It's the most vexing of those little boxes on a job application: Salary requirements. Propose a number that's too low, and you could cheat yourself out of thousands of dollars. Choose a number that's too high, and you could price yourself out of a job.
Bill Humbert, a former recruitment coach for large companies, and the author of RecruiterGuy's Guide to Finding a Job, says it's possible to essentially stonewall your way through salary negotiations-at least until you're pretty sure you're a serious candidate and have some leverage. Granted, it takes moxy to essentially ignore questions from an HR manager or hiring manager the way Humbert prescribes-but then again, the consequences of making a mistake can be pretty expensive. Here's Humbert's advice:
- That box that says "salary requirements"? Don't even think about writing a number in there. If you're lucky enough to be filling in an application by hand, or if the software the company makes you use allows it, write "Open." Humbert says that if your qualifications are on target, you'll still get a job.
- When you're asked how much you made at your last job, respond by asking what the range is for the current job. That's where the negotiations need to start-with the responsibilities and salaries for the current position. Humbert says you'll be surprised by how much HR reps will tell you.
- When asked your salary history: Again, stonewall. In a nice way. Just write down "Willing to discuss at the appropriate time during the interview process," or something similar. Then leave the boxes blank.
- When asked about your salary requirements in person, say you won't know what you'd require until you really understand the position and the potential for advancement. Once you get that information, ask to go through what Humbert calls "impacts"-all the areas of the job that directly affect the company's bottom line. This lets you show what you bring to the table. After that discussion, if you're still interested, tell them so, and tell them you'd seriously consider an offer.
- Keep looking. It's not a done deal until you have that offer letter in writing, and even then, offers get pulled at the last minute. Even if you don't get another offer and the negotiating leverage it would provide, you might get some good intelligence about what the job should pay.
- Once you have an offer, ask if there's any flexibility in it. There usually is. And you'll never have as much leverage as you do now.
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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.