk not getting an interview if you stated a number that's too high?  But what about the risk if you guess too low – you might get the job and then find you can’t live with the salary.  Either way, you lose.

If you fail to include this information when it has specifically been requested it suggests you: a) didn’t read the whole job ad; b) aren’t sure what you’re prepared to accept; or c) are refusing to provide a basic piece of information requested. Any way you look at it, you're not making a positive impression with your prospective employer.

Before you even engage in a job search do your homework and see what you can find out about the current market, sector specific information and salary trends.  There are simple yet thorough resources on line, such as, where you can search salaries related to your job, industry, size of company, qualifications, education, experience, location, and more.  If you’re part of a professional association, or have a Chamber of Commerce in your city, they often have market information available for their sector or region.  So do your research and don't expect the employer to do it for you.

Now that you know approximately what the job should be worth you can respond to the salary question with reasonable confidence.  And always give the employer a range that you’re prepared to accept.  The bottom end should never be less than you believe is fair for the position as described and that you'd feel good about accepting.  Then, keep the top end realistic – say no more than 10-15% over your bottom line.

Let’s face it, if you are in a fluctuating economy the employer is often going to be in the driver’s seat on this one unless there is a significant talent deficit, similar to what we've been seeing throughout 2015. 

So when a potential employer invites you to the salary dance and you accept, don’t be afraid of taking the lead.  If the employer isn’t realistic in their expectations of what the job is worth, or sincere in their negotiations, then that's a good indication of  what the employment relationship would be like if you were to be hired.  And you should handle it just like you would if that cousin of yours turns out to be not such a nice guy once you get to the dance - lead with your self respect, don't compromise outside of your comfort zone, and realize that while disappointing, an employment relationship that begins with the sense you've been taken advantage of will only end worse, so best not to go there in the first place.

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