How to Answer the “Desired Salary” Question, with Jim Hopkinson

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

Hi, this is Mac, from Mac’s list. Before we start the show, I wanted to let you know about my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well paying work since 2001 and now I’ve put all my best advice into one easy to use guide. My book shows you how to make your resume standout in a stack of application, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free, visit MacsList.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job: the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my cohost, Ben Forstag, our managing director, and Jenna Forstom, our community manager.

This week we’re talking about what you say when a hiring manager asks about the salary you hope to get. Many job applications require you to give a desired salary. How you answer that question, matters a lot. Your response can add or subtract thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to your pay. Our guest expert this week is Jim Hopkinson, the founder of Salary Tutor. Jim says to position yourself to get the highest salary, you probably don’t want to give a specific figure. He and I will talk later in the show.

Employers may ask other questions about pay when you’re applying for a job. A common one is about your salary history. Ben Forstag has found a blog post with advice about what to say next. He’ll share it with us in a moment.

What do you do if you know you need to learn new technical skills in order to remain competitive in the job market but you’re uncertain which skills employers in your field value most? That’s our listener question of the week. It comes from Jeff Croxford in Portland, Oregon. Jenna Forstom offers her advice in a few minutes.

First, as always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team. So, Ben, Jenna, our topic this week is one we get a lot of questions about when we’re out in the community or at events: it’s about what to say when employers ask about desired salary. How have you two handled this in the past when you’ve been out there in the job market?

Ben Forstag:

Well I’ll be honest, my ability to answer this question and negotiate salaries in general is probably inversely related to how interested I am in the job. If it’s a job, and I’ve had some jobs that I’ve frankly taken because I needed to pay the rent or do other things, I was not that interested in, I felt a lot more at ease pushing for a higher salary. I think part of that, in my mind, was “this is not my dream job so you’re going to have to pay me a little bit more to be here everyday.” Jobs that I was really excited about, I felt … I was nervous about asking for more money because I didn’t want to derail the process. I understand that I did this to my own detriment sometimes.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think that’s a common experience. People either don’t have a figure because they’re uncertain what the market pays or as you say they don’t want to jeopardize their likelihood of getting the job. I think we’ll hear from Jim that while those anxieties are understandable, there are ways that you can remain competitive and even be more competitive and still put a figure out there.

Ben Forstag:   

Yeah and I think the other thing that has been a factor in my career has been if I was able to get deep into a discussion process with someone, have two or three interviews, at that point I felt a whole lot more comfortable having a salary discussion because it was clear that the employer had an interest in me. I think most people, what really scares them, is that first interview when you know there are another dozen candidates that they’re talking to. You don’t want to price yourself out of consideration really early in the process.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well how about you, Jenna? When you’ve been out there and you’ve gotten that question, we all get it, on applications or in conversations, how have you responded?

Jenna Forstom:  

I typically go with just a ballpark figure. Probably $5,000 more than whatever I make. I think it depends on if employers or hiring managers or recruiters are asking what your current salary is and I feel like you need to be honest in that versus what your desired salary is. Usually the only times I’ve ever seen it in a form is when you’re applying online through Indeed or Monster.com. Then when you’re having a phone conversation with a hiring manager or a recruiter it’s like, okay, there’s a range. You could say I’m currently at this, but I think with my skill set, my next role should be around this. Then, whether or not that’s appropriate is a larger conversation to be had in person.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think that’s an excellent response. I’m a big fan of the range too. Whenever possible though, I first try to deflect the question because, to Ben’s point, I think we’re at our most desirable to an employer when either there’s an offer on the table or we’re coming back for that second or third interview and they’re obviously very interested in working with us and that is always a good moment I think to put a number out. If I do make that leap, I try to not only have arranged something that’s informed research, and being able to cite the research and the source I think gives the number even more credibility.

Jenna Forstom:

Yeah definitely.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Terrific. Well, let’s turn to you Ben, because every week you’re out there poking around the nooks and crannies of the internet looking for websites, books, and tools our listeners can use for their job search. What have you found for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

This week I’m actually bringing you two resources. They are both related to this question.

Mac Prichard:

This is a twofer

Ben Forstag: 

This is a twofer. I’m not charging you any extra this week.

Mac Prichard:

We happen to be recording this just before the holidays so it’s sort of a holiday gift.

Ben Forstag:

Yes. This is my Christmas gift to you, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

(laughs)

Ben Forstag:  

You might be the only person out there who appreciates this gift.

Mac Prichard:

(laughs) Okay.

Jenna Forstom: 

Yet, they won’t get it until after Valentine’s day so really it’s a love present.

Mac Prichard:

(laughs)

Ben Forstag:

That’s true. This week both the resources have to deal with the question of how to respond to salary history requests. Now, I’ll admit, this is a question I have never actually gotten in an interview, but, it’s a common one where the hiring manager or recruiter or whoever talking to you asks you how much you currently make in your job.

I was doing some Googling on this over the week and there is a lot of upset out there in the inter webs about this question.

Mac Prichard:

Why are people annoyed by this question, Ben?

Ben Forstag:

A lot of people think it has no baring on what they should be making in the future or they’re worried it’s going to peg them into a certain pay scale that’s lower than they expected. Or, that it’s just an unfair intrusion of the employer into their privacy and that it doesn’t really matter.

This week, the first resource I want to share, is a blog post called “How to Respond to Salary History Requests,” from the US News and World Report Careers Blog. This was written by Alison Green, who some of you folks might recognize as the voice behind the Ask a Manager blog post.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, that’s a terrific column she writes and US News and World Report has a career blog with a number of contributors, including Alison, and I think we’ve had a number of them on the show.

Ben Forstag:  

Yeah, it’s a good resource. Alison is of like mind with you, Mac. She says it’s totally fair for the employers to ask. There’s nothing barring them from asking this question. It certainly is a question that has some ulterior motives behind it. The employers are certainly looking to control their payroll costs. Her suggestion, just like yours, is to pivot away from the question; to essentially not answer it. She offers three good pivots, here, that I am going to call out.

The first one is “I keep that information confidential but the range I’m looking for now is …” That speaks to Jenna’s question about talking about what you’re looking for in the future, not what you made in the past. The second one is “My previous employers have always considered that information confidential but I’m seeking …” Same idea. The third one, “That’s not something I share with anyone but my accountant but now I’m seeking this much.”

Again, the idea is don’t answer those questions, and all three of these play on a certain bias that many employers have, which is don’t talk about your salary; the salary you currently make in the organization. There are a lot of reasons employers do that but playing into that bias so you don’t have to answer their question in an interview might help your hand when you’re negotiating your salary in your next job.

Mac Prichard:

This is a great tip and as you both know I also run a public relations company. I’ve worked in political communications for many years in my career and this technique that Alison is recommending is called bridging. You acknowledge the question but you change the subject to the topic you want to talk about. You can see this in quotations and news accounts from, elected officials do it all the time, and it happens all the time on the Sunday morning public affairs shows too. Somebody will get a question about one topic and then deathly change the subject or the conversation to what they want to talk about.

Ben Forstag:

Absolutely. We actually talked about this on a previous podcast and I think it was all about interviewing, if I recall correctly. Bridging is a useful strategy for just about any interview question. I wouldn’t use it for everyone over the course of the interview.

Mac Prichard:

(laughs)

Ben Forstag: 

But, certainly for those one or two questions that you just want to avoid it’s a great strategy.

My second resource this week is a news piece from the New York Times and I wish I had that breaking news sound — beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. There you go.

Mac Prichard:

(laughs) Okay then.

Ben Forstag: 

It’s a story from the New York Times and it’s an update that Massachusetts is actually the first state that has outlawed the question of “what is your current salary,” or “what was your past salary? The state has outlawed it on the basis that these questions entrenches differences in pay between men and women so they’ve made it illegal.

When I said it’s a totally legit question that employers are allowed to ask, that’s true in 49 states and all territories, except Massachusetts.

I’ll have links for both of these resources in the show notes.

Mac Prichard:

Well thank you, Ben. If you have a suggestion for Ben please write him and we may share your idea on the show. Ben’s address is easy to remember. It’s Ben@MacsList.org. Now, let’s turn to you, our listeners. Jenna Forstom, our community manager, is here every week and she joins us to answer one of your questions. Jenna, what’s in the Mac’s List mailbag this week?

Jenna Forstom:  

This week’s question comes from Jeff Croxford who asks:

Jeff Croxford:  

Hello, my name is Jeff and I’m from Portland and my question is about IT skills. I’ve been out of the job market for quite a while, holding a position or two, and now I’m finding that there’s a lot of new skills out there that I don’t have. I’d like to begin to work on achieving some skill currency but what skills do I learn when there’s no particular job target in mind? How do I focus on a particular technology or group of technologies that could be very useful, given a particular job, but I don’t know what a particular job is yet that I’m looking for.

Jenna Forstom:   

Thank you so much, Jeff, for calling in. Let me be the first to admit that I am not a tech professional and I was actually talking to Jeff about this question and I said, “Oh, my aunt is a developer and over Labor Day weekend she brought this super big programming book, because she got a new job and had to learn the Ruby language.” She finished it in a weekend and my mind was blown by that. I know that there are different coding languages and I get that, but, either my aunt’s a genius, which I honestly believe, because she’s my aunt, or there are transferable skills that you can pick up in a weekend.

I think there are two opportunities that Jeff can do in this situation where you don’t know what language or what skills or platforms to be practicing. Either A, commit to learning one and maybe you find that information by talking to a local trade organization. I suggested – we have a great partnership here in Oregon with the Technology Association of Oregon – so maybe reaching out and scheduling an informational interview with a staff member there and asking: what are the organizations that you work with, that your organization supports, what are they looking for in developers or programs or other IT systems, what platforms have you been hearing of?

A complete 180 of that would be: pick an organization that you really, really want to work at. Whether it’s Standard Insurance or Nike or Adidas or I think Salesforce is in Oregon here, too – I know they’re in San Francisco but I think they have a satellite office here. If there’s an organization that has everything you want like work-life balance, whatever that definition of what your need is, go find out what that organization is doing and study that so that it’s all over your resume.

I think overall, when it comes to any job, even if you’re not in IT, so this could apply to anyone, hiring managers and recruiters want to see that you’re continuing your education and that you’re naturally curious while you’re unemployed. So, you’re not just hanging out watching reruns of Gilmore Girls but, you’re learning something and you’re trying to stay sharp. That’s a nice skill and a nice quality to have in any employee.

Mac, Ben, do you guys have any other tips?

Ben Forstag:   

So first, I really love Jeff’s term “skill currency.” I’ve actually never heard that before. I really like that; I’m going to start using it.

I think you hit the nail on the head, Jenna. Certainly part of it is going out there and focusing on one skill; you’re always going to have some skill deficit, right? No one has skills in everything equally. Specialize in one or two things and if you’re trying to learn a new skill pick one and become the master in that rather than the Jack-of-all-trades in everything.

My suggestion would be: look through job postings and see the kind of skills that are listed in the jobs that you find most interesting and you can probably do a tally. If you’re looking at what kind of programming language you should learn, write them all out on a piece of paper and just do a tally of how many times they get referenced as necessary skills or desired skills in a job listing. The ones that have the most checks next to them would probably be the most in-demand in a field.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think you’re both giving excellent advice here. I particularly like your point, Jenna, about demonstrating a history of learning new skills. Software packages and apps come and go but curiosity is if that’s a constant in your career and you show that in your LinkedIn profile and in your resume and references and in your interviews, that’s going to serve you well.

I like the strategy behind the point you’re making, Ben – and Jenna, you made this point as well – which is once you figure out where you want to go, what kind of jobs you want to do and are most interested in, and look at the qualifications. You will see patterns of skills that are required and gaps that’ll help you zoom in or narrow in on the one or two skills you might pick up while doing your research.

Ben Forstag:   

Yeah, that’s the market-based approach. I would just throw this one other thought out there which is, it may well be Jeff, that there are certain program languages that you’re more interested in than others. Again, I’m not a techy so I don’t know if it works like that, but, I certainly know that there are some new skills that I could acquire that I’d be much more interested in learning about and much more passionate about than others. Not many people are passionate about Excel spreadsheets and things like that.

Jenna Forstom: 

Pivot tables. What-what!

Ben Forstag:  

That’s right.

Mac Prichard:

(laughs) I took a class on pivot tables once.

Ben Forstag:

Again, I would say part of it is, if you’re just looking for where the market is right now, in terms of what the most marketable skills are, looking through job listings and just talking to others is the way to go. Also, part of the answer to this question must be what are you personally most interested in as well.

Mac Prichard:

Excellent advice. Thank you, Jeff, for that question and thank you, Jenna. If you have a question for Jenna please email her. Her address is easy to remember too. It’s Jenna@MacsList.org. Or, call our listener line. That number is area code 716-JOBTALK. That’s 716-562-8255.

We’ll be back in a moment and when we return I’ll talk with our guest, Jim Hopkinson, about what to say when employers ask you about your desired salary.

Most people struggle with job hunting. The reason is simple: most of us learn the nuts and bolts of looking for work by trial and error. That’s why I produce this podcast, to help you master the skills you need to help you find a great job. It’s also why I wrote my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. For 15 years of Mac’s List, I’ve helped people in Portland, Oregon find meaningful, well paying, and rewarding jobs that they love. Now I put all of my job-hunting secrets in one book that can help you no matter where you live. You’ll learn how to get clear about your career jobs, find hidden jobs that never get posted, and ace your next job interview. For more information, and to download the first chapter for free, visit MacsList.org/anywhere.

Now let’s turn to this week’s job expert, Jim Hopkinson. Jim Hopkinson teaches people how to negotiate salary and get paid what they’re worth. He’s the author of Salary Tutor. Learn the Salary Negotiation Secrets No one Ever Taught You and the co-author of How To Quit Your Job: A 5-step Plan to Ditching Your Day Job.

Jim joins us today from New York City. Jim, thanks for being on the show.

Jim Hopkinson:

Thanks for having me, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well Jim, our topic this week, as you know, is a common question on job applications: “what’s your desired salary?” Why is this question important to job seekers?

Jim Hopkinson:

It’s really important; it’s kind of a loaded question, right? The way you fill it out is going to be crucial to your job search for two reasons. Number one is that it’s going to affect how you’re screened for the job, whether you’ll even make it to that next level, and number two, even if you do make it to that next step, it’s going to set that framework for that negotiation that leads after that.

Mac Prichard:

We hear from a lot of listeners and readers at Mac’s List who have some anxiety about this question. They see it as kind of a no-win situation for job seekers. Do you agree, Jim?

Jim Hopkinson:

Absolutely. It’s one of the most popular questions that I get asked. It’s one of the most popular posts on my blog. How do we get around this and people are stressed out because they feel if they don’t put the right answer it’s going to affect their job, and it is. There are definitely a few ways that they can get around it.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s step back for a moment, why do companies ask this question?

Jim Hopkinson: 

To some degree, they just want to know their range. Sometimes it’s for good. Sometimes there’s a job out there that they’re not sure where, you know, what their range is or they just kind of use it to screen. It makes sense. They don’t want to start interviewing someone for a $50,000 job if the person is used to making 75 or 100k, there’s not going to be a fit there. On the other hand, it is a little bit devious on their part that they can get a candidate to reveal what they’re going to want to make. If it’s a little bit below what they wanted to pay they can use that during the negotiation and kind of frame it that way.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about ways people can answer the question because it sounds like you’ve got to play the game so you’ve got to give some kind of response, Jim. I know you’ve got several recommendations, what’s the first one that you often suggest people start with?

Jim Hopkinson: 

I would say first is respond with a phrase if you can. A lot of times, it depends if the form is, it can also be a form that is handed to you in the waiting room when you are waiting for HR and say hey, fill out this application, but it could be online. Sometimes it let’s you put in text so you could put something like negotiable or to be discussed during interview or even things like entry level or contract or anything that avoids putting in a number.

Mac Prichard:

I can imagine listeners thinking, gosh, that sounds kind of like I’m dodging the question. Is that going to hurt my prospects and maybe move me right to the reject pile?

Jim Hopkinson:  

Maybe before we get into all this, the thing to preface it with is that all of this negotiation is going in with the right mindset. I know people sometimes are in positions where they really need a job, or they’re laid off and I definitely feel for them but, to some degree, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. They have a job for you and it can sometimes feel like they hold all the keys, but you’re going to work for this company and you’re going to work hard. Dedicate yourself 40 hours a week, week after week, for maybe a year.

You want to be interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You want to go in there with, I have something of value, I want to be able to provide this so a lot of times it’s just a form you have to fill out. It doesn’t mean you have to fill in every single detail of your life. I’ve seen ones that go back years. It’s like really? You want to know how much I made as a paperboy? Or how much I made in college? It’s like, I worked at the pizza place in college. Do you really want me to put down eight bucks an hour. How does that affect the job that I’m going for that’s a management, marketing management job paying 40 grand?

To some degree, I say why are you even asking this, and to some point, they just passed a law in Massachusetts that made it illegal to ask your previous salary. That could be something that spreads out throughout various industries as we go forward.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, in fact, my colleague Ben Forstag mentioned that law earlier in the show when we were sharing resources with listeners. That’s encouraging, but there are still 49 other states where this is probably happening every day.

Jim Hopkinson:

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. I love the point you’re making about mindset because I think, again, I’ve certainly been there and I know many of our listeners are there too, where you gotta pay your bills and you’ve got to take a paycheck job. You want to do everything you can to get that gig. In the long run, we’re all going to be in the workforce for decades and you’re right, we do have a lot to offer. Having that mindset, is I think, excellent advice.

You fill out that form, you say negotiable, entry level, or some other phrase, but, what if you’re online and you’ve got to put in a number? What’s your advice there?

Jim Hopkinson: 

Ideally you can put in, you know if you’re filling out a couple of words, you can somehow make reference to that. If there’s like a note section later you can say something like regarding salary, I’m willing to discuss it during the interview. If they ask you put in a number, another option is to put in kind of a nonsense number. Just put in zero, or one, or 999, or a million dollars. Anything to kind of show that you’re not answering it directly and then again, if you can reference that and say oh yeah, we can talk about this in the interview.

What’s interesting with that is the topic of bracketing and there’s been studies that even if you throw out a very high number, that’s totally random, like a negotiation, that anchors future negotiations. For example, say you’re talking face to face and they’re like “well how much are you looking to make.” And, you say, “well I’d love to make a million dollars but you know, whatever fair in the market makes sense.” Just by throwing out that random number of a million makes that negotiation range start a little bit higher. To prove that, during the test they judge said they had the price of something based purely on the last two numbers of their social security number. Those that had higher numbers, again a random number, your social security number, would price the value of something higher than someone that had a lower social security number. It’s funny about the psychology behind all this.

Mac Prichard:

That is fascinating. I’ve read in negotiations you always want to be the first to put out the number and thereby set the range and when you do that you set a floor that sets the rest of the conversation.

I gotta ask, Jim, I know you work with people one on one, you coach people on salary and negotiation. What’s happened when you’ve had people you work with enter a nonsense number?

Jim Hopkinson: 

I mean that’s definitely something that the person has to be comfortable with, right? Better than … Because, easily what could happen is it could trip up their kind of tracking system, right? If the computer is looking for 75,000 and you enter $1 there’s a chance that you could just be eliminated by the algorithm there. You could have a person be like who is this wise guy who thinks they’re going to make a million dollars. That’s probably not the best option, it’s just one of the, as I’m writing the article that’s something you could do. If you can put in a numerical range, that’s always better. If it’s 40-50, 40 thousand-55 thousand, or 60 thousand-70 thousand that’s one way to do it.

The last option is if you do have to enter a specific number the way you can do that, ideally you can do that range, if you do have to put a range then you’re kind of boxing yourself in a little bit but there are ways you can get around that later on.

Mac Prichard:

I’ve certainly used ranges myself, I’ve seen other people do that. What’s your best advice, Jim, about how to set that range because you obviously don’t want to pluck a number out of the air and you may be moving from one position to hopefully a job with more responsibility and therefore higher salary range. How do you figure out what that range should be?

Jim Hopkinson:

It all begins with the research, right? I know a lot of people probably listen to the show like oh I’ll just go on salary.com or pay scale or glass door and those are great places to start but I actually break it down into five different ways that you can research how much you’re worth. I’m updating a list of these websites and things like that for 2017.

The first I do is go to those salary sites, right? In addition to those big three, there’s actually another five or ten websites that I recommend that people can go to. The second thing is to look at industry salary guides. For example, there’s a company called Robert Half that comes out with salary guides for, let me show you some of the things. For IT professionals, for legal professionals, for accounting and finance, for administrative. There’s one for creative groups. There’s one for you know, educators, things like that. If you’re in IT or if you’re in paralegal you can Google paralegal salaries guide and find out specific data around that.

The third way is looking for jobs that are out there that have the title listed. If you go on monster or some of these sites, a lot of times, I think it’s only about 10 or 15% but if you’re looking for a marketing manager job with five years experience in Boston and you find a marketing manager job in San Diego and it looks like almost all of the same requirements and the one in San Diego has a position and it’s paying 55 thousand, that’s one data point that you can use and maybe you can find five or ten of those.

The fourth one is internal networking tip so talking to people you know, family, friends, coworkers using LinkedIn or Facebook and asking them about the salary range. The last is external networking tips, people you don’t know. If you’re at a meetup group or at a job fair finding the ranges of salaries around that.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. I’m guessing that these resources are on your website and we can include a link to those in the show notes. Is that correct?

Jim Hopkinson:

Exactly. Yup.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. We’ve been talking about applications both online or in paper but let’s assume you haven’t been asked this question about desired salary on an application form but you get a call from a recruiter, maybe it’s a screening call from a hiring manager, or it comes up in your first interview. Do you do anything different in a face to face meeting or a telephone conversation than you would in responding to your form?

Jim Hopkinson: 

Not really. There is two ways. You mentioned going first and setting that high range and I think in a lot of cases that’s not a bad strategy to … Especially if you’re maybe a little bit older in your career and you know exactly what you want and you have a feeling that you’re already making more than they’re going to offer so putting out that high number. However, I think in a lot of cases it’s better to get them to go first and in doing that that way you’re not going to guess to high, you’re not going to guess to low and so I would use a phrase something like … There’s two ways they can ask you, right?

One is what are you making now? And one is what kind of salary are you looking for? In either way you can say something like, well I have done a lot of research and what I’ve found is it really varies. I’ve seen positions as low as 40 thousand and as high as 75 thousand or more. It all depends on the person, the experience, the type of job, so, I’m just kind of curious, what kind of range did you have in mind?

Mac Prichard:

So get them to set a range?

Jim Hopkinson: 

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Right. What if they say well, we’re not certain. We haven’t set that yet. What figure do you have in mind? I’m sure that happens. What’s your suggested response?

Jim Hopkinson:

Yeah, I would just kind of double down and say well you say you’re not sure, I’m sure that’s based on a lot of things that we need to discuss. Frankly I feel the same way. This is the first interview and right now salary on a list of things that I’m looking to get out of this job is probably about number four so what I’d really like to talk about is what kind of projects you’d be working on or what’s the design support for this position? Can you talk more about that?

You’re kind of steering it in another direction and kind of showing that you’re there for the job. You’re not all about the money. You’re there to learn more and I always say, it’s coming from a place of honesty. A lot of people come to me and they think he’s the secret salary guy and he’s going to teach me tricks, how to fool HR into giving them more money. I say, it’s not about using tricks, it’s always coming from a place of honesty.

When you’re on that first interview and you’ve talked to HR for 15 minutes and you give the response of I’d really like to learn more about the job first, it’s true, right? How do you know if it’s a $60,000 job or a $70,000 job? What if it’s … You say a low number and then you go through the interview and later on you’re like oh my gosh, I’ve got to manage four people, I’m going to be on the road, I’ve got this budget, I’ve got to learn all this new stuff, I would need much more in order to take this job. Or, what if it’s the opposite? What if you put out a really high number and as you go through the interview you find out oh my gosh this is my dream job, I get to work on this awesome project and I have four weeks vacation and I can work remotely. Alas you would have taken that job for anything because it was a great stepping stone, alas you gave too high of a number first and now you’ve kind of overbid yourself. You have to be careful.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. So, listen, keep your doors open, keep your options open, and learn more as you go along before committing to a number.

Jim Hopkinson:  

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

All right. Well I know, Jim, some people will ask, isn’t there a way to avoid this application question in the first place and how can you get by beyond these forms and what’s your best advice there?

Jim Hopkinson:

That’s definitely the main piece of advice, the main take away for this is when you’re in a position of having to fill out something online that you’re competing with everyone else, right? You’re getting boxed in in terms of a salary but if you’re finding a job online and you’re applying that probably means five, ten, a thousand people might be applying for that same job. The problem is you’re all competing against each other and it just makes it really hard to stand out.

The better way is to avoid these forms completely is by networking. The stats say 80% of jobs are found by networking. I’ve asked it once, I was doing a speech, and probably about 50 people in the room, I said show of hands, how many people got their last job by competing with 100 other people on monster.com versus networking? I think every hand but two went up. So it was like 95% of the people in this room got their job through networking. Why don’t they teach … Every job and I could joke when you’re in college and you go to the career center they say let’s learn how to use monster.com or something like that and you walk in that day and they’re like welcome to networking 101. You’re like that’s not what I signed up for, well if 80 or 90% of the chance of getting a job is through networking you should at least be spending four out of five days networking, going to events, talking to people, going to job fairs, talking to people in person versus trying to compete with everyone online.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know you’re a regular listener and our other listeners know we’re big fans of networking here at Mac’s List so that’s terrific advice.

Well, Jim, thanks for joining us today. Now, tell us what’s coming up next for you?

Jim Hopkinson: 

You know, big start of the year and it’s a good time to kind of reset. I know a lot of people, after the new year and looking forward are setting goals and you’re kind of fit into a couple of ways. You either like your job and you’re ready to get a raise and so there’s steps to take that or you’re going to get a new job. You’re like you know what, it’s time for a change. I’ve got articles, I’ve got a free course on the negotiation time set, and like I said, if it’s time to quit your job you can kind of check out that.

Mac Prichard:

Well terrific. We’ll be sure to include links to those resources in the show notes and I know listeners can find those resources and learn more by visiting your website which is salary tutor, that’s www.salarytutor.com.

Jim, thanks for coming on the show today.

Jim Hopkinson:  

Thanks for having me, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a pleasure, take care.

All right, we’re back in the Mac’s List studio after my conversation with Jim. Now Jenna, Ben, what are your thoughts?

Jenna Forstom:

I thought he had a pretty good point about deflecting at least for initial applications and initial first round interviews when it comes to salary and just being really genuine and authentic to learning, wanting to learn more about the role. I thought it was really interesting how he said, “oh, you throw out $60,000 then you find out it’s actually a way more intensive role or way, would require more skill sets and you know I cut myself off at the feet and I could’ve asked for $80,000 if you had spend another 20 minutes or another round of interviews to find that out.” I thought that was a really interesting point that I had never thought about.

The flip side is I feel like when you’re typing stuff in and you’re applying online you get the red box where it tells you you need to enter a salary so I’m curious what he would say in that. He said obviously don’t put a million dollars in because you would come off the wrong way but what a realistic expectation would be for that moment. But, it was a good interview.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a great point about the numbers and I know we’ll include a link to a blog post that Jim wrote about this in the show notes. He gives four or five very specific options of ways you can answer that question if you’re required to put in numbers. Putting in ranges but the key is fill in the box then look for an opportunity to say else where in the document, happy to discuss salary as referenced in box six wherever the number the might have been required during an interview.

Jenna Forstom:

Ah, got ya, that’s a good idea.

Ben Forstag:

I liked his point about networking as a strategy to get around this conundrum of having to put a number in a box. I think networking not works just for the salary piece but like all the pain points that are associated with filling out one of those online forms. If you can find a way to get around that process and not having to compete as a commodity or not having to compete on price or your extensible price when you put a salary there, everything gets easier and less frustrating when you do that. I really, I think the key takeaway here is if this is the kind of thing that really drives you nuts, like it drives a lot of people crazy, networking is a good way to avoid having that conversation right up front. Or, to have that conversation in a much more natural, relaxed way in which both parties already have some sense of the value that’s going to be created in the relationship.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I agree and I think for me the key point I heard Jim make is you’ve got to get around this question either by deflecting it or responding to it in a way that allows you to discuss it later. Once you get around it and you continue to pursue the job and remain a candidate and you can if you answer the question right, as the employer learns more about you you’ll become a more attractive candidate and the more attractive you are as a candidate the more open they are to a conversation about salary.

Ben Forstag: 

Yeah and I think that’s true of a lot of different parts of the job search piece where sometimes employers and frankly even job seekers immediately go to the places where there’s disagreement and I think strategically there’s a lot of value sometimes in saying, let’s table this part of the conversation to later so we can talk about some other things. Then maybe in talking about the value that can be created, things like salary are going to come into clarity for both parties.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Well, thank you both and thank you, our listeners, for joining us for today’s episode for find your dream job. If you like what you hear please sign up for our free weekly newsletter. In every issue we give you the key points of that weeks show. We also include links to all the resources mentioned and you get a transcript of the full episode. If you subscribe to the newsletter now, we’ll send you our jobseeker checklist in one easy to use file. We show you all the steps you need to take to find a great job. Get your free newsletter and checklist today. Go to MacsList.org/podcast.

Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Marc Miller. He’ll explain how you can make your LinkedIn profile stand out. Until next time, thanks for letting us find you your dream job.

Have you ever had a prospective employer ask about your salary history? Or had to include your salary expectation in your application? Do you know what to put for desired salary?

This week’s guest, Jim Hopkinson, argues that your response to salary questions can be the difference in whether or not you get an offer and how much leverage you have in future pay discussions.

The employer does not necessarily hold all the cards when it comes to negotiating salaries. Jim recommends finding out all the facts about the job before you even start discussing salary. You may find there are job responsibilities which warrant a higher pay scale. And if you are the right fit for the job, you can enter the salary discussion knowing you have something of exceptional value to the company.

Here are Jim’s recommendations if you are required to enter your desired salary in an application:

  1. Respond with a phrase like “negotiable,” or, “To be discussed during interview.”
  2. Try adding a nonsense number like “$0” or “$1,000,000” to show you are purposely not answering the question.
  3. If the system doesn’t allow a nonsense number use a numerical range.

If you are unsure which salary range you fall into, Jim says there are five different ways to research how much you are worth:

  1. Go to salary sites. (Glassdoor.comPayscale.com, etc.)
  2. Look at industry salary guides. (Robert Half)
  3. Go to job sites and search your title.
  4. Internal networking with people you know.
  5. External networking with people you don’t know.

This Week’s Guest

Through his Salary Tutor website, Jim Hopkinson teaches people how to negotiate their salaries, and get paid what they are worth. He’s the author of Salary Tutor: Learn The Salary Negotiation Secrets No One Ever Taught You, and the co-author of How To Quit Your Job – The Right Way: A 5-Step Plan To Ditching Your Day Job. His free introductory course, The Negotiation Mindset, is available on his website.

Resources from this Episode