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How do I handle the salary question when you're on the other side of the table?
May 23, 2012 11:05 PM   Subscribe

There's been a lot of talk on the green about handling the salary question when you are the interviewee/candidate, which I have personally found helpful on many occasions, but now I'm on the other side of the equation, and would love to hear best practices on how to handle the situation and try to gauge a potential employee's salary expectations.

My business is in a very niche industry which makes it very difficult to gauge what industry standard is. We only employ around 4-5 people, all who started out very junior and have moved up salary-wise in a very organic fashion. I'm now in the position where I have to hire someone who is a bit further along in their career to fill a vacancy left by one of those now mid-weight employees.

Furthermore, this is only the second time we are actively hiring someone, as previously it was a very casual process where people just sort of found us at the right time, they stated their salary expectation, and we found the money to make it work.

With this new appointment, I am fielding candidates from very diverse backgrounds. With some, by the nature of their CV and/or specific past employers, I can gauge where they would fall. Currently with our budget, I could only really afford what we paid the person who recently left, which was a figure that only came after two raises in the course of a year. Ideally I would want to start them on the same salary as the last employee and eventually raise them to the same level and beyond.

(tl;dr)Putting aside things like benefits, both hard and soft, are there any tactics that you have personally used as a recruiter or employer to gauge a potential employee's salary expectations before numbers are discussed in detail?

On the flip side, are there any situations where you as an interviewee/job candidate felt comfortable disclosing this figure?(tl;dr)


There are millions of scripts and methods for being on the other side of that conversation and how to deflect those questions, but are there any strategies that can be used to get this information in a way that is respectful to all parties involved?

My gut tells me simply to state simply what I said above, in terms of like, "This is what we paid the last person after a year and I would be looking at a similar figure once you are fully trained", however I am nervous that the figure might be too low for some good candidates, hence wasting everyone's time, and on the flip side, I don't want someone to accept a figure that they aren't truly happy with for the sake of getting the job, and therefore having to manage the resulting feelings/performance issues that usually crop up with that. (Also, I should add that many candidates are coming to us via word of mouth, and not through a formal advertisement, so there isn't the opportunity as such to state what the salary range is)

I'm fully aware this is going to be a slightly contentions question, but I like to think that my heart is in the right place. If I found out the range of one of my preferred candidates was lower than what I paid the last person, I would still offer them the higher amount.

Anyway, thanks MeFi! Look forward to your feedback :)
posted by LongDrive to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I ask candidates what their expectations are.

If they hesitate, I'll share ranges based on my guess of where I think they might fall and I'll tell them that we don't pay people based on their ability to negotiate but that we strive to pay people fairly relative to each other and market rates. I've payed people more than their ask because it was the fair thing to do.
posted by ccoryell at 11:39 PM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I ask candidates what their expectations are.

Yes, and be honest about the limitations you have. If you have a range that you can pay, then you have a range that you can pay, and that's pretty much it.

I would play up the other benefits offered. Small business = flexible working environment. If you want to sweeten the deal, throw in an extra week of holiday time. Talk about the exposure to a variety of tasks.

If one of your candidates is just looking for money and you cannot match their expectations, it's best to get that out of the way early. And there's no ego about it. You will pay what you can afford to get the best person in the door.

Money is a component of work certainly, but it is not the only component. Chances are that someone looking at a smaller firm is not looking for the maximum salary possible, but will have other motivators involved.
posted by nickrussell at 1:49 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


We advertise the position on our website with a salary range and the applicants have to apply via the web site to get into our system, so we start out with a baseline of expectations on both sides. Of course, the range we list is wider than what I expect to pay because it is a huge pain in the ass for me to pay someone outside the listed range, so I list a very broad range. We have them fill out an abbreviated application form when the arrive for the interview that includes salary for each previous position. I'd estimate about 90% of applicants fill that out. When we know what they have been making, I'll usually start the process by suggesting a salary that I think would work. If the salary I offer is near the top of what I'm willing to pay, I'll tell them that I really don't have room to do any more.

I'm actually not a big fan of asking them what their expectations are first. Many candidates have been coached not to answer that question directly anyhow. If you make a reasonable suggestion, it avoids the awkward situation that often arises where they ask for their dream number, you have to counter with the more reasonable number and they agree, but kt feels disappointing.

In an interview where I haven't decided to offer the position yet, I'll still address it obliquely to ensure their expectations are in line with what I can do. If their previous job paid more than I can pay, I'll usually say something like "I can't match what your previous job was paying, we're looking for to pay something closer to 70" and they will either say they can't do that or indicate that they realize that they will have to rebuild a bit. If they made less than what I'm willing to offer, I'll usually just say "I think we can do better than what you are currently making."

It feels awkward because you haven't done it. I don't even think about it any more. I think it is respectful to discuss your expectations fairly early on, If your salary range is completely incompatible with their requirements, it is better to find out and let them know as early as possible.
posted by Lame_username at 2:10 AM on May 24, 2012


You could ask them in the initial phone call -- "Hey, so just to be sure we're on the same page here, this job will pay in the range of $45-50K, and at the moment we don't have the budget to go higher on an offer. Is that a range that can work for you?"
posted by pie ninja at 3:54 AM on May 24, 2012


Yeah, getting a ballpark range out in the open early is helpful to everybody. This came up in an interview recently where Candidate was asked why she was leaving her position. The answer was "I'm not getting paid what I'm worth."

"What are you getting paid?"

"[140% of what we can offer]"

"Whelp, thanks for coming in, but we're not even close..."

She took it well, basically said "let me know if you change your mind and want to pay for experience." She wasn't wrong. No hurt feelings on either side, and we avoided wasting 30 minutes of everyone's time.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:22 AM on May 24, 2012


Put the max salary in the advert. If its too late for that don't ask them their salary expectations, tell them up-front the range you're willing to offer.
posted by missmagenta at 8:39 AM on May 24, 2012


We always ask a candidate what their expectations are.

We always tell them that we will make the best offer we can and generally that will be the only offer. We want folk to come to work because they're interested in the job, not just because we're willing to pay more than the other guy. If you hire people by offering more money they often don't stick around for long because there's always somebody else ready to pay just a little extra. This also screens out people that can only get pay raises by changing jobs.

We always try to at least match what they were paid previously. If we can't, we tell them quickly so as not to waste everybody's time.

We don't advertise the max salary - it's just going to encourage people to ask for it.
posted by Long Way To Go at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


During the interview, I always ask, "What is the least amount of money you are willing to work for?" It clears the air quick and allows you to gauge if they are worth what they are looking to receive.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:56 PM on May 24, 2012


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