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Not What Are You Worth, What’s the Job Worth? September 7, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
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I think one of the biggest opportunities for second-guessing when you’re unemployed is the answer you give when a recruiter or hiring manager asks the question “What are your salary expectations?” Many people try to figure out what answer will keep them in the running, or at least keep the conversation going. If you aim too high, you may have just eliminated yourself from further consideration. If you aim too low, maybe thinking that you can accept a lower salary because you really want this job, you’re probably under-valuing yourself. You still might not get the job, but if you do, you’ll feel cheated every day you go to work.

The question isn’t “What are you worth?” The question is “What is the job worth?” What is your assessment of the fair market value for this position, based on the published job description and qualifications?

The answer requires some thought, and ideally some research before you’re asked the question. There are online services that can provide some help here, including LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Your own salary history is relevant only if you previously held a position that was approximately the same as this one. Obviously it’s a good starting point, but you should think about how that number should be adjusted based on other considerations.

You have to think about the company’s size and financial position. Start-ups and early-stage companies are unlikely to have the capital to be able to pay mid to high market value.

This one is harder to assess, but what is the strategic importance of this position to the company? In other words, how important is it to the company to get top talent for this position?

You have to consider the geographic location of the position to account for local housing and other cost-of-living expenses which influence local salary benchmarks.

Finally, you have to remember that base salary is only one element of the overall compensation package, and I don’t mean only money. Would you consider a package that includes a greater emphasis on performance-based bonuses, deferred pay, or stock options? Are there non-financial considerations about the job or the company that would make you willing to accept less pay? For example, does the company’s culture match your own style and preferences? Does this job give you the chance to work with new technology, or develop valuable new skills, or be inspired?

If you can answer the question “What are your salary expectations?” by showing that you’ve given it some thought based on the specific combination of job description and company characteristics, you do two things. You show that you’ve done your homework and prepared for the interview, and you can avoid the confidence crisis that comes from over- or under-valuing yourself.

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