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5/15/11 - Bad Career Advice and Salary Negotiation

April 19, 2011

Prepare yourself for a rant.


I’m frequently annoyed by some of the bad job advice that’s out there, and there’s one thing in particular really irking me right now: ·”career advisors” who write long articles blithely telling you how to avoid discussing your salary requirements in a job search, with absolutely no acknowledgement of the fact that many, many employers use online application processes that require you to input this number before you can proceed. As in, your application literally won’t be accepted if you don’t enter something in the salary field — and it’s got to be numbers, not text saying you’re “flexible” or “will discuss later” or any of the other strategies they recommend.


It’s all well and good to tell job-seekers that they should delay salary discussions until they have a clearer understanding of the job, or to turn the salary question back around on the employer, but these advice-givers are being lazy and a little inept by not addressing what to do in situations where that’s not an option. It reeks of old-school job-hunting advice given by someone who hasn’t updated their knowledge in the last decade. And the reason this really irks me is because job-hunters deserve something better than the generic, unnuanced, non-reality-based pabulum that passes for career advice in some corners of the web.


For the record, here’s how I think you should handle requests for salary expectations:


1. If you can avoid giving a number up-front when you’re first applying, do.


2. If you can’t avoid it because the company is using an electronic application process that requires it,then you need to decide whether you’re willing to answer or walk away. Does this suck? Yes. Is it the reality of the situation? Yes. ·However…


3. One path for potentially avoiding the electronic application problem is to find a way to get the employer interested in you without using the electronic application at all — e.g., network your way into their process and deal with the hiring manager directly, rather than coming in through their application system. But not everyone can do this, so a lot of people are stuck back at #2.


4. Even if you manage to avoid the salary question in the application, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked in the phone interview. You can try to turn it around on them (“what range did you have in mind?”) and sometimes you’ll get an answer, but sometimes you won’t and in that case, if you continue to refuse to talk about it, you’ll risk coming across as obnoxious. That’s your prerogative, but it’s a choice you should make knowingly. (By the way, I’m not defending employers who push you for your range while refusing to state their own — I think they’re silly — but you’ve got to deal with reality, not how stuff should be.)


5. So at some point, you might need to choose between walking away or answering the question. And since most people don’t have the luxury of walking away every time this happens, at some point you’re probably going to need to talk numbers. Therefore, you should be prepared with a range based on·research about what comparable positions pay in your geographic area (with the caveat that this advice is borderline-useless for nonprofits, where pay ranges vary wildly).


Please note that there’s nothing in the above about answering salary questions by talking about what you’ll bring to the table (like that would distract them from noticing you didn't answer the question), or leaving questions blank (as if we’re still using paper applications rather than electronic ones with required fields), or saying that you’d like to defer salary discussions until later in the process, or·any of the other crappy advice out there.·And when you see that type of thing being pushed by people holding themselves up as experts, I hope you will weigh in with loud disapproval and make it clear that you want real advice on how to handle real situations, not simplistic BS that ignores reality.

- end rant -

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