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This is the trap question in a salary negotiation

·4 min read

While new jobless claims fell to a pandemic-era low of 576,000 for the week ended April 10, roughly 8 million jobs that were lost since the pandemic began have still not been recovered. In spite of that, many hiring experts still view this as an opportune time for job seekers to negotiate their salaries.

“You have more leverage than you think,” says Michael Neece, CEO of InterviewMastery.com, a company that provides video-based apps to hiring teams, job seekers, and recruiters. “You have a lot of leverage because it’s so time consuming for the employer [to go through the interview process.] It’s so hard for them to find someone to hire. So all of a sudden the leverage shifts to the job seeker, when they really want you.”

“If you assume, I have no power, [there are] so many people competing, you are setting yourself up,” said Neece. Salary negotiations have always been a highly emotional process even prior to the pandemic, he added. “Everybody has a lot of emotion involved here, even if they posture themselves as being very analytical about the whole thing.”

Rule of thumb in a salary negotiation: first person who gives a number loses

The question posed to job seekers during the hiring process is along the lines of: “What are your salary requirements?” Hiring experts say it’s a risky move for a job applicant to give a number.

“Usually they’ll ask a candidate, how much money are you looking for? What kind of salary is it going to take to bring you on board? What is it going to take for us to hire you? And it’s a trap question,” says Gregg Podalsky, president of American Recruiting and Consulting Group.

Concentrated confident male hr manager holding interview with young job seeker in modern office. Focused pleasant employer listening to candidate self presentation during one on one meeting.
Getty Images

Podalsky says applicants need to proceed with caution. “[Job seekers] can either lock themselves in and whatever number they give, they have to be prepared to take, or they can scare the client off because they go in with too high of a number,” he says.

Hiring experts say job candidates can maintain some degree of leverage in the negotiation by not giving a number early on. Instead, they can ask for the salary range for the position they’re seeking.

“That works over 90% of the time,” says Neece. Once the recruiter or hiring manager tells the job candidate the high and low point of the salary range, Neece advises they then ask for the midpoint of the range. He also suggests job seekers say their salary requirements range from the midpoint of the range to the top of the range.

“Now once you establish that, they’re comfortable that they’re going to have a candidate that is in the salary range they’re willing to pay if they get to the end and they love you,” says Neece.

How to handle a job offer

When job candidates reach the point during the interview process where the hiring manager or recruiter wants to make them an offer, they’ll likely say: “We’re really excited about bringing you on with the team, and we’re considering putting together an offer package that would be $200,000 [for instance.] Does that feel like something you would accept?” says Neece.

Candidates seeking a higher offer should respond with something like, “Thank you very much. I am very interested in joining your company but I was hoping for a slightly higher offer. If you can make me an offer at $210,000, I can commit to starting in two to three weeks.”

“You’re rejecting their offer, but you’re asking them to just go back and do a little bit more homework and just get an update to that offer, but you’ve already given them a commitment at the higher number,” says Neece.

If the potential employer isn’t willing or able to meet the higher salary demand, it’s rare that they would rescind the job offer.

It will likely come down to some version of “take it or leave it.” And at that point it’s up to the job seeker. The recruiter or hiring manager may also come back and agree to increase their offer.

“You need to be flexible and understand that we’re in a different job market. Everything is new to the companies as well,” said Amparo Connors, president of Allied Personnel Services, a recruiting firm in New York. “If you are unemployed, you have to just be very careful [in a salary negotiation] because [if it goes south] you could end up in a situation where then you don’t have anything.”

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