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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 interview process 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 negotiations.

The Move to Collaboration

Traditional negotiating can be adversarial where one side wins and the other loses. Salary discussions, however, don’t have to be oppositional. This evolution has taken the thinking to a point where negotiations are now looked at as a discussion on how both parties can 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.

Changes in Laws

There are also legal changes in many states that limit the kinds of questions potential employers can ask about salary, and how that information can be used during the hiring process. Any disclosure of current or previous salary is strictly voluntary on the part of the candidate. With that, the conversation is shifting to expectations – what the job is paying and what you expect to be paid.

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 an interview, but instead would wait for the offer letter. Today the process has sped up considerably because of all the available data and the amount of formal and informal background checking that can be done. In this environment, getting the salary expectations out in the open as soon as possible can benefit both sides.

It Saves Time

The idea of introducing the subject of salary expectations 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 Other Side of The Coin

There are no absolutes, however, and there can be pitfalls when discussing salary 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, discussions regarding salary expectations 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 to talk salary early. If it’s a sales role where the salary is tied closely to performance, it’s appropriate to discuss rates 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 that out 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 staffing 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 professional 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: Shutterstock


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