Salary Negotations During the Interview

On Twitter, Pat Wright posed a question:

Dangerous Interview Question

Dangerous Interview Question

My answer: it depends.  (Hey, I’m a DBA, right? Isn’t that always the answer?)  My favorite salary negotiation book recommends postponing the salary question as late as possible during the hiring process, but I don’t think that’s realistic.  I don’t go house shopping without looking at prices.

How to Give Your Salary During the Interview

When you’re desperate to get out of a bad job, you have to play ball.  They’ve got something you want.  You shouldn’t lie, but you shouldn’t give them an exact dollar amount, either:

“My current salary is in the seventies, but that’s part of the reason why I’m looking for other opportunities.  My current company doesn’t offer a competitive salary, doesn’t pay for training, and doesn’t share on-call rotations.  It’s a great place to get started and prove yourself under fire, but they haven’t been rewarding hard work.  I’m looking for a company where I can work hard, keep my skills sharp, and get rewarded for keeping their most valuable data safe.”

With that answer, they’re going to be hesitant to offer you a salary similar to what you’re making now, and they’re going to think about the training package.  During conversations like this, you have to make sure to point out that you’re willing to bust your hump.  Even better, build them a 30-90 day plan of what you’d like to accomplish as you take over responsibilities.

When Not to Reveal Your Salary

If you’re happy with your current job, and someone is trying to sweet-talk you into changing companies, then you’ve got the upper hand.  You have something they want.  In that case, I approach it with:

“Right now, I’m really happy with my salary, but it’s only a part of the picture.  I’m also happy with my manager, my coworkers, my training benefits, and the work we’re doing.  If I just wanted money, I’d be a hired gun consultant by now.  Let’s make sure the rest of our needs fit before we talk money.”

Segue into a discussion about how you’d like to go to industry conferences and why it pays for them to send you.  If they’re interested in having the discussion, then they’re interested in your well-being as an employee.  If they don’t even want to talk about things like that, well – you just learned a little something about them.

If they keep pressing for your salary, don’t give them your current number – give them the number it would take to get you to switch.  They’re going to balk.  They’re going to say the number’s too high.  It doesn’t matter what number you quote – they’re going to haggle.  If they’re a good company, they never overpay for anything.  They’re going to say you’re crazy and that you’re out of touch.  You can respond with:

“I know you’re used to paying a lot less – but are you happy with what you’ve been getting at those rates?”

I guarantee you that works, because they’re the ones who sought you out.

If you’re happy at your current position, stand your ground.  Several times in my career, I’ve had companies tell me my “switch” salary range was ludicrous, but they came back to me weeks or months later with a close offer.  If you’re good – and if you’re reading blogs like this, you’re good – then companies will hire idiots cheaper, get their databases shrunk, and come crying to you for help later.  Be confident in yourself, never stop learning, and never stop networking.

When to Lie About Your Salary

Never.  You’re an IT professional, and they’re a businessperson.  Guess which one of the two is closer to con artist.  You can’t lie anywhere near as well as they can, and they’ll sniff you out miles away.  The instant they know you’re lying, they’ll lose respect for you, and that’s the end of your happy employment before it even starts.

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59 Comments. Leave new

  • That’s correct. Never lie.

    When I was asked such question, I always ask back: what is the salary range?

  • Wait – what is this on-call rotation of which you speak?

  • “My current company doesn’t offer a competitive salary, doesn’t pay for training, and doesn’t share on-call rotations. ”

    Doesn’t that border on the golden rule of nevery bad mouthing your current or past job?

    • I don’t think that’s bad mouthing if it is a fact. In the context described in this post, you are just trying to send the message that you want some training package.

    • That doesn’t sound like bad mouthing your current job, it sounds like a logical reason to pursue other opportunities.

    • David I agree with Jeremy. I don’t see it as bad mouthing if you are stating true facts. Now don’t say any of that if it is not in fact true.

    • Thats rite, its not bad mouthing unless the company is owned by our dad. :-).
      The company is always thinking about the development side, so, they will reduce the cost as maximum as they could. They will get use professionals as maximum as they could and tried to give as low salary as they could. Its better we tell everything to others and they know why we want to leave the company. Other company will use this company’s disadvantage to take you in and you will get the benefits that haven’t before.

  • Thank you Brent for putting this into a Blog post.

    I have not been actively looking for a position for a couple years but a friend of mine is and I was shocked to hear how many times he had been asked what his current salary was and it was mentioned against him in one position. This really helps to give him guidance. I also wish more interviewers would ask are you happy with your current salary. Not what is your current salary. Because that’s the point right, your unhappy and your looking for something. Who cares what it is that you make it’s a matter if your happy or not. I know people that have made 10’s of thousands over the average but they weren’t happy and were looking elsewhere.

    Pat
    @SqlAsylum

  • Fabulous post. I instigated quite a thread of discussion when I asked Pat to help me get feedback on this question but this is great advice and definitely worth bookmarking if you are trying to navigate this question with a potential employer.

    Thanks again for the post, Brent.

  • As an employer, I’m interested in what a potential candidate is currently earning but more importantly what their salary expectations are. I already know what the job market pays for average, good and exceptional skills and if someone came to me looking to double their salary then there’s a story there that needs to be discussed.

    The hiring process needs to be a win/win on both sides or it just won’t work. If you start off witholding information like your current salary how can you expect to have an honest discussion? If you struggle to justify the jump in salary that you’re looking for then maybe you should revise your expectations.

    Not all employers are out to hire people as cheaply as possible! 🙂

    • Christian – by that same measure, what if the employer asks for the number of sick days you took in the last year, and says, “If you withhold information like that, how can we have an honest discussion?” It’s just not relevant. When I trade in my car for a new one, the dealer doesn’t get to ask how much I overpaid or underpaid for my last car. Negotiations start fresh with each transaction. (Again – only when I’m in control. If I’m desperate to get out of my car or my job, then everything’s on the table.)

    • “Not all employers are out to hire people as cheaply as possible!”

      Christian,

      Thats’s true, but in my admittedly limited experience, too many are and they are the ones that ask early in the process. Not only that, but they are the ones that won’t post a range on the job posting.

      I expect the salary question to come up in a second interview, and I’ve been taught, as Brent mentions, to give a broad number and also to talk about total compensation not salary.

      • Yes, total compensation SHOULD be key for both parties. We’ve had candidates that aren’t interested in anything except salary and thats no good to us. If you’re only driven by salary then you’ll likely jump ship again for another 10k as soon as you can.

        • Yes, I definitely agree. Salary cannot be the only topic and concern in the process. There are so many other important factors in addition. Like, for example the most important questions, can I do the job and will I fit seamlessly into the company culture?

          It’s a combination of all the ingredients (salary, position, potential, benefits, management structure, company culture, etc) that make the cake great or not so great and none of them should be ignored. 🙂

        • Non ship-jumpers also have good reason to be assertive about the base salary number. At most places I’ve worked, the single most important number in determining next year’s salary is this year’s salary. Compared with that, the differences in raises given to high performing employees vs. mediocre employees are usually tiny. A bad number can follow you around for a decade or more. In the meantime, it’s eating away at your lifetime earnings year after year.

          Employers understand this very well, which is why they push back on it and will even make concessions in other areas.

    • Christian,

      As a candidate, I, too, am aware of the market prices for my skills. Therefore, I, too, feel it is imporant to get to the heart of that matter. If a company comes to me expecting to pay me 50% to 60% of fair market value, I want to know as soon as possible so that I don’t waste my time. THerefore, I feel that the following approach to the issue is just and fair.

      You as the employer should pose your question as follows:
      “We are looking at a range of [$X] to [$Y] as the salary for this position and from your resume it looks as though you would probably be coming in at [$Z]. How does that compare to your current compensation and does that sound reasonable?”

      Now, if _I_ have sought _you_ out and solicited a position, it would be reasonable, IMHO, for me to approach the issue, when it comes up, in this manner:

      “I am currently earning about [INT((current salary + $2500) / $5000) * $5000)] as a [fill in the job title]. I am interested in your [fill in the job title] position and I know that the market will support a salary in the range of [$X] to [$Y], so I would like to receive [$Z]. My reasoning is as follows: [state 2 or 3 _legitimate_ reasons].”

      However, for you, as the employer, to expect me, as the candidate, to disclose my _exact_ salary without you _first_ disclosing your salary offer is not, IMHO, reasonable. Do you walk into a car dealership and asay, “I have 36,500 to spend on a car, what can I get?”

  • I should drop some thoughts on this, but my approach is typically to ask them what they’re paying (range) for the job.

  • That’s not the same, you’re not negotiating sick days. If you asked me for 50 paid sick days a year during salary negotiation then I’d be curious to know why. I don’t think thats unreasonable.

    I ask about salaries because I’m interested, not because I HAVE to know. I think there needs to be some give on both sides to generate trust. If I tell you what the role salary range is then its not unreasonable to ask what you’re currently on and what you’re looking for. I’d rather you lied than refused to be honest. Refusing would be like me not telling you what that range is, which would also be unreasonable.

    It really will depend on the scenario you’re in really. If negotiation isn’t personal i.e. through an agency, then its a different story than negiotating directly with a potential line manager that you’ll want to strike a rapport with.

    If you’re looking for large jump in pay then be honest about it and talk about why. It will go down a lot better than cloak and dagger negotiations.

    • Christian – I’m going to have to disagree again there when you say, “there needs to be some give on both sides to generate trust.” If a complete stranger comes to me and says, “You don’t know me, but I want you to give up the job you love and come work for me,” then there’s only one side of that partnership that needs to build trust. The company has a lot of work to do to gain my trust, and I’m not really interested in giving up anything for the first few rounds of that trust-building exercise.

      You’re in a different position than most employers – you’ve got credibility in the SQL Server community. You’d be right to demand more give and take from your prospects.

    • Coming from the other side of the fence (the person you are interviewing), I would have to say I am just sticking to stating my reason for leaving (Brent’s advice) is that my salary is not competitive and I’m not rewarded for my hard work. I have been turned down even before the interview because “I’m asking for too big of a jump”. I’m drastically underpaid for what I do and what I know. Drastically.

      So in a perfect world, I would say it would be great if I could openly discuss my low salary with potential employers without feeling like the vast majority of them will try and hire cheap labor by offering me a couple bucks more than what I’m making now.

      It seems as if employers are very eager to find out what you make. Like you said, Christian, salary is not a NEED to know; its nothing more than a fun fact. Except when you are in my situation where the only thing it is good for is to be used against you.

      Bottom line, if employers just wanted to know my current salary because its a fun fact, then they shouldn’t be asking right out the gate. It suggests ulterior reasons for wanting to know.

      • I know what you mean. I always felt uncomfortable about that when talking to recruitment agents in the past. I know it might be controversial but if your current salary is causing that sort of problem then making the jump sound less with a small lie might be the way to go rather than refusing to disclose your salary.

        Any recruiter is going to ask what you’re earning now, its just a column in database. If you earned $20k and asked for $100k, its going to fire off all sorts of alerts that require extensive justification for a “special case” that non-one wants to deal with.

        If you’re dealing with a company directly and you get asked then maybe just say that you feel uncomfortable disclosing it at this stage because its been used against you in the past.

        There are lots of different ways for you to play it depending on many different factors so I guess the only thing you can do is to take-in everyone’s comments and build a strategy that you feel comfortable with.

        I wish you the best of luck! Maybe you can let us all know how it goes?

        • Absolutely! I will let everyone know how it goes.

        • I would caution that lying can be dangerous. I happen to know that when HR checks references where I work, the most important thing to them to find out from a candidate’s present employer is salary to make sure they didn’t lie about it.

  • Christian Hasker
    February 3, 2010 4:07 pm

    – Good to hear Brent, good to hear; oh…you meant ‘hypothetically’…darn it then…

  • Christian Hasker
    February 3, 2010 4:18 pm

    I’ll remember that at ‘salary negotiation’ time. Methinks you may have overplayed your hand 😉 – that’s some funny stuff right there.

  • Christian,
    I agree with the idea of Trust between the person being hired and the employer. But I don’t see that you have to know the exact number. I wrote in my blog post it’s about knowing whether the person is happy. An employer can simply ask are you happy at your current salary? If the answer is no then the question can be what Salary will make you happy? If that’s unreasonable for the employer then they can respectfully look somewhere else. This gives the employer enough knowledge to know what they have to do to make the person happy and doesn’t make the person uncomfortable giving out the current salary. Just adding .02 cents from my salary in there. 🙂

    pat

    • Hi Pat,

      I like that, its the making of good conversation about salaries. From my perspective, I ask because I’m interested. Am I going to try and see if you’re lying? No, of course not. I still think though that as a candidate you’re better of with a small lie than refusing to answer if you get asked directly.

  • Good advice Brent. A key point is that location and cost of living make what is a fair salary vary. When I lived in northern NH, which has a much lower cost of living than southern NH, and looked for work in southern NH I would have needed a large salary increase to change jobs just to maintain my lifestyle. Some employers in southern NH would not take that into consideration, others did.

    Currently I am serving as a missionary with New Tribes Mission and I had to travel to fund raise my salary and I wasn’t very good at it ;-), so my salary is very low but what I’m doing now isn’t a job it’s service, whereas if I was looking for a job I’d be sure I was being paid the market rate for my skills.

  • Good post Brent – I have my first interview in years this Friday and it’ll pay for me to sharpen up on being savvy. We rarely practice this and those across the table are typically well versed. I’ll be tweaking your tips a bit when salary comes up as I am an independent interviewing with a funded startup and the salary delta is going to be negative from my perspective by a good margin. My plan is present that it is not all about money; that opportunity, growth, and a good group are important qualities…who knows, they may have all that. 😉

  • “You’re an IT professional, and they’re a businessperson. Guess which one of the two is closer to con artist.” <– That reminds me of a saying in one of my coworkers cube:

    "Never argue with an idiot
    They will bring you down to their level
    and then beat you with experience"

    • Aaron, I think I am going to use both of those quotes. That is great stuff.

    • Aaron,

      The “Never argue with idiots” quote I prefer is:

      “Never argue with idiots,
      It tends to confuse people and
      they may not be able tell which is which.”

      Ever heard the one about teaching pigs to sing? 😉

  • “My current company doesn’t offer a competitive salary, doesn’t pay for training, … It’s a great place to get started and prove yourself under fire, but they haven’t been rewarding hard work. I’m looking for a company where I can work hard, keep my skills sharp, and get rewarded for keeping their most valuable data safe.”

    If you add to this “and they took away our coffee service,” this would be almost exactly why I left my last company. Actually it is the reason a significant portion of the most talented and hardest working folks there have moved on to greener pastures recently.

    It is never so much about the money as it is working for a company that understands the investment it has in its employees – and continues to invest in them.

    • HAHAHA, that’s funny about the coffee thing – that was the straw that broke my back on one of my past jobs too. No water, either. Amazing how companies take some of the basics for granted.

  • My advice to others is to NEVER give your current salary, but always give a clear salary expectation. And always ask FIRST what the opportunity salary range is.

    1. Ask what the opportunity pays. Don’t settle for “we pay market rates” or something like that. Get a number or a range.
    2. Ask what non-$ benefits are offered. As specifically about the things that are important to you.
    3. Assume all bonuses will be $0.
    4. When asked what your current salary is, say that it’s not relevant to the discussion because it’s a different job and company. If really pushed say that it isn’t enough compensation to keep you there given all the other costs and benefits (if that is true).

    There is no benefit on the candidate side to naming a number for currently salary. If your salary is significantly less than what they want to pay, you’ve left thousands of dollars on the table. If it is significantly more, then you’ve probably talked yourself out of an offer. If it is similar, then your statement of expectations will be enough.

    On the bonuses thing, it’s important to understand that bonuses are discretionary. You might get one, your might not. I worked at a company where employees took a tiny base salary (like $20k), then made all their compensation based on performance bonuses. I said that I needed a base salary that was similar to market rates. I eventually got that. My roomate took the low base salary. One year later, he was making $20k a year. I was making 4 times that. I left before he did. He stayed because he really did think that he’d get those back-pay bonuses. He never did.

    • That’s a great point about the bonuses. You’re totally right – recruiters will toss out the thought of bonuses left and right. “They have a really great bonus program.” That’s meaningless – it’s like saying their managers are really nice people. The recruiter’s job is to get you to take the job, and they’re going to get paid long before your bonus time will come around. Bonus time comes around, you don’t get a good bonus, and oh, guess what – you want to look for another job. Gee, the recruiter gets paid AGAIN – go figure.

    • I turned down a job recently because they offered me a cut in pay and “really huge bonuses.” They were mad that I didn’t take the job even after I told them that there was no way I’d take a cut in pay and then hope & pray for a bonus to offset it.

      • Grant, Microsoft does something very similar. They low-ball the salary, compensating with a pretty decent one-time signing bonus, truly amazing benefits, and of course the peer network you become a part of – which for most people is an upgrade to say the least. For some, all of that is a great deal and will probably make them happy, even if it means a pay cut. But for the positions in Seattle, if you have to move there and own property in tough real estate markets (like, *cough*, New England), it becomes much tougher because the cost of living is equivalent, and you’re going to take an absolute bath on the property (or properties) you own here, and then buy an overpriced home in the Seattle area. For people already in that area, or who don’t own homes, or who own homes in better real estate markets, or who value the intangibles above the salary, and especially with a good combination of those things, overlooking the pay cut is much easier to justify. But when you lose on pay and the signing bonus doesn’t make up for the potential real estate loss, it’s much tougher. I’m kind of glad the telecommuting concept is gaining traction in even some of the bigger companies … I like the idea of being able to live in any real estate market I want and still do the job I want to do. That said, I’m pretty happy where I am. 🙂

        • I’m very excited about the traction telecommuting is gaining as well! I look forward to it down the road.

        • I can see where that would be very attractive, especially working for the mother-ship, but you have to be ready to make that sacrifice, and frankly, at this point in my life, I’m not in the sacrifice mode. Maybe I’ll start gambling on cool jobs with intangibles and a pay-cut after the kids leave the house, but until then… it ain’t the only reason I’ll take a job, but… show me the money! (stupid movie, but good line)

          • I agree with you Grant. If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing then money would be key. Last year when I was back in NH and doing some contracting for my former company they asked me to come back. I couldn’t, but I also know that for the headache’s they couldn’t pay me enough.

  • Karen, Thank you for making a point on the Bonuses. I agree with both you and Brent it’s so true that many times they may have a great bonus program but unfortunately it stopped 2 months before you got there. Of course that was never mentioned from the recruiter. 🙂

    pat

  • Hi Brent,

    Unfortunately here in Brazil things are very different. The employers put the job ads with something like “or you put how much you want to earn, or you resume will be disregarded”. Serious.. I’m not joking! A lot of very cool things I usually read in this blog, specially the ones in the “top 10 question to ask in an interview”, are miles away from our reality here. “Do we have access to Internet”? No way, in most places, specially the financial companies, for the sake of security, even if we argue in favor of knowledge, networking, keeping the skills sharp, etc.. “Do you pay for trainings or industry conferences?” No way! “Do we have a dev server so we can test a new SQL version”? No way! And on and on. I totally agree with things like “I know you’re used to paying a lot less – but are you happy with what you’ve been getting at those rates?”, but that approach just does not work here in most cases. They generally don´t care! Over the corner, they can find another guy cheaper, and in 3 months time, all the journey starts again if needed. I’m talking about most companies I see in the market, but I’m sure we have some exceptions. I’m looking forward to see more and more companies like those you guys design here!

    • Raul – sorry to hear about the market in Brazil. I hear that it’s a similar situation in many other companies, and that’s why the line for H1B visas is so long – everybody wants to come to work in the US. The US isn’t the only country with a hot SQL market, though – there’s a few areas in Europe that have a really good market too.

  • Little bit later but very nice and interesting discussion! Anyway, I wanted to tell you a short story about salary and the reason to lie or not to lie about your salary. I know the situations that happened to my 2 friends, when they tell them current salary which is very low then new job trying to win, they (HR) decide to not accept them, why? The reason was that you are no too much professional and poor skills and this is the point that you do not have a good salary (…but you are working). I disagree with this but it happened and in this case you are loser! But what is more ridiculous if you tell them for the good salary, yep they will ask you a sub-question why you are here? – and in many cases you can be the overqualified person for the HR commission(1HR person, 2-3 your field person in this case IT) – so they decide again to not accept you!? So it depends from the politics of the company and IT manager!
    So the best way is to do a search about salaries in the company where you applied for job and tell them the range between min-max possible!
    You can searching here:
    http://www.indeed.com/salary?q1=SQL+DBA&l1=

  • Hi…I am not working since 2month and looking for DBA job. However, recently I cleared all rounds of interview with Accenture, India. They were telling , they will not pay your what you were earning in your prev company. They are utilizing max my weaknes (Break in career) and did not reverted to me after the interview. Its been ONE week. I told them, to pay atleast what I was getting previously. This is the only problem and playing around. How should I tackle with them … I am also desperate to join Accenture and would like to maintain long term career. Please guide me ….

    • Hi, Sameer. Unfortunately, they’re the one with all of the bargaining power, especially when you say things like “I am desperate to join.” You don’t have anything they can’t get from somewhere else. If you need the job and you really want to work for that one specific company, you’re screwed. You have to take what they’re offering, and they know it. They do bargaining like this all the time, and they understand who’s got the power. If you don’t take it, they’ve got plenty of people lined up behind you willing to take that job.

      The only time you have bargaining power is when you already have a job and someone wants to hire you. Otherwise – you’re out of luck. I wish I had better answers for you.

    • Unfortunately they are in the better position in this case. You are without a job and they probably have other candidates, so unless you have other options they can hold the line no matter what you do or say.

      If you were really desperate to work for them, you’d take the job regardless of salary. You can hold the line and remain unemployed, waiting for another opportunity, or you can cave because they likely won’t.

  • well…. I never showed my desperation during manager (final round) interview. This negotiation started at the end of final interview as manager was pretty impressed . Finally screwed everything by telling I will pay you less than what you’re earning. What you do ??? I was neutral and trying to prick some ans from me. I said, I will wait and also look for another opportunity. Looks like I did sever mistake….!!!:-(

  • Hi Jack and Brent….

    Thanks for your valuable feedback and comments. I do not have any another options. I will contact them and check whether that position is still OPEN. Actually, I not want to stretch my GAP further due to financial constarints

    Cheers
    Sameer

  • Brent & team,

    Do you have any recommendations for negotiations for a Junior DBA position given development experience?

    • Well, I’m not sure what you mean. What kind of recommendations are you looking for?

      • Sorry for being vague. Would you recommend negotiating when going for a junior position given that it’s entry level with relevant experience?

        • I’m still not understanding what you’re saying. Surely you’re not saying you can’t negotiate salary on entry level positions – you can truly negotiate anything, anytime. It’s all about finding out what people want.

          Forgive me for being blunt here, but I think you just need a book on negotiations.

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