For maximum salary negotiating power, remember these five guidelines
If your interviewer raises the salary question too early, before you’ve had a chance to create desire for your qualifications, postpone the question, saying something like, “Money is important to me, but is not my main concern. Opportunity and growth are far more important. What I’d rather do, if you don’t mind, is explore if I’m right for the position, and then talk about money. Would that be okay?”
The #1 rule of any negotiation is: the side with more information wins. After you’ve done a thorough job of selling the interviewer and it’s time to talk salary, the secret is to get the employer talking about what he’s willing to pay before you reveal what you’re willing to accept. So, when asked about salary, respond by asking, “I’m sure the company has already established a salary range for this position. Could you tell me what that is?” Or, “I want an income commensurate with my ability and qualifications. I trust you’ll be fair with me. What does the position pay?” Or, more simply, “What does this position pay?”
Know beforehand what you’d accept. To know what’s reasonable, research the job market and this position for any relevant salary information. Remember that most executives look for a 20-25%$ pay boost when they switch jobs. If you’re grossly underpaid, you may want more.
Never lie about what you currently make, but feel free to include the estimated cost of all your fringes, which could well tack on 25-50% more to your present “cash-only” salary.
The Illegal Question
Illegal questions include any regarding your age…number and ages of your children or other dependents…marital status…maiden name…religion…political affiliation…ancestry…national origin…birthplace…naturalization of your parents, spouse or children…diseases…disabilities…clubs…or spouse’s occupation…unless any of the above are directly related to your performance of the job. You can’t even be asked about arrests, though you can be asked about convictions.
ANSWER: Under the ever-present threat of lawsuits, most interviewers are well aware of these taboos. Yet you may encounter, usually on a second or third interview, a senior executive who doesn’t interview much and forgets he can’t ask such questions.
You can handle an illegal question in several ways. First, you can assert your legal right not to answer. But this will frighten or embarrass your interviewer and destroy any rapport you had.
Second, you could swallow your concerns over privacy and answer the question straight forwardly if you feel the answer could help you. For example, your interviewer, a devout Baptist, recognizes you from church and mentions it. Here, you could gain by talking about your church.
Third, if you don’t want your privacy invaded, you can diplomatically answer the concern behind the question without answering the question itself.
Example: If you are over 50 and are asked, “How old are you?” you can answer with a friendly, smiling question of your own on whether there’s a concern that your age my affect your performance. Follow this up by reassuring the interviewer that there’s nothing in this job you can’t do and, in fact, your age and experience are the most important advantages you offer the employer for the following reasons…
Another example: If asked, “Do you plan to have children?” you could answer, “I am wholeheartedly dedicated to my career“, perhaps adding, “I have no plans regarding children.” (You needn’t fear you’ve pledged eternal childlessness. You have every right to change your plans later. Get the job first and then enjoy all your options.)
Most importantly, remember that illegal questions arise from fear that you won’t perform well. The best answer of all is to get the job and perform brilliantly. All concerns and fears will then varnish, replaced by respect and appreciation for your work.
The “Secret” Illegal Question
Much more frequent than the Illegal question (see Question 55) is the secret illegal question. It’s secret because it’s asked only in the interviewer’s mind. Since it’s not even expressed to you, you have no way to respond to it, and it can there be most damaging.
Example: You’re physically challenged, or a single mother returning to your professional career, or over 50, or a member of an ethnic minority, or fit any of a dozen other categories that do not strictly conform to the majority in a given company.
Your interviewer wonders, “Is this person really able to handle the job?”…”Is he or she a ‘good fit’ at a place like ours?”…”Will the chemistry ever be right with someone like this?” But the interviewer never raises such questions because they’re illegal. So what can you do?
ANSWER: Remember that just because the interviewer doesn’t ask an illegal question doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it. More than likely, he is going to come up with his own answer. So you might as well help him out.
How? Well, you obviously can’t respond to an illegal question if he hasn’t even asked. This may well offend him. And there’s always the chance he wasn’t even concerned about the issue until you brought it up, and only then begins to wonder.
So you can’t address “secret” illegal questions head-on. But what you can do is make sure there’s enough counterbalancing information to more than reassure him that there’s no problem in the area he may be doubtful about.
For example, let’s say you’re a sales rep who had polio as a child and you need a cane to walk. You know your condition has never impeded your performance, yet you’re concerned that your interviewer may secretly be wondering about your stamina or ability to travel. Well, make sure that you hit these abilities very hard, leaving no doubt about your capacity to handle them well.
So, too, if you’re in any different from what passes for “normal”. Make sure, without in any way seeming defensive about yourself that you mention strengths, accomplishments, preferences and affiliations that strongly counterbalance any unspoken concern your interviewer may have.
What was the toughest part of your last job?
State that there was nothing in your prior position that you found overly difficult, and let your answer go at that. If pressed to expand your answer, you could describe the aspects of the position you enjoyed more than others, making sure that you express maximum enjoyment for those tasks most important to the open position, and you enjoyed least those tasks that are unimportant to the position at hand.
How do you define success…and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Give a well-accepted definition of success that leads right into your own stellar collection of achievements.
Example: “The best definition I’ve come across is that success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.”
“As to how I would measure up to that definition, I would consider myself both successful and fortunate…”(Then summarize your career goals and how your achievements have indeed represented a progressive path toward realization of your goals.)
“The Opinion Question” – What do you think about …Abortion…The President…The Death Penalty…(or any other controversial subject)?
In all of these instances, just remember the tale about student and the wise old rabbi. The scene is a seminary, where an overly serious student is pressing the rabbi to answer the ultimate questions of suffering, life and death. But no matter how hard he presses, the wise old rabbi will only answer each difficult question with a question of his own.
In exasperation, the seminary student demands, “Why, rabbi, do you always answer a question with another question?” To which the rabbi responds, “And why not?”
If you are ever uncomfortable with any question, asking a question in return is the greatest escape hatch ever invented. It throws the onus back on the other person, sidetracks the discussion from going into an area of risk to you, and gives you time to think of your answer or, even better, your next question!
In response to any of the “opinion” questions cited above, merely responding, “Why do you ask?” will usually be enough to dissipate any pressure to give your opinion. But if your interviewer again presses you for an opinion, you can ask another question.
Or you could assert a generality that almost everyone would agree with. For example, if your interviewer is complaining about politicians then suddenly turns to you and asks if you’re a Republican or Democrat, you could respond by saying, “Actually, I’m finding it hard to find any politicians I like these days.”
(Of course, your best question of all may be whether you want to work for someone opinionated.)
If you won $10 million lottery, would you still work?
This type of question is aimed at getting at your bedrock attitude about work and how you feel about what you do. Your best answer will focus on your positive feelings.
Example: “After I floated down from cloud nine, I think I would still hold my basic belief that achievement and purposeful work are essential to a happy, productive life. After all, if money alone bought happiness, then all rich people would be all happy, and that’s not true.
“I love the work I do, and I think I’d always want to be involved in my career in some fashion. Winning the lottery would make it more fun because it would mean having more flexibility, more options...who knows?”
“Of course, since I can’t count on winning, I’d just as soon create my own destiny by sticking with what’s worked for me, meaning good old reliable hard work and a desire to achieve. I think those qualities have built many more fortunes that all the lotteries put together.”
Looking back on your last position, have you done your best work?
To cover both possible paths this question can take, your answer should state that you always try to do your best, and the best of your career is right now. Like an athlete at the top of his game, you are just hitting your career stride thanks to several factors. Then, recap those factors, highlighting your strongest qualifications.
Why should I hire you from the outside when I could promote someone from within?
Help him see the qualifications that only you can offer.
Example: “In general, I think it’s a good policy to hire from within – to look outside probably means you’re not completely comfortable choosing someone from inside.
“Naturally, you want this department to be as strong as it possibly can be, so you want the strongest candidate. I feel that I can fill that bill because…(then recap your strongest qualifications that match up with his greatest needs).”
Tell me something negative you’ve heard about our company…
Just remember the rule – never be negative – and you’ll handle this one just fine.
On a scale of one to ten, rate me as an interviewer.
Once again, never be negative. The interviewer will only resent criticism coming from you. This is the time to show your positivism.
However, don’t give a numerical rating. Simply praise whatever interview style he’s been using.
If he’s been tough, say “You have been thorough and tough-minded, the very qualities needed to conduct a good interview.”
If he’s been methodical, say, “You have been very methodical and analytical, and I’m sure that approach results in excellent hires for your firm.”
In other words, pay him a sincere compliment that he can believe because it’s anchored in the behavior you’ve just seen.
Remember the rule stated earlier: In any conflict between values, always choose integrity.
Example: I believe that when evaluating anything, it’s important to emphasize the positive. What do I like about this idea?”
“Then, if you have reservations, I certainly want to point them out, as specifically, objectively and factually as I can.”
“After all, the most important thing I owe my boss is honesty. If he can’t count on me for that, then everything else I may do or say could be questionable in his eyes.”
“But I also want to express my thoughts in a constructive way. So my goal in this case would be to see if my boss and I could make his idea even stronger and more appealing, so that it effectively overcomes any initial reservation I or others may have about it.”
“Of course, if he overrules me and says, ‘no, let’s do it my way,’ then I owe him my full and enthusiastic support to make it work as best it can.”
How could you have improved your career progress ?
You’re generally quite happy with your career progress. Maybe, if you had known something earlier in life (impossible to know at the time, such as the booming growth in a branch in your industry…or the corporate downsizing that would phase out your last job), you might have moved in a certain direction sooner.
But all things considered, you take responsibility for where you are, how you’ve gotten there, where you are going…and you harbor no regrets.
What would you do if a fellow executive on your own corporate level wasn’t pulling his/her weight…and this was hurting your department?
Try to gauge the political style of the firm and be guided accordingly. In general, fall back on universal principles of effective human relations – which in the end, embody the way you would like to be treated in a similar circumstance.
Example: “Good human relations would call for me to go directly to the person and explain the situation, to try to enlist his help in a constructive, positive solution. If I sensed resistance, I would be as persuasive as I know how to explain the benefits we can all gain from working together, and the problems we, the company and our customers will experience if we don’t.”
POSSIBLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION
And what would you do if he still did not change his ways?
ANSWER: “One thing I wouldn’t do is let the problem slide, because it would only get worse and overlooking it would set a bad precedent. I would try again and again and again, in whatever way I could, to solve the problem, involving wider and wider circles of people, both above and below the offending executive and including my own boss if necessary, so that everyone involved can see the rewards for teamwork and the drawbacks of non-cooperation.”
“I might add that I’ve never yet come across a situation that couldn’t be resolved by harnessing others in a determined, constructive effort.”
You’ve been with your firm a long time. Won’t it be hard switching to a new company ?
To overcome this objection, you must point to the many ways you have grown and adapted to changing conditions at your present firm. It has not been a static situation. Highlight the different responsibilities you’ve held, the wide array of new situations you’ve faced and conquered.
As a result, you’ve learned to adapt quickly to whatever is thrown at you, and you thrive on the stimulation of new challenges.
To further assure the interviewer, describe the similarities between the new position and your prior one. Explain that you should be quite comfortable working there, since their needs and your skills make a perfect match.
May I contact your present employer for a reference ?
Express your concern that you’d like to keep your job search private, but that in time, it will be perfectly okay.
Example: “My present employer is not aware of my job search and, for obvious reasons; I’d prefer to keep it that way. I’d be most appreciative if we kept our discussion confidential right now. Of course, when we both agree the time is right, then by all means you should contact them. I’m very proud of my record there.
Give me an example of your creativity (analytical skill…managing ability, etc.)
Remember from Question 2 that you should commit to memory a list of your greatest and most recent achievements, ever ready on the tip of your tongue.
If you have such a list, it’s easy to present any of your achievements in light of the quality the interviewer is asking about. For example, the smashing success you orchestrated at last year’s trade show could be used as an example of creativity, or analytical ability, or your ability to manage.
Where could you use some improvement ?
Keep this answer, like all your answers, positive. A good way to answer this question is to identify a cutting-edge branch of your profession (one that’s not essential to your employer’s needs) as an area you’re very excited about and want to explore more fully over the next six months.
What do you worry about ?
Redefine the word ‘worry’ so that it does not reflect negatively on you.
Example: “I wouldn’t call it worry, but I am a strongly goal-oriented person. So I keep turning over in my mind anything that seems to be keeping me from achieving those goals, until I find a solution. That’s part of my tenacity, I suppose.”
Try to avoid choosing between two values, giving a positive statement which covers all bases instead.
Example: “I would never do anything to hurt the company..”
If aggressively pressed to choose between two competing values, always choose personal integrity. It is the most prized of all values.
Looking back, what would you do differently in your life ?
Indicate that you are a happy, fulfilled, optimistic person and that, in general, you wouldn’t change a thing.
Example: “It’s been a good life, rich in learning and experience, and the best it yet to come. Every experience in life is a lesson it its own way. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Could you have done better in your last job ?
Again never be negative.
Example: “I suppose with the benefit of hindsight you can always find things to do better, of course, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything of major consequence.”
(If more explanation seems necessary)
Describer a situation that didn’t suffer because of you but from external conditions beyond your control ?
For example, describe the disappointment you felt with a test campaign, new product launch, merger, etc., which looked promising at first, but led to underwhelming results. “I wish we could have known at the start what we later found out (about the economy turning, the marketplace changing, etc.), but since we couldn’t, we just had to go for it. And we did learn from it…”
Can you work under pressure ?
Absolutely…(then prove it with a vivid example or two of a goal or project accomplished under severe pressure.)
What makes you angry ?
Give an answer that’s suited to both your personality and the management style of the firm. Here, the homework you’ve done about the company and its style can help in your choice of words.
Examples: If you are a reserved person and/or the corporate culture is coolly professional:
“I’m an even-tempered and positive person by nature, and I believe this helps me a great deal in keeping my department running smoothly, harmoniously and with a genuine esprit de corps. I believe in communicating clearly what’s expected, getting people’s commitment to those goals, and then following up continuously to check progress.”
“If anyone or anything is going off track, I want to know about it early. If, after that kind of open communication and follow up, someone isn’t getting the job done, I’ll want to know why. If there’s no good reason, then I’ll get impatient and angry…and take appropriate steps from there. But if you hire good people, motivate them to strive for excellence and then follow up constantly, it almost never gets to that state.”
If you are feisty by nature and/or the position calls for a tough straw boss.
“You know what makes me angry? People who (the fill in the blanks with the most objectionable traits for this type of position)…people who don’t pull their own weight, who are negative, people who lie…etc.”
Why aren’t you earning more money at this stage of your career ?
You like to make money, but other factors are even more important.
Example: “Making money is very important to me, and one reason I’m here is because I’m looking to make more. Throughout my career, what’s been even more important to me is doing work I really like to do at the kind of company I like and respect.
(Then be prepared to be specific about what your ideal position and company would be like, matching them as closely as possible to the opportunity at hand.
Who has inspired you in your life and why?
Have a few heroes in mind, from your mental “Board of Directors” – Leaders in your industry, from history or anyone else who has been your mentor.
Be prepared to give examples of how their words, actions or teachings have helped inspire your achievements. As always, prepare an answer which highlights qualities that would be highly valuable in the position you are seeking.
What was the toughest decision you ever had to make?
Be prepared with a good example, explaining why the decision was difficult…the process you followed in reaching it…the courageous or effective way you carried it out…and the beneficial results.
Tell me about the most boring job you’ve ever had.
You have never allowed yourself to grow bored with a job and you can’t understand it when others let themselves fall into that rut.
Example: “Perhaps I’ve been fortunate, but that I’ve never found myself bored with any job I have ever held. I’ve always enjoyed hard work. As with actors who feel there are no small parts, I also believe that in every company or department there are exciting challenges and intriguing problems crying out for energetic and enthusiastic solutions. If you’re bored, it’s probably because you’re not challenging yourself to tackle those problems right under your nose.”
Have you been absent from work more than a few days in any previous position?
If you have had no problem, emphasize your excellent and consistent attendance record throughout your career.
Also describe how important you believe such consistent attendance is for a key executive…why it’s up to you to set an example of dedication…and why there’s just no substitute for being there with your people to keep the operation running smoothly, answer questions and handle problems and crises as they arise.
If you do have a past attendance problem, you want to minimize it, making it clear that it was an exceptional circumstance and that it’s cause has been corrected.
To do this, give the same answer as above but preface it with something like, “Other that being out last year (or whenever) because of (your reason, which is now in the past), I have never had a problem and have enjoyed an excellent attendance record throughout my career. Furthermore, I believe, consistent attendance is important because…” (Pick up the rest of the answer as outlined above.).
What changes would you make if you came on board?
You, of course, will want to take a good hard look at everything the company is doing before making any recommendations.
Example: “Well, I wouldn’t be a very good doctor if I gave my diagnosis before the examination. Should you hire me, as I hope you will, I’d want to take a good hard look at everything you’re doing and understand why it’s being done that way. I’d like to have in-depth meetings with you and the other key people to get a deeper grasp of what you feel you’re doing right and what could be improved.
“From what you’ve told me so far, the areas of greatest concern to you are…” (name them. Then do two things. First, ask if these are in fact his major concerns. If so then reaffirm how your experience in meeting similar needs elsewhere might prove very helpful).