Are You Seeking?
Recruiters often use salary
requirements as part of the initial screening process,
asking applicants to disclose their expectations in a cover
letter or during a telephone interview. HR job seekers are
certainly not immune from such inquiries and need to be
prepared to drawn on their HR expertise when responding,
"Salary negotiation is more an art than a science," says
Gail Aldrich, SPHR, an executive coach in Genoa, Nev., and
former chief membership officer for the Society for Human
Resource Management (SHRM). But she says interviewers are
going to expect HR people to know how to handle this type of
Dodging the question entirely is not recommended, according
to Jim Kennedy, president of Management Team Consultants
Inc., an interview training company in San Rafael, Calif.
"My advice would be to share what they have in mind as an
expected range and not just dance around the issue," he
Sometimes the best response is to ask "Can you tell me what
you have in mind for this particular position?" says Lin
Blair, SPHR, HR project leader for Arkansas Blue Cross and
Blue Shield in Little Rock, Ark. Candidates should know
their own bottom line, she says, but be very careful not to
Blair, who is also a career planning instructor at Webster
University, suggests HR candidates use this question as an
opportunity to distance themselves from the competition by
describing any additional experience, advanced degrees or
HR-related certifications they possess. "Recap your skills
and experience and give a range," she says, that is based on
research into comparable pay for similar sized organizations
in the same industry.
Candidates should take their time responding, however.
"Don't throw out a number first if you can avoid it," says
Laura M. Labovich, president, A & E Consulting LLC, a
Washington, D.C., area career coaching and HR consulting
service. "If you do, you'll either undersell your value or
overbid yourself out of the position."
Instead, Labovich suggests recapping the position
requirements and stating "I'm open to hearing what this
position's market value is."
Everything Is Negotiable
"HR people get too limited by knowing the top of the range,"
says Maureen G. Henson, SPHR, vice president of human
resources at Henry Ford Bi-County Hospital in Warren, Mich.
She says they shouldn't be so constrained by their knowledge
of salary structures.
Aldrich suggests finding out as much as possible about a
position's total compensation package, including benefits,
stock options and bonuses, as well as base pay, before the
interview takes place. If complete information is not
available, she suggests a response such as "I'm confident we
can find the right number, but I'm reluctant to give a
specific number until I have done a complete analysis of the
"You don't want to undersell yourself," Aldrich says. "You
want to give the recruiter confidence that you can come to
terms but need more information about how the total
compensation package compares."
Aldrich, who interviewed many HR people in three roles as
top HR executive, says "You really do expect HR people to
have done their homework more than others. … You expect them
to have good questions about the total compensation program;
all HR people really need to do their homework on their
current plan and new employer's plan.
"Make it clear that you are interested in an equitable
salary and don't want to be overpaid or underpaid compared
to others performing similar work," Aldrich says. Applicants
are generally not privy to an organization's pay scale, so,
she says "Tell them you will rely upon them to make sure you
are equitably paid."
Take It to the Next Level
An applicant shouldn't show their hand to just anyone,
according to Kennedy. "I would want to make sure this person
had some decision-making authority and wasn't someone on the
interviewing schedule who would just be a potential peer,"
he says, suggesting that candidates first ask "Are you the
one who will set the salary?"
If the salary quoted is too low or the position seems too
junior as described, Labovich says, a candidate can try to
create a larger job during the interview by describing
additional tasks they can perform for the organization which
would result in a larger job and higher salary.
"HR professionals don't always know how marketable their
skills are," Henson says. She says candidates should assess
their worth through networking and research and not worry
about pricing themselves out of the market.
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