Never name your number in an interview

And what you should say instead of your number


I stopped telling potential employers my salary number, and my world opened up. Opportunities stopped stalling in front of me. I felt respected. I starting receiving second and third interviews, and I even received an offer or two or three.

Naming your salary number on a first or second interview is like naming your dating history on a first or second date. Get to know the company and the date. Even if you think you will love the job and the date, still do not name the number

Naming your salary places a judgement of value on yourself that is not the determining factor of how awesome you are.

I have been on over 50 interviews and have so many books and articles on the topic. I’ve read advice that said “Ask more about the job.” “Give them a well researched range.” “Ask them their budget for the position.” I used to give a salary range when employers asked, and I either received the job offer above a crappy range I didn’t research, or priced myself too low or too high out of the competition. Naming your salary places a judgement of value on yourself that is not the determining factor of how awesome you are. Don’t forget your worth. Always have a number in mind based on your thorough research and valuable skills. Just don’t share it yet.

The best advice I received on this topic was from Undercover Recruiter. This is my spin on the post based on my experiences. I will walk you through the interview process, my negotiating fail, answering the salary question, and handling the offer.

The Interview

The interviewer calls or meets with you. You both talk about the job and your amazing skills for the role. It seems like it’s going well. You are getting excited about the opportunity. Then the interviewer cuts the good vibes and asks “what is the salary you are looking for and/or what did you make at your last job?”

What do you say now? You just learned about the job and you seem to like it.

Do you give them your number or range?

No!

I’ll tell you why. You are losing your leverage to negotiate. You are getting placed in a box too early. I’ll tell you what happened with my interview for my first full time job.

My Negotiating Fail

I was working two part time Graphic Web Design jobs the year after graduating University. I was making $10 and $11.50 an hour. I was living at home. My only scope of knowledge of full time salary was a friend who made roughly $30K at her position as a Graphic Designer. I thought no one would pay me above $30k for a Junior Designer role. I was wrong.

I received a an email one spring evening early in my career from a design firm. They found my portfolio on a creative job board and wanted me to come in for an interview the next day.

OMG! I was beyond excited. A potential first full time gig! Also, I was so busy being grateful someone noticed me that I didn’t realize I had leverage for a decent salary since they found me.

I showed up the next day at 3pm on a stormy day in Maryland. I conducted the interview in a cafe with my laptop and giant print portfolio. I rocked it. My work was exactly what she was looking for in her company. I was thrilled.

Then she asked, “What is your salary range?”

I had never heard that question in that form. It was always, what did you make at your last job? I did not know how to answer. I paused for what felt like 30 seconds, but what was probably only a 5 second pause. I racked my brain. From what I knew of small design firms, they probably did not have big budgets. However, what I did not realize about this particular company was that they were not only a design firm, but a firm that dealt with extremely high profile clients. This meant that they most likely had a larger budget for salaries than most. If I had really understood what that meant in terms of salary range, then I wouldn’t have said this: “My range is $28K to 34K.” She smartly responded with “We can offer $35K.”

“Why wouldn’t she get a good person cheap if she could?”

Damn she got me cheap

I was at first super excited about this pay. Then it sunk in that I couldn’t negotiate the offer since I had aimed too low. I probably could have tried, but was too scared that I had gotten myself stuck that I didn’t bother negotiating. Almost two years later when I started hunting down other opportunities, I found out I could have been asking 10K more than what I was making. When I finally left the job, the company was transparent and posted the real salary for my position on a job posting. The only thing that made me feel better about the low pay, was the fact that it took them a year to replace the vacancy I created.

I’ve told my business owner friends this story, and their responses are “Why wouldn’t she get a good person cheap if she could?” From a business standpoint that makes sense. You only hurt yourself by not researching and not negotiating.

Answering the salary question

How did I answer the salary question two years ago when I found myself unemployed looking for work in 2013? I told them I was expecting market value for the role. And I knew and still know what the market value is for my position since I research often.

So what does the hiring manager usually say to “market value”?

“That makes sense.” “I’ll put you down for market value.” “That is fair.”

The people who don’t like my answer probably aren’t worth my time or skills anyway. Also, sometimes they are persistent and ask the question 2–3 times. Stand your ground. My motto is, if you can stand your ground, you can probably handle anything.

Sometimes the work, culture, benefits, and professional development matter more than salary.

Know your lowest acceptable salary

Before you receive the offer, know your lowest acceptable salary. I have a budget. If you don’t, you probably should (I use Quicken, but I hear Mint is good too). Based on my expenses, savings, fun money, plus my worth, I know what the lowest possible number will be. People usually prefer to be offered more than what they are making currently or in the past. However, depending on other factors you want in a company, money is not the only answer. Sometimes the work, culture, benefits, and professional development matter more than salary.

The offer

What happens when they offer me a number lower than what I can live with?

When the employer first tells you and emails you the offer, tell them right away thank you, and you need time to think it over. Don’t sign the offer letter right away. They usually give you a week until the offer expires.

After you’ve had some time to look over the salary and benefits package, plan your next steps for negotiating. Start with asking them if the salary is negotiable. And it usually is negotiable. Everyone has a budget. Don’t you shop for a purse or a couch with a number in mind, but know you may go higher or lower? There is always wiggle room.

Having two offers at once is a great leveraging tool.

Next tell the employer in a phone call that you were thinking the number should be X based on your awesome skills that will benefit their company. Plus, add that you looked up a credible source for your number. My go to sources are The Creative Group, Glassdoor, Getraised, Payscale, and AIGA. A more desirable negotiating tactic and easier one to get a “Yes” with is to have another offer lined up. Having two offers at once is a great leveraging tool. It also gives you a better BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). A BATNA is having a back up plan for if this negotiating tactic does not work. The best negotiators have a BATNA.

What if they flat out say “No” to your higher number?

Be flexible, but firm. Ask open ended questions. Ask if there is a middle ground you can meet? If they still can’t meet the salary and you really want the job, negotiate the benefits package and/or for a 6 month salary review.

A note about 6 month salary reviews

You will most likely have to be the one the follow up. The employer will generally not be the one initiating the informal review. Why would they want to? Be your own advocate. Only you can prevent forest fires, so be the one to control your future.

If you still don’t like the offer

Continue looking or go to your BATNA.

You’ve accepted the negotiated agreement

Congratulations! Now show them how awesome you are and that you are worth every penny.

Keep your eye out for more articles.

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