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Submitted by peloton on


Mark (and others),

I'd appreciate your feedback regarding when (and how) to broach the topic of salary, signing bonus (if appropriate), other benefits, etc. (that is, terms & conditions) with a company with whom one is pursuing a new position. When and how is this appropriate?

I've watched Mark's Kellogg presentation where he effectively says: "Don't be a twit about your starting salary in the interview!" But his audience there was folks coming out of college vs. my scenario of having worked as a technical professional for over 15 years. My present job is also stable/"comfortable" enough such that it might not make a ton of sense for me to leave unless the financials "made sense" (though the positions I would be pursuing are of greater interest to me than my present role, or I wouldn't be considering them to begin with). I.e., given there's risk for my family and me involved in a change, I feel there has to be both a career AND a financial incentive to do so.

Anyway, I hope I'm making sense. If not, grill me and I'll respond :wink: .


Mark's picture
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Do I have a reputation for grilling you all? If so, and that stifles discussion, my apologies. Happy to have some feedback to get better at this. Since I guess I'm the only person ever to do this like this, it'd be silly to say I always knew how to do this!

That said, what I recommended at Kellogg applies to you as well:

[b]Never ever discuss salary, bonus, benefits, etc. until after you have the offer. Asking before reduces your chances of getting an offer, and wwithout the offer, it doesn't matter, does it?[/b]

Say nothing about it. If they ask, say it's not a top priority. When they offer, decide if it's enough.


peloton's picture
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[b]Never ever discuss salary, bonus, benefits, etc. until after you have the offer. Asking before reduces your chances of getting an offer, and wwithout the offer, it doesn't matter, does it?[/b]

Say nothing about it. If they ask, say it's not a top priority. When they offer, decide if it's enough.[/quote]

Clear as a bell. Thanks!

Grilling? No, but you don't pull punches either (i.e. you use "straight talk") and that's fantastic!


Fiannelli's picture

In my experience at large high tech companies compensation is determined by the employee classification NOT the job its self. For example a software engineer 3 has one salary range and that is between and over laps software engineer 2 and 4 at each end. Often the determination of what classification will be used to fill the job is not firm until after the job is offered or filled.

On several occasions I have seen the classification raised to allow them to MAKE a offer that was in the range of the candidates requirement. In other words they wanted the person and their skill set badly enough to find a way to get them. In every case this was done before the initial offer went out. In every case salary was discussed in the first round of job interviews. By adusting the classification before the job was offered, it was not necessary to justify a reclassification to HR.

There is another point that I feel is worth making. Once someone's career is well under way, they have minimum financial requirements. While it is nice to believe that money should be a secondary consideration, in the real world that is not true for the vast majority of us. The other truth as stated above is that you never have as much leverage on the compensation package as you do BEFORE you accept. If the company, who clearly intends to bargan hard, finds a compensation conversation prior to an offer a "turn off" perhaps you should look elsewhere. While we all want challenging enjoyable work, most of us can't donate our services, we need to be paid fairly. No matter how cool the work, if we aren't in the ball park I can't afford to waste my time or theirs. If asking HR, whats the salary range on this position, before I get deeply into the process is going to mess up the deal, I'd just as soon move on. We are all adults here and at its base this is a financial transaction. I want to set expectations in advance to ensure that the first offer is at least close to what I want. Usually three to five levels of management have to approve that offer. Once the stake is in the ground its very hard to move it a long way.

arun's picture

My experience has been that companies ask for salary expectations before or during the interview so as not to waste their or the candidates time.

I generally answer by saying "I feel sure that you have a salary structure into which I will fit and I am pretty certain you have a figure in mind. What value do you place on the job and my skills."

Sometimes they state a figure and ask if I am in the ballpark and other times they will insist on a figure by saying "our range is wide, we can either get a graduate and train or get an experienced person". I believe the only way out is to give a figure otherwise you have lost the opportunity for an offer anyway.

Any thoughts on this?

cowie165's picture

Just wondering, if you were interviewing an applicant and they politely dodged (and eventually refused to discuss) the topic of salary, how would you feel about it?

I've never been involved in recruiting so I'd love to learn whether it is perceived as professional or rude or cagey or juvenile or what?

ashdenver's picture

"He who mentions salary first, loses."

On the road into my current position, the first step was a phone interview with the HR rep at which point I said "No less than $35k." That got me past the first step.

In the second interview with the direct manager, I said "I'd like around $40k." That got me to his boss to whom I said "I would love $80k but $45 seems reasonable given what I know about this job." I got $42 (which was more than people with 5 and 10 yrs were getting) and have moved up considerably from that point years ago.

Some other things I've used successfully in the past include references to research: "Based on what you've told me about this job and given the current market conditions, I think you would be expecting to pay about $xx for this position; is that about right?" It shows you've done some research ( and you've tied that knowledge to the new input about the specifics of this particular job without saying "I must have __" or tying yourself to something that's too high or too low.

If the response is along the lines of "Oh gosh no, that's much too high" you can then say "Well perhaps I've misunderstood the nature of the job. Can you clarify for me some more about ..."

If the response is along the lines of "It doesn't sound like you've taken into account all that we expect out of this role" you know you've low-balled them and can then say "Gosh, you're right - that's MUCH more responsibility / a much larger scope so yes, I understand why it's $20k more."

The employer always wants a bargain. The employee always wants a blank check. He who talks first, loses.

And yes, it's frustrating to the employer when the candidate politely dodges the question simply because we don't want to be the one to lose! (We don't want to waste our time either.)

wendii's picture
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I ask candidates what their expectations are, but I only expect to get an answer 50% of the time. I have wry smile to myself when they're evasive, but it wouldn't stop me giving you the job!


cowie165's picture

Thanks Ash. Thanks Wendii.

Your replies have been VERY helpful. Salary is just another area where it behoves the applicant to research well. As you said Ash, know the market. Know what you are worth. If you think you're worth above market, great, but be ready to sell yourself well to justify it.

Any good or service is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it.

And I must say, I love that quote, "He who mentions salary first, loses."

Thanks again guys!

Mark's picture
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I'm sorry this has taken me so long. I regret my absence.

Just to be clear, the quote about he who mentions salary first is WRONG. It's based on negotiating strategy, which generally is NOT applicable in salary discussions.

We say not to bring it up not because this is a battle of wills, but rather because we DON'T believe in negotiating salary (because you CANNOT) and don't believe it ought to be one's primary factor, and discussing it early can lead to the loss of an offer.

Again, my apologies for my delay.


d_dawg's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]...but rather because we DON'T believe in negotiating salary (because you CANNOT) [/quote]

Mark must say I have quite a differnt experience. I have sucessfully negotiated my salary on more than one occasion.

While I agree that negotiating a salary before an offer is made has little value to you, the prospective employee, negotiating salary AFTER an offer CAN be done sucessfully.

In one instance I accepted a postion with a provision to have a salary increase after the end of a six month probation period. It was about a 10% increase. Another instance I asked for a higher base salary explaining that my needs, the job responsibilities and my skill set was justification for the increase - I fed the my argument to the HR rep. I presume he took it to others for discussion....ultimatley my ask was met (it was about 15% above the initial offer).

I agree, however, it is unlikley that a 50k$/year position can be negotiated into 80k$/year.

You have to finesse this ask - if it's positioned as a 'cash grab' you will probably not get what your are asking for.

dcmba's picture


I understand your points. I am currently interviewing for a job and in the initial phone interview by the HR manager she asked my salary expectations. I gave her a range based on my research (which in hindsight may have been a mistake).  I had a very successful 2nd interview and am anticipating a 3rd and final one in the next couple weeks.  I found out today however through a 3rd party recruiting firm who contacted me about the exact same job that the salary range is quite a bit higher than the range I had answered with.

If they offer me the job and a salary at the bottom end of the range I gave, knowing what I know now should I attempt to negotiate at all on this?  I may have just shot myself in the foot.


cruss's picture
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I wouldn't worry too much about "shooting yourself in the foot" on this. If they are going to offer you a position then expect them to state what they feel is right for the job and your skills. I don't expect they would low ball you because of your previously stated range. I have found that recruiters want to get a feel for if you will accept before they offer you. If they know you need at least X and they are able to offer X+Y then they will see that as a better chance of you saying yes. I doubt they would risk loosing a good candidate just to save Y dollars.


Canyon R

dcmba's picture

Thanks CR,

My wife and a friend also said the same thing.  The recruiter just wanted to know if the candidate had realistic expectations.  I was only concerned because my current employer would totally take advantage of this situation and low ball the candidate. (sad that)

Thanks again,


aaronholmes's picture

 Is it better to avoid salary discussions entirely, or better to include your recent compensation in a cover letter?


In Rites of Passage, chapter 13, Lucht suggests that the cover letter needs to deal with compensation, in order that the decision maker can decide whether you're in the ballpark, something like:

Although other factors such as (fill in your own non-financial 'turn-ons') are of primary importance to me, you should know that in recent years, my total compensation has been in the range of _____ to _____. -Lucht, Rites of Passage, Page 252


Is this advice for for high priced executives, or would it be effective earlier in a career? - Or something I should avoid? - How would salary discussions proceed from this sort of disclosure?



stevesim's picture


What John Lucht is referring to is providing a salary range in order to help the recruiter/HR determine whether you are a viable candidate.  You will find more on this concept, and how to deal with the question when it comes up, in the "What is your salary expectation?" Career Tools podcast from 9/24/2009.  This is not part of a salary negotiation, the intent is merely to determine whether your salary expectations are reasonable for the position you are applying for.

If you haven't listened to the other podcasts on dealing with a recruiter's basic screening questions ("What is your current situation?" - Career Tools 8/13/2009, "What are you looking for?" - Career Tools 9/17/2009, and "How to handle location in an interview." - Career Tools 12/10/2008) I would highly recommend you take the time to listen to them before you meet with any recruiters.  Start with "What is your current situation?" since it lays the foundation for the others.  Although not specifically referenced in the first 3 podcasts the 4th question, location, is dealt with in "How to handle location in an interview".

The interviewing series (well worth the money) has a podcast specifically on salary questions.  Since it is paid content I will try not to give too much away, but a key point is that salary "negotiations" are best left until after an offer has been made.


Steve Simmons

aaronholmes's picture

Got it. - Stating the range is a way to get qualified based on expectations, but leave the actual negotiations until there's an offer. - Also, I'd listened to those CT casts, but then signed up for the MT Registered users cast, which I thought had everything. Then noticed that those CT casts weren't in there. I'll go back and get those too. - Thanks again Steve.