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, experts say.
“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 question.
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 says.
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 undersell themselves.
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 total compensation.”
“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.