The Salary Dance

 I have been reflecting back to the time in my 20’s when I entered rock and roll dancing competitions (believe it or not I was pretty bloomin nimble on the toes) . Often “we” won and sometimes “we” lost on any given night. Sometimes I was the stronger dance partner and other times I was the weaker - upshot was unless both partners were on the same page in skills, practice and attitude – we came 2nd, 3rd or even last.   From those days I have lived by the mantra “ it takes 2 to tango” in life and work.

And so it goes with one of the most difficult job hunting questions/discussions around money/salary. Unfortunately I have witnessed far too many “badly danced” salary discussions masqueraded as “negotiations”.   Why ? Because in so many cases one partner (either the hiring company or candidate) hasn’t acted with 100% integrity,  transparency or from a realistic framework. End result – hiring doesn’t proceed, ill feelings develop, bad PR/reputation and significant time has been wasted for everyone.

Candidates are advised not to bring up salary upfront. But why not?  Why not minimise time wastage by ensuring that all parties start the hiring dance on the same footing (pardon the pun!)   Both candidate and hiring company should come from market appropriateness to ensure expectations equal reality.  

The digital age has evolved us all into a platform of knowledge which underpins decision making and acquisition activities that align within any given industry market place.   Finding a new job is nerve-wracking for the candidate, and risky and likewise cumbersome for the hiring company – ah it does take 2 to tango !!

In our culture whilst we are not overly offended with monetary dialogue, it would still be considered inappropriate  to march up to someone and demand to know what they “earn" .  And yet so many recruiters/hiring companies think that they should ask such a direct and frankly “personal” question to job seekers  upfront and without any regard.   It shouldn’t be “what you are earning now” but “what are the salary range expectations for a role based on your experience and skills and ability to do the actual job" - period ! 

When candidates are pressured into providing their current salary it really sets up the dance to falter down the track in so many cases.  Both candidate and hiring company can get narky and change the goal posts and inflate their worth - no dance partner is potentially exempt.  And it also sets up the framework for candidates to grossly exaggerate and/or  lie about their salary and market worth.  It’s a bit like going into a car dealership – both parties are poised to hustle and walk in with "attitude" hence time is wasted unnecessarily.  Sure given market forces are at play, but they are totally at the mercy of the times and will self correct within time (I promise that !) 

Now I also want to say upfront that so many roles/industries are grossly underpaid - inequality exists at the most horrid of levels.   For example the teaching vs sales professions.  Nurses vs stock market analysts.

Most jobs and professions have well documented salary industry charts to match skills, experience and education into alignment as appropriate within their sectors. Hence the “broadly accepted” salary range for positions is quite transparent in the marketplace generally. Sure many people get paid far more than the ‘documented” salary range – but hey that’s ”their personal business”. Mind you, as we all know many people definitely deserve a higher salary, and many certainly do not deserve one  (ie nepotism, fear of leaving etc – ahh that’s another blog).

Further progressive companies and "employers of choice" absolutely must and do  provide a robust culture and infrastructure  to reward and incentivise their staff (and we all know that it isn’t just with $$ but can definitely form part of a bonus and $$ reward framework ).

The way the issue of salary is raised and dealt with upfront by all parties will minimise the risk of disappointment and wastage of time for everyone . So how can candidates and hiring companies answer and work with and around the salary issue ?  Be direct and honest upfront and don’t set in motion a dance where the footsteps just will not align with “the other partner”.

Hiring Companies

Be fair & realistic.. Look at the exact needs of the job you are hiring for and give the role  a definite and well regarded  salary level to attract the level of skills required.   Hopefully a strong and precise Job Description and Key Criteria list has been drawn up to ensure the candidate is on the same page as the goals and needs are as required .    Be realistic that at any given time there may be a candidate market shortage and hence your desired 100% score of skills sought may not be fully met.   But will you be actually changing the job brief  in those cases ?  No -  you may be giving someone a bit more training (and that's a great thing anyhow) but generally but the KPI's and expectations remain the same. So the salary should remain consistent with the role.

It also ends in grief when a company offers a salary “below standard/market rates” to try and save money etc (often from a platform of “we are so good we don’t need to pay great $$).   If that is the case, well be upfront with candidates so time isn’t wasted and anger results (not good for anyone let alone your company’s reputation).

I have heard countless times over the years the phrase “salary based on experience”. But in reality unless the actual tasks and elements of a role change significantly with the hired person why should the experience change the salary. Now I know this will open a can of worms BUT give this some thought.   But realistically “based on experience” will be the determinant of the “right” person being offered the “same job and tasks” as a lesser experienced person.   Again, if the job itself doesn’t change why should the salary (which should be fair and good in the first place.

It is astounding how many candidates go through a long interview process, get offered the role but at the last minute are advised that they “aren’t experienced / good enough” to have the originally quoted $$  salary. Candidates rightly are furious (as they were given the salary upfront) that all their time has been wasted.

Now let’s also be fair my end – there are often times when a company feels forced into offering a salary range “far above” the jobs tasks because the talent shortage is abysmal. Great that they are willing to be “flexible” for sure – great attitude. But I have observed that a higher salary just isn’t a good enough reason for a great candidate to join you. And of course those sort of candidates will jump again quickly when another super-duper salary carrot is offered.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting offering higher than the average salaries isn’t a good thing – sure it is. But for the right reasons and in the right time it will work wonderfully in the hiring process – but shouldn’t be used as “bait” to get as if the role itself is “below” the candidates capabilities and career desire, the $$ lure will wear off pretty quickly when boredom and dissatisfaction sets in.

So companies need to be upfront, fair, realistic and market appropriate.

Candidates/Job Seekers:

When you are asked your current salary – DONT give it. Yes this will be considered contentious. But based on the above – you should know the market rate for the career you are in and the “level” of experience you bring and seniority and experience relevant to do a role you are applying for. Research, research!   Then start  your salary dance from a position of “strength and self worth”.

When asked that/ or what salary are you seeking – be honest and upfront. State clearly that “ I’m seeking a salary range/ package in the vicinity of $$ XYZ” – does that fall within what your client/company is offering ? Get clarity that your expectations are in alignment. .

You should also be a little flexible (as should the hiring company). ie if you are seeking a salary circa $90K and the hiring company is offering a salary circa $85K all parties should be willing to negotiate a little. But a significant salary gap is generally a waste of time as it is a mis-alignment across expectations..

Please also do not exaggerate what you are seeking – ie: if you are currently on $110K you will not do anyone or yourself any favours if you state you are seeking $140K. Now unless you are being dreadfully underpaid in your current role (and that’s another discussion on exploitation) you should really only focus on the “roles requirements” and market rates for that role. If you are stepping up to a higher role then of course the salary should be commensurate with that IF you are deemed the right candidate.

Lying and trying to inflate your worth will be transparent and you will damage your personal brand, create distrust and lose opportunities.   Start your salary dance from a position of “strength and self worth”. And don’t tarnish your own integrity with changing your salary expectations at the “offer stage”. If you don’t want the role at the end of the hiring process (which of course is a candidates right) don’t try and ask for “more” than agreed was discussed as your expectations at the front end. The dance will stop ! Be honest, if you don’t want the role – tell the company/recruiter. But the way the dance starts will determine the last foot moves !

Now with candidates who are transitioning into a new industry, role etc with a deep learning curve ahead, please be realistic that you may have to take a salary cut. Hey, that fair and reasonable a ‘salary vs skills” trade-off negotiation may need to take place.  

The salary dance is a tricky one, and we are talking about a person’s career, financial stability, let alone self esteem and respect. So unless that dance starts off fairly, realistically with both partners dancing on the same floor – no one wins.

Ok I’m going to see what rock and rock dance comp is available these days. Happy dancing!