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Simple Truths About Handling Salary Questions in an Interview

Avoid The Subject (or, Let's Play Chicken)

Back in the 1950s when guys like James Dean and Marlon Brando were big stars, a rather dangerous game called “chicken” was part of popular culture. Two drivers would head toward each other in their hotrods, and the first one to swerve to the side in order to avoid a head-on collision was the chicken. Considering the potential for catastrophic results, how frequently this game was actually played in real life is somewhat uncertain, but for children growing up in that era, it led to many a quixotic tale and inspired more than a couple of Top 40 songs.

A somewhat less dramatic version of this game is played out every day in interviews for all kinds of jobs. A candidate meets with an interviewer, and they have broad, lengthy discussions about job requirements, skill sets, and relevant accomplishments, but whoever mentions the issue of salary first is the potential loser. Why? Because, as any shrewd businessperson will tell you, when one of the parties in a negotiation names his or her price, that person is at a distinct disadvantage. This same principle holds true in salary negotiations.

But we're not negotiating, it's just an initial interview at this point, you might think. Don't be mistaken. If the interviewer can get you to reveal your salary history or your salary expectations, you have given your target employer a tremendous advantage in any future discussions. Worse yet, you can be screened out as someone who's too expensive for the company to hire (if your salary number is too high), or as someone who's not experienced or sophisticated enough to handle the position (if your salary number is too low).

Most experts agree that you should avoid salary discussions during an initial interview if at all possible. You want to defer that conversation until you know more about the position you are interviewing for, and until you have a better handle on whether or not you even wish to work for the prospective employer.

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsSimple Truths About Handling Salary Questions in an Interview - Avoid The Subject (or, Let's Play Chicken), When To Discuss Salary, Knowing What You're Worth