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Early Salary Talks Are Not Always Taboo

Attend any negotiating seminar and likely one of the first absolutes you’ll be presented with is this, “Whoever speaks first loses.” When it comes to negotiating salaries however, that may no longer be the case. In certain circumstances, broaching the compensation topic earlier in the dialogue can benefit both the hiring manager and the candidate.

The Salary Talk Evolution

Here are three reasons driving the change from decades old thinking on salary talks.

The Move to Collaboration

Traditional negotiating can be adversarial where one side wins and the other loses. Thinking surrounding the salary discussion has evolved to a point where it is now looked at as a discussion on how do both parties make an offer work as opposed to holding information back. In this more collaborative environment, both sides understand they have a vested interest in mutual success.

The Information is Out There

With information moving so quickly and everyone having so much data on both sides of the equation, having the salary discussion earlier rather than later often makes sense. Fifteen or 20 years ago, you would never talk about compensation in any interview, but instead would wait for the offer letter. Today the process has sped up considerably because of all the available data on candidates and the amount of formal and informal background checking that can be done. In this environment, getting the salary topic out in the open as soon as possible can benefit both sides. 

It Saves Time

The idea of introducing the subject of salary early is a relatively new one. Twenty years ago we would have told candidates that bringing up salary might derail the entire process. Today, however, both sides understand the worst thing that can happen is to spend time finding the right match and then discover you’re off by $25,000. You can never bridge a gap of that size. Knowing a discrepancy early in the conversation eliminates wasted time for both parties. 

The Salary Talk Considerations

There are no absolutes, however, and there can be pitfalls when discussing salaries early in the process. Here are some things to consider before using this approach.

Know Your Audience

If you’re speaking to the hiring authority or decision maker, early discussions regarding salaries are appropriate. But, if you’re in the beginning stages of a multi-interview process – speaking to an HR person or a peer, for example – it may be best for you to hold off.

Dealing with an “old school” hiring manager with very traditional thinking and a rigid approach to the interview can also raise a red flag. There’s a chance bringing up compensation early could put him or her off. Talking to someone who appears distant or implies it will be a long process with multiple interviews should also be a signal for you to hold back. However, if you feel like you’re having a strong give-and-take during the discussion and you’re both showing interest, it may be an appropriate situation for early compensation discussions.

Know the Process

Try to determine in the first interview the process the company will follow for filling the position. It doesn’t need to be a negative dialogue but instead a simple way to find out where you are in the process and what lies ahead. If you find there will be several interviews with people at various levels in the organization, you might decide to wait until later before starting salary talks.

Know the Position

The type of position you’re applying for can also affect the decision on whether or not to talk salary early. If it’s a sales role where salary is tied closely to performance, it’s appropriate to discuss very early on in the conversation. If this is a role that fits into a certain salary range within a large corporation, it’s best to find out the range early on. But, if you’re talking to a startup and they don’t even know what role they’re putting you into, they might not even know what compensation they can offer until the end of the process.

Consider Using a Recruiter

Discussions involving compensation can be uncomfortable. Working with a recruiter or placement firm can provide you with an intermediary to determine the salary range for the position you seek. He or she can be a great ally and add significant value in this part of the process. The recruiter will likely also know from personal experience the salary range for similar positions. This will give you a head start in the negotiation.

Raising the salary discussion early on is not appropriate for every situation. Use your judgment and intuition as to when to go forward with it. In the right circumstances, this approach can offer significant benefits for all parties involved.

Photo Credit: Value of Simple