How to Handle....The Dreaded Salary Question

A client of mine was recently approached by a recruiter for a position that was about 2 levels up from his current role. He had seen the job posted but assumed he was too junior to apply, so he was thrilled when the recruiter contacted him. He asked me for advice on handling the dreaded salary question.

This is a tough one....if he discloses his current salary, it's likely to sound way too low for a role two level above his current one. If he evades the question, he's likely to annoy the recruiter and/or make him suspicious about what he's hiding.

In situations like these, I suggest that clients disclose their current compensation (including things like benefits & bonuses) and then employ negotiation tactics known as re-framing and re-anchoring. These shift the listener's perspective and put objective facts into context. Some easy way to do this include:

A. Compare your job description to your actual job responsibilities. Take into account new skills and knowledge you've encountered. Ask yourself if your current salary accurately reflects your contributions and accomplishments. Most people find that it does not.

B. Research salary ranges for the work that you're actually doing.

I worked with a client whose workload had doubled in the year since she was hired as an HR Coordinator. She had assumed the responsibilities of one of her HR Generalist colleagues who was out on an extended maternity leave. She had also spearheaded the purchase and implementation of a new talent management system. She did research which ended up saving the company tens of thousands of dollars. After sharing these contributions with her boss, she got a raise of $15k.

C. Share the salary that you would need to consider leaving your current organization. Tell the recruiter that in order leave your current company where you have an established reputation and an internal network which supports your career growth and aspirations, you would need to be compensated at current market value - and then share your target salary (aim high so you still have room to negotiate and end up with a salary that you're content with).

D. Choose one rationale to back up your market value. The recession is a good one because it's impacted everyone - regardless of their title or industry. Emphasize that rather than an incremental increase from you're current salary, you're looking for an opportunity that makes up for the years that compensation was frozen in place due to the recession. For example, you could say, "In the past few years my company fell behind it's peers in terms of compensating employees in my role, especially when you consider the additional responsibilities I've taken on after multiple rounds of layoffs. I'm looking to bring my compensation up to market."

E. Then.....stay quiet. Resist the temptation to over-explain your target compensation. [Have your magic numbers in mind - your "happy dance" number (the salary you'd be thrilled to work for) and your bare minimum (the lowest salary at which you'd accept the job.]

As your conversation continues, keep repeating the same messages each time you're asked for a counter-offer or you reach an impasse. Sticking with consistent messaging reinforces that you're a fantabulous employee whose progress was hampered by the economic-downturn and reinforces your target salary as an anchor.

These powerful tools help you direct the conversation and write the next chapter of your career story!

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