EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

One of the worst and rudest questions any job seeker is asked is what the minimum salary is that they would accept.

Although there is a file out on our website filled with tough interview questions, this one ranks up at the top of ones I would avoid answering directly at all costs. Hard to know if this is a question expressing serious interest in your credentials or if it is just a scare tactic of sorts to see whether or not you will blink.

One thing you should know is that “the first liar never stands a chance.” If you allow yourself to go first, you have potentially locked yourself into accepting a salary level that you were honestly hoping would be higher. The goal in any negotiation is to get the other side to go first and see what they have in mind.

In The FECG, our job postings ALWAYS indicate a salary range. I believe someone has to go first, and the potential employer is really in a better position to know what the value of the job is to THEM. This is not to say you are only worth that amount, only that the value of the job to the corporation is at that level.

To anyone who has been doing consulting, you know that sometimes you can get a higher rate and sometimes you can’t. You have to make decisions every day as to whether or not you want to be working in a particular week or month. It isn’t long term for the most part, so you can afford to work at lower rates from time to time if you wouldn’t otherwise be engaged.

Not so with permanent jobs. They tend to be brittle. The salary you start at tends to lock you in. If you are expecting that they will see the error of their ways after you have been working your magic for a few months, think again. It normally doesn’t happen. They quickly begin to believe that what they are paying you is appropriate and you get into the mix of annual salary increases at rates being applied to everyone else who works for the company.

When asked this unfair question, my first suggested approach is to answer this question with a question. Hard to believe, but folks on the other side of the desk often don’t realize that you have failed to answer directly. If you know the salary range, saying: I understand the salary range is $150k-$175k and I would like to be somewhere in the middle; is a good answer and may get the job done. What you can’t do is become defensive or abrasive. It is a question that shouldn’t be put to you in this way, but as you know, he who has the gold makes the rules.

Another good response is to ask what salary range they had in mind given their requirements and your credentials, with the understanding that they are not making an offer.

If you are honestly not married to your prior compensation, say so. In today’s world, there are many folks who made tons of money because they traveled 95% of the time and worked 80 hours a week. Money doesn’t buy you happiness. You may wish to make a life style change (like finding out who those folks are back at that place where you sleep when you are in town). You sometimes do get paid for the pain you endure. If you wish to have a rational life, that may also come with a price and getting that issue out on the table may clear up any concerns on their part.

If they ask you about how long you might stay at a reduced salary to your previous compensation, understand that corporations are reptilian. They aren’t actually making any commitment to you, so it is kind of silly for them to require you to make one. Most states operate on “employment at will.” You can get fired at any time for any reason or no reason at all. So, if you happen to “lie” and express your undying devotion to a corporation that hasn’t even made you a job offer, I won’t hold it against you if 6 months or a year later you change your mind.

I know you are one of those very honest financial types, but this is one time you can cross your fingers and tell them what they want to hear.

Others who want to share their thoughts on this very important topic should send them to Leads@TheFENG.org for publication in our Notes from Members section.

Regards, Matt

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