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Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

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Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby James Tyler » Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:07 am

A friend and former coworker of mine helped me get an interview for an RA position at the biotech startup she currently works at. She told me that the position pays 60k per year, but I’m not sure if she knew that for sure. The average salary for an RA position where I live (big biotech hub in the U.S.), according to salary.com, is 54k per year.

When I interviewed with the president of the company, he asked me how much I make in my current position (I’m an RA at a small biotech company that’s not a startup), and I told him I make 46k per year. He seemed surprised that I make so little given my many years of experience and he was asking questions like “is the company a startup?”, and I just told him that they pay everyone a pretty low wage. I told him that my friend said that this position pays 60k per year, and he just said the position’s salary is competitive with what I currently make.

I’ve read before that you shouldn’t reveal your current salary during an interview, but I didn’t want to come off as rude or avoidant by not being transparent. I’m worried that I might have ruined my chances at getting a job offer (maybe they think I’m being underpaid because I don’t have much value), but if I do get a job offer, I’m worried that the salary they offer will be much lower than what they originally intended.

If they end up offering me a salary that’s only slightly above what I currently make, how do I negotiate a higher salary without causing any problems, and what figure should I give them? Is it common and usually advisable to negotiate a higher salary if the company’s offer is only slightly above what you currently make?
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Re: Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat Jul 22, 2017 3:23 pm

James Tyler wrote:A friend and former coworker of mine helped me get an interview for an RA position at the biotech startup she currently works at. She told me that the position pays 60k per year, but I’m not sure if she knew that for sure. The average salary for an RA position where I live (big biotech hub in the U.S.), according to salary.com, is 54k per year.

When I interviewed with the president of the company, he asked me how much I make in my current position (I’m an RA at a small biotech company that’s not a startup), and I told him I make 46k per year. He seemed surprised that I make so little given my many years of experience and he was asking questions like “is the company a startup?”, and I just told him that they pay everyone a pretty low wage. I told him that my friend said that this position pays 60k per year, and he just said the position’s salary is competitive with what I currently make.

I’ve read before that you shouldn’t reveal your current salary during an interview, but I didn’t want to come off as rude or avoidant by not being transparent. I’m worried that I might have ruined my chances at getting a job offer (maybe they think I’m being underpaid because I don’t have much value), but if I do get a job offer, I’m worried that the salary they offer will be much lower than what they originally intended.

If they end up offering me a salary that’s only slightly above what I currently make, how do I negotiate a higher salary without causing any problems, and what figure should I give them? Is it common and usually advisable to negotiate a higher salary if the company’s offer is only slightly above what you currently make?


Hi James,

First, let's separate our two audiences. We have a very large (majority) readership which consists of people in graduate school and postdocs. Then, a much smaller audience of readers from industry jobs. You are in that group. Of course, we also have a regular group of posters who come from very senior jobs in non-academic and academic careers.

There's different advice for each sector. The person in graduate school, or in a postdoc, needs to be clear with the employer when they ask about current earnings. Heck, we all know what a stipend might be, or what a postdoc salary would be. So, advice here has generally always said that you just need to be direct and honest about your present comp, IF you are in that group. I know what most here would agree with that, but that even amongst the advisor team, Rich and I disagree. So this isn't universal advice. But I've seen what happens (hundreds of times -- perhaps thousands) when Postdocs go into a negotiation and try and become hardball negotiators. It's not a pretty sight, and it generally doesn't get them anywhere (except out the door).

However, you go into industry, for example, and you have to couch your earnings much more carefully. You may still get to the point in the discussion where you need to give that person on the other side of the table something. Still, your answer should be customizable based on the situation. In your scenario, and you need to NOT focus on the $46K of your present earnings, you could take your company bonus or the cash value of other benefits, and add them to that number, providing a range. For example, "I'm really not comfortable discussing the specifics in great detail right now, seeing that we're just in the interview process and not discussing an offer. However, I'm in the low-$50's presently and do not wish to make a lateral move." Don't let them drill down and ask you the specifics of the compensation -- ask them more about THEIR views of comp, for example. (But just remember not to BS anything, because after you are hired, they have the right to contact HR at your old employer and verify former compensation.)

Every situation will be unique. There are some companies that negotiate from the "We will give you our best offer, and we will not negotiate" perspective. There are others, which sound like your situation, where the negotiation gets started in a way that is "We're competitive with where you are now." And you need to immediately, without any hesitation, come back that you're doing well in your present company and a move like the one you are considering could be exciting, but that you wouldn't be receptive to a lateral move. Don't let them get any ideas that you are going to be recruitable at the same compensation you are at presently. Not wise.

It sounds as if you were only in the early discussion phase, and even though it was with the President of the company, you'll probably have some HR discussions in the near future in which you're going to once again be tested like this. Use those conversations to bump up their expectations. The reason you are in the process with them is that you feel you are underpaid presently, and you would not be receptive to low offers. Turn the question to them - "You've clearly got people with a similar level of experience in your employ now. May I ask what the range is for people like me with 3-4 years of direct experience with a competitor?"

Good luck and keep us in touch,

Dave Jensen
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Re: Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby James Tyler » Sun Jul 23, 2017 3:30 pm

Trying to reason with them for a higher salary than they initially offer may backfire (I’m still going to negotiate though). My current job is completely different work from what the hiring company is doing. I’ve been in the same type of role for the past 5 years, and the last time I used the skills that the hiring company uses in their work was about 6 years ago (and I only have about 2 years of experience with their type of work). They could easily tell me that they’re offering me a lower salary because I don’t have as much experience as they’d prefer for a higher salary, and they could say that I haven’t used their techniques in a long time.

I’ve read that negotiating for a salary that is 10-20% higher than what you currently make is considered reasonable. How would you recommend that I phrase my request for a 55k salary if they hypothetically offer me 50k (or less)?

What are some questions that HR will ask me that are meant to test me, and how should I respond to them?

I’m curious about one more thing; when a company makes a relatively low salary offer to someone and the prospective employee tries to negotiate, does the person in charge of hiring tend to get frustrated if the prospective employee asks for more money, or do they see it as a commonplace practice and don’t take it personally? I just want to make sure that if I do end up working at this company, no one will hold a grudge against me for asking for more money.
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Re: Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Jul 23, 2017 4:09 pm

Hi James, see my comments imbedded into yours below,

Dave


James Tyler wrote:Trying to reason with them for a higher salary than they initially offer may backfire (I’m still going to negotiate though). My current job is completely different work from what the hiring company is doing. I’ve been in the same type of role for the past 5 years, and the last time I used the skills that the hiring company uses in their work was about 6 years ago (and I only have about 2 years of experience with their type of work). They could easily tell me that they’re offering me a lower salary because I don’t have as much experience as they’d prefer for a higher salary, and they could say that I haven’t used their techniques in a long time.

They have a point, then, don't they. Why pay you full tilt if you are still in the learning curve? You may not see $60K under any circumstances if this is the case. - DJ

I’ve read that negotiating for a salary that is 10-20% higher than what you currently make is considered reasonable. How would you recommend that I phrase my request for a 55k salary if they hypothetically offer me 50k (or less)?

Yes, a 10-15% salary increase is the norm when you make a move like this. All you can do at this point is come back with a number. If they say they are willing to pay you $48K, you should ask for $55K or so, and then you might get into the low 50's. Going back to my earlier comment, you knew the job pays $60K, and you could say "I know this is a $60K job in your organization, but I also realize that there are some new aspects of the work that I need to come up to speed on. I'd be happy to accept a lower salary on the offer, perhaps $55K, but have you review me for a possible increase in six months when you see how I've performed."

What are some questions that HR will ask me that are meant to test me, and how should I respond to them?

I’m curious about one more thing; when a company makes a relatively low salary offer to someone and the prospective employee tries to negotiate, does the person in charge of hiring tend to get frustrated if the prospective employee asks for more money, or do they see it as a commonplace practice and don’t take it personally? I just want to make sure that if I do end up working at this company, no one will hold a grudge against me for asking for more money.


No one takes negotiation in a bad way. Sure, it would be nice if it wasn't required, but you'll find that few hiring managers are turned off, unless you were out of whack, looking for a 20-30% salary increase, etc.
"One of the most powerful networking practices is to provide immediate value to a new connection. This means the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action." - Lewis Howes
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Re: Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby PG » Mon Jul 24, 2017 2:13 am

At my location your current salary is public information. Its not easily accessible to everyone but anyone that really wants to find out can do that. This means that the question you dont want to answer is the one that is about your salary expectations for the position that you are interviewing for. A good anser to that is something similar to what you were told ie that you are looking for a competitive salary fo rthe type of position that you are applying for.

However when asked about your current salary my advice to people here is to answer that truthfully. What you really dont want is to get caught with a lie.

Importantly the only time when your current salary is major problem is if you for some reason are making a substantial step down in salary. There might be good reasons for such a step that you then have to be able to explain but otherwise it may become a problem.

I will give an example using the numbers you mentioned. Assume that my current staff with the type of position that I am hiring for currently makes 55-60k and I have an applicant telling me that he is currently making 46k I could in theory probably hire that person on a 50k salary but that is likely to cause me problems going forward so why would I do that unless it can easily be motivated from experience and skillset? The probability is high that I will end up with an unhappy employee that knows that he is making 10-20% less then everybody else that has similar positions and I will most likely have to find the budget to compensate that person at a later timepoint which is usually more difficult for me as a manager to do than giving a more correct salary initially. Making one of my scientists unhappy will cost me a lot more than 5k/ year which is a relatively small amount as compared to my total annual budget.

Most companies will instead put new hires within their salary span that they already have established for that position and if you join from a low paying position (usually due to for example limited ecperience) you may end up in the low end of that salary span.

Finally before you agree to a lower salary with a somewhat vague promise about reviewing your salary after 6 months as Dave suggested make sure that this is something that actually can happen. In my company we do annual salary revisions (meaning that revising after 6 months isnt happening) and these revisions are based on the national agreements between unions and Company orgaizations and on top of that contains a limited budget for additional revisions.
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Re: Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Jul 24, 2017 8:50 am

Thanks PG for the excellent comments. Two things to note -- no one has advocated lying about compensation. Secondly, your experience in Northern Europe is entirely different than many other parts of the world where a promise made by HR for an early review would have no implications with unions, but would simply be one part of the offer package that HR obligates itself to. In a situation like that, no one from HR is going to promise any kind of increase in 6 months. But if the new employee does show they have significantly more impact than expected by that point, HR would be smart to bump the compensation and often does.

Regards,

Dave Jensen, Moderator
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Re: Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby D.X. » Wed Jul 26, 2017 2:34 am

Hi

A bit late on commentary but going back to James's original post.

You stated that your Company pays low wages etc. etc. and I wanted to touch on that.

Quite often companies may Benchmark or snap salary Levels to varied sectors which can result in either incrementaly higher or lower base salaries or compensation packages. So for example, you may work for a pharmaceutical Company that is Held by a greater Chemical Company (rare These days but this was my case for a Company I worked for), they snapped thier salary benchmarking to the Chemical industry (paints, dyes, etc) which was about 20 to 30% less than say typical pharma-industry. Such that when I moved to a big biotech/pharma i saw a 30 to 40% raise in my base pay mainly driven by different benchmarking.

Medical device will bench mark lower than Pharma, this can be seen in pharma's that have both Pharma divisions and medical device divisions (i.e. in-vitro diagnostics), the same umbrella Company can have 2 different bench markings such that salaries in one Division (IVD) is lower than the other (Pharma). This was something I ran into where the hick-up was that my pharma salary was well above the upper Limit for a medical device bench-marked role - interesting the role by title was hire than mine but a Situation where at a low title my compensation was higher, mainly driven that my Company snaps to "pharma".

And even withing Pharma you have differences, the big blue chip, large cap pharmas at least in my Country will pay lower baselines vs to high growth mid-cap American/UK pharma's. It use the be the trade of was higher Long-term Job stability in the big pharmas, but this is not true anymore in my Country so good luck to them big pharmas trying to snap up an employee in one of them American biotech/pharmas...probably won't happen unless employees are part of a reduction in force.

So James in your very individual case you can acknowledge that perhasp you small start up snaps to a lower baseline salary which should not at all influence your market worth (or market value) in other companies. this is specific to you I think, not every Body.

So just for the Forum to be Aware of such bench-marking - there is nothing you should do about it in the begining of your career, rather than to not think about it and get an experience. As with James's case and mine, the experience is worth more than worries about base, you can worry about it after you get some experience.

The only Point to add, was that in the Company that benchmarked 20 to 30% lower that i first worked for...there was very Little turn over. Your're talking about highly competitive US market where there were/are plenty of pharma Jobs but People stayed..and that was due to Company culture and Team Environment that put People and relationships first - so there are many things other than salary that are of value, - Team, development, Quality of life etc. beyond salary that Needs to be weighted. I only left due to acquistion, so the other lesson, the only constant is Change.

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Re: Dealing with the consequences of telling the interviewer my current salary

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Jul 26, 2017 10:49 am

It's not just industry-specific benchmarking - it can also be geographical. My first position was with a company in the New Orleans area, and my salary was benchmarked to similar positions in the area. About a year later we hired a new engineer through a corporate-level program run out of our New York area HQ. His salary was benchmarked to New York salaries, which meant that he was paid quite a bit better than the rest of us - at least until we found out about it and the company adjusted our salaries.
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