Impress First, Then Talk Compensation

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As a manager I’ve been amused by the different approaches some interviewees have taken over the years. There are a couple of interviews that stand out as Academy Award contenders for Best Arrogant Performance.

Performance number one features an inexperienced, newly degreed interviewee who I’ll call “Pug.” Pug showed up for the interview on time, was well dressed, and looked well-prepared for the interview.

I opened the interview with a simple greeting, offered Pug something to drink, and let him know what was going to happen in the interview. Before I could get my first question out, Pug informed me of his salary expectations and told me that there were other companies willing to meet his expectations. I can tell you his expectations were about two times what we typically paid newly degreed candidates and I knew we would never be able to pay Pug what he was looking for. I decided to acknowledge that Pug had a salary expectation and quite frankly went through the motions on the rest of the interview. I had already made my “decline” decision within the first few minutes of the interview.

Performance number two features a heavily experienced and qualified candidate I’ll call “Kip.” Kip had an extensive resume with experience that would be valuable to me and showed a lot of promise. I wasn’t completely sold on Kip so was looking forward to our interview. Throughout the interview, his tone was one of “you have to sell me on why I should come and work for you” and let me know that it would take “a lot of money” to lure him away from his current job. I was very disappointed because someone I initially felt had promise turned into an arrogant mercenary looking to put his services to the highest bidder. Kip ended up staying at his current employer and not coming to work with me.

Both performances had a common thread running through them. They both introduced compensation into the discussion before I had a chance to decide if I wanted them as employees. Now don’t get me wrong; compensation is a big component of why we work; the mortgage needs to be paid, the kids need braces, and the government wants their cut. You need to ensure you are compensated fairly for the work you do. However, there is an appropriate time to discuss compensation, and that is after the employer has already decided they want you and you’ve decided you want to be an employee. Before we get too deep in this, I’m going to make an assumption that you’ve done some basic homework on the job and that you’re not expecting to make $100k per year for a job that will pay $30k. If there’s that large of a gap, then either re-align your expectations or don’t go forward with the interviewing process.

Assuming there is a match in compensation expectations, your priorities in the interviewing process need to start with nailing the qualifications. Most successful advertising campaigns don’t show you the price of the product first then explain the value they provide. They get you to see how the product will meet some need that you have then they tell you how much it will cost you (and what a good deal it is for you!) Your interviewing strategy is no different; you want to show how you meet a need and how you can solve a prospective employer’s problem before discussing compensation. Once an employer understands your qualification and envisions your value to the company they are better able to focus on compensation.

Want some ideas on how to nail the qualifications first? Check these out:

    • Show them you want the job – Ask good questions which demonstrate your interest in the job. Be interested and let the interviewer see it. Don’t worry that you’re losing negotiating leverage because you’re showing interest. You want him or her to get excited about the prospects of you doing the job.


    • Don’t play hard to get – Showing disinterest or indifference about the job to get the prospective employer to woo you away from your current job is just bad form. More often than not, the prospective employer will walk away rather than play your game. Come off like a prima donna and it may backfire on you and you’ll miss out on a job you really wanted.


    • Find a problem and offer to help solve it – If during your interview you draw out a real-life problem the prospective employer is experiencing, offer to do a bit of research and do a write-up on some things that could be done to solve the problem, you will make a great impression. If your offer is accepted, burn the midnight oil if necessary to get your thoughts down and send it to them within 24 hours of your interview. The couple of times interviewees have done that with me I was impressed not only by the content they provided but also by their initiative and responsiveness. Both the interviewees ultimately ended up as employees.


  • Talk as if you already have the job – I like when interviewees use “we” language during an interview. I didn’t view it as presumptuous; I viewed it as the interviewee wanting to be part of a team and dig in and get things done. Don’t be afraid to talk as if you were a company person; your interviewer is trying to assess your fit within the company so show him or her.

Establish yourself as a viable and qualified candidate prior to negotiating compensation. Your best opportunity to ensure a fair compensation package is to first get the interviewer to truly want you through showcasing your skills, showing initiative, and demonstrating your desire to be an employee. Get him or her to love you first then talk compensation.

Impress First, Then Talk Compensation

Source by Lonnie Pacelli

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