The Negotiating Secret: Tell The Truth!

You’re 10 minutes into the interview, just starting to get into a comfortable rhythm, when the hiring manager suddenly hits you with the dreaded “so how much money are you looking for?” question.  On one hand, you’re a person of high integrity who doesn’t want to tell falsehoods or play games, but you’ve also heard a rumor floating around that “whomever talks money first” in these situations loses.

This being said, how would you respond to the question?

a) “I need to make $85,000 a year”
b) “I’m not comfortable discussing salary right now; can we come back to it later?”
c) “Based on similar jobs I’ve been seeing out there, it seems like this type of position would likely fall somewhere in the $80,000 to $100,000 range — with some wiggle room, of course, based on the company’s benefits package and other variables.  Does it sound like we’re roughly in the same ballpark?”

While I’ve blogged about how to handle this issue a number of times in the past (click here), many job seekers still seem to get incredibly flustered by it.  So let me try to ease your fears about it by discussing the issue from a slightly different standpoint that isn’t talked about much: the standpoint of truthfulness.

As Mark Twain once wisely remarked, “if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”  Along these lines, I’m here to assure you that most job hunters don’t need to learn fancy footwork or sneaky tactics to negotiate effectively with employers.  They just need to recognize the truth — and then empower themselves to tell it when the time comes!  The kicker, though?  I don’t think most people actually know what “the truth” really is when it comes to their financial needs and the money issue.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most candidates are essentially lying (in the nicest sense of the word) when they give interview answers about compensation.

Sound crazy?  Indulge me for a second.  Go back and read the three sample responses at the top of the article and tell me which one of them is THE MOST TRUTHFUL option.   As you do this, of course, go ahead and substitute the numbers listed with whatever figures would reflect your own historical compensation level or target goals.

Do you think the first answer is the most truthful one?  Sorry, Pinocchio, your nose just grew an inch.  If I’m interviewing you and ask you how much money you need to make, and you throw out an ironclad number like “$85,000”, I call bullfeathers on that.  I don’t think you’re telling the truth either to me or to yourself.  You don’t need to make that.  You want to make that or that’s what you used to make in your last job.  And neither of these figures has tremendous bearing on the situation at hand.

For example, if you tell me you can’t take a penny less than six figures and I respond by making you an offer of $95K that comes with full benefits, a matching 401(k) program, free child care for your kids, and the ability to work from home three days a week, I have a pretty strong hunch you’d take the job, wouldn’t you?  If so, your earlier response to me was technically a lie.  You gave me a number you said you needed, I threw out a lower number, and you caved in and said yes.  So what if the offer was $90K?  Or $80K?  At what point would we truly reach the floorboards of “your need” and would you walk away, no matter what other incredible opportunities, cultural variables, or other generous benefits I might throw at you?

As for the second answer, some of you may FEEL that this is the one that tops the charts for truthfulness, but I don’t agree with that choice either.  Frankly, based on a few thousand mock interviews I’ve conducted with job hunters, I find that few of the candidates who aren’t comfortable addressing salary in the beginning of the interview suddenly and magically become more comfortable discussing it later in the interview, either.  Instead, this response almost always seems like a stalling tactic designed to shuck, jive, and delay the inevitable — likely because the candidate is unsure of the “fair market value” of their skills or (worse yet) is trying to follow some tacky negotiating tactic they learned in a book somewhere.  So I don’t think most professionals can pull this answer off with a straight face and it usually just makes everybody involved feel pretty uncomfortable.

So then we come to the third choice.  You answer the salary inquiry by throwing out a big range, based on your best estimate of what similar jobs are paying, and you then state that you’ve got a certain amount of flexibility based on benefits and other factors.  Isn’t this the absolute unvarnished truth?  Doesn’t such an answer drip with credibility, since again, most of us DO have a wide range of pay we’d consider depending on the vast number of other benefits/variables that might enter into play?  I mean heck, I’d probably clean latrines if the price was right, and at the same time there’s almost no amount of money that would convince me to take a job where I had to travel and be away from my family 50% or more of the time.

For this reason, I think many job candidates need to “get back to the truth” and stop playing games with the money question.  They need to outline and practice delivering a response that follows a formula similar to the one above — or the slightly more detailed RFP (Range/Flexibility/Probe) model you’ll find in the article here.  Once you memorize this formula, and get comfortable delivering it, you’ll be totally prepared for salary questions when they arise.  And better yet, your conscience won’t twitch in the slightest when you recite the words, since each and every word will be absolutely authentic, once you let go of an inflexible number and view things from a more realistic perspective.

The truth shall set you free.  Practice it!

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One Response to “The Negotiating Secret: Tell The Truth!”

  1. Great article- this should help anyone craft a terrific response to the dreaded salary question…

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