My clients ask such great questions! This is one I get a lot. I've decided to make my answer into a blog, so more can use this technique. Here is the question:
"I had an interview last week for a job I think I would love, but I think the salary and benefits will be too low. I'm wondering if there is a tactful way to get to the heart of what the salary and benefits would be sooner rather than later. They are a company of ten people and don't have an HR dept."
That is such a tricky situation! I have good news and bad news about it.
When faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to talk about salary or not, it's best to NOT. Asking about money before the position is offered to you is too soon. It's the kiss of death in an interview.
If you do, you can count on not being offered anything. You will blow your chances of being hired. When it comes to salary negotiation, the first person to bring it up always loses. That's just the way the game is played. So, don't ask. (Not your interviewers, anyway…)
You can find out more info in a less direct way. You could talk to others who work there, not involved in the interviewing process, but since this company is so small, I wouldn't recommend that.
The alternative is to research folks who used to work at the company, using LinkedIn. Reach out to them, and ask them gently about salary. After building a bit of a relationship so that it's not rude, of course.
You might e-mail a contact something like this, "Hi Wanda, I see you used to work for XYZ organization. I am currently interviewing with them for a sales position. I am reaching out to you in the hopes that you might be able to help me learn more about what it's like to work there. Would you have 10 minutes for me to call you and ask you some quick questions?"
NO mention of salary. But, on the phone, after you ask some questions about company culture, day-to-day responsibilities, and so on, if things are going well, you can ask, "I know this is sensitive, but in your experience, is the salary competitive for the market here in Madison?"
If you go ahead and directly ask the salary question, you will be perceived as rude or jumping the gun. To use the dating analogy, it's akin to asking for sex too soon in the dating process. You just have to do your research covertly and see how things play out.
So, what do you do if it turns out that the salary isn't enough? You could consider withdrawing your application, but that might not reflect well on you professionally, either. It's probably best to complete the process, as if you don't have this concern at all. Go into the negotiations confidently, and deal with it as it comes if things start to fall through.
If the company can't meet your needs, you can always politely say that you've appreciated learning about their company and opportunity, but you've decided you want to pursue other options.
You could also just be honest about what your needs are. I like that route, because it opens the door for you to get ideas from the interviewer in continuing your job search. You might say, "I love the idea of working here. It fits my personal philosophy and the work would suit my strengths. I appreciate the offer, but I'm afraid that my salary needs are higher than this offer."
Take it a step beyond the talk about salary for an extra career boost: "Knowing what you know about me now, after this process, do you know of any other organizations in our field that might need a person with my talents? Who do you recommend I connect with next?"
Perhaps you know of someone who would be perfect for them, too, and can give them a lead. "You know, I have a co-worker who is considering a change. Now that I know so much about your company, I think she'd be a great fit. Would you like me to give her your contact information so she may apply for the position?"
Always be open to helping them out. It says something about a person when you can end an interviewing process having helped the company in some way, without seeking anything in return. It's a small world. They may remember you for that and come calling when they've got more money. You never know how things will work out.
Remember, interviews are just meetings with people. You're both just seeing if it's a good fit. If it turns out the situation isn't right for either party, for any reason, don't leave it there. Forget about the salary and see what more can be gained from the time you spent with them so that you can more effectively continue your search.
Thanks to Kristin Johnson / Careerealism
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