How to answer one of the toughest job interview questions

Questions about salary are among the most important during an interview process, and can therefore be the most difficult to answer.

Megan Prosser, a senior manager at recruitment specialist Robert Walters, says it is important for applicants to recognise that they have a say when it comes to what they want to earn.

In conversation with Cape Talk, Prosser noted that the working environment is different from how it was prior to the Covid pandemic, changing the needs and requirements of both employer, and employee.

“I think there’s a perception when people are interviewing that the employer holds all the cards, and we are sort of cattle or pawns in that process, but that is not the case,” said Prosser.

South Africa is unique in that it does not fall within the global ‘great resignation’ trend; however, paired with a high unemployment rate, South Africans often do not have the luxury to quit, said Prosser.

Applicants should not hesitate to negotiate for more time and flexibility, especially when they are employed full-time, said Prosser.

When questioned on how potential employees should negotiate their salaries, both Prosser and Silke Rathbone, a principal partner at Labour Excel, agreed that applicants must avoid emailing as a means of communication.

Prosser said that emails are prone to misunderstandings and gauging tone. It is best to call or meet in person with the employer, the HR department or your recruiter if you want to negotiate salary expectations or need to discuss relocation.

Rathbone said that it is right to ask an employee what their salary expectation is however, she stressed that employers should consider pay based on an applicant’s experience and the role they intend to fill.

Job seekers must only have the conversation at the end of the process, said Rathbone.

Be confident and research

Being brave enough to negotiate well can show the employer what skills you can bring to the organisation, notes recruitment firm Michael Page.

It said that salary negotiation at the interview stage requires much research. You’ll need to decide on your minimum and maximum salary requirements, think about the following:

  • What do other organisations offer for similar roles?
  • Salary surveys give up-to-date industry averages, you can base your proposal on these
  • Job ads often include salary, have a look at some that match your location and experience level
  • Talk to your Michael Page recruitment consultant, they are industry specialists and can provide an accurate picture of what you’re worth
  • Do you have friends/colleagues in the industry that could give you some insight?

Researching will show the employer you know your worth and won’t be misled, said Michael Page.

“Obviously you need enough money to live on so don’t under-sell yourself. Emphasise your talents and experience, without being arrogant. Using your research as a starting point, think about your personal needs and determine a reasonable salary range to negotiate with.

“Start your negotiations at the top end of your decided salary range, this allows leeway when it comes to discussing your requirements with the employer. Make sure you know exactly what figure you won’t go below, there’s no point wasting your time or theirs.”

The recruitment specialist said that if your potential employer won’t budge on salary but you still think you’re worth more than they’re offering, consider what other benefits you would accept in place of the extra pay.

“Some organisations might offer additional training or flexi-time instead of concentrating on salary negotiation at interview stage. You should also be aware of whether or not there’s room for promotion or opportunities to review pay after the probationary period, so consider all alternatives.”

Nine tips for salary negotiation

Job search website Glassdoor with Josh Doody, author of ‘Fearless Salary Negotiation’ provides the following nine tips when entering salary negotiations:


1. “Currently,” as in “I’m currently making…”

The most common question recruiters will ask a candidate is something like, “So where are you right now in terms of salary, and what are you looking for if you make this move?” Don’t fall for it.

“I call this The Dreaded Salary Question and it’s tricky because it usually comes up early in the interview process, and most candidates don’t think of it as part of a salary negotiation even though it is,” says Doody. “Answering this question by disclosing numbers can make it very difficult to negotiate effectively later on because it can box the candidate in.

Once they disclose current or desired salary, the offers they get are very likely to be tied to those numbers. That can be very expensive if the company might have offered them a much higher salary than they disclosed.”


2. “Desired,” as in “My desired salary is…”

Don’t disclose your current or desired salary! “Recovering from this mistake can be tricky and each situation is unique. But one way to untether from those original numbers is to review the benefits package for deficiencies,” says Doody. “If the health insurance offering, paid vacation, target bonus or other aspects of the benefits package are underwhelming, the candidate can use those as reasons to ask for a higher salary to compensate.”

Instead, try something like :

  • I’m not comfortable sharing my current salary.
  • I would prefer to focus on the value I can add to this company rather than what I’m paid at my current job.
  • I don’t have a specific number in mind for a desired salary, and you know better than I do what value my skillset and experience could bring to your company.
  • I want this move to be a big step forward for me in terms of both responsibility and compensation.

3. “Sorry”

According to Doody, “negotiating is uncomfortable, and our natural tendency is to try to smooth the edges on a difficult conversation. Saying sorry could signal to the recruiter or hiring manager that you might be willing to back down, and that could be expensive. Don’t apologize for negotiating.”


4. “No” and other negative words

“You want to continuously improve your situation throughout the negotiation and you do that by avoiding negative language and focusing on positive language. Instead of “No, that doesn’t work for me.” (two negative words) you can say, “I would be more comfortable with…” (positive words). Negative words slow things down and may put up walls that make collaboration difficult. Using only positive words is difficult at first, but you’ll get better with practice.”


5. “Yes”

While this may sound like the exact word to use when speaking to a recruiter, Doody insists it should be used with caution. “You’ll often get a job offer that seems really appealing, and it might be far more than you expected. Your instinct, in that case, might be to just accept the offer because it’s so good.”

“It’s possible you underestimated your value in this situation. Instead of “Yes”, formulate a counter offer to see how much you can improve it. The negotiation should end with the company saying “Yes” to you. Once they say “Yes” to you, or you run out of things to ask for, then you are finished negotiating.”


6. “Later,” as in “I can deal with that after I start.”

Procrastinators, this one is for you. “Sometimes it’s easier to avoid uncomfortable parts of a negotiation by deferring those parts of the conversation until after you’re hired. That can be a very expensive mistake because you won’t have the same latitude to negotiate and improve your position once you’re in the door. Push through the discomfort and get the best possible result now,” Doody advises.


7. Try, as in “Can we try…?”

“Try is a passive word that leaves a lot of wiggle room, and you don’t want that,” insists Doody. “It’s easy for someone to say — honestly or not — “We’ll try…” and reply with, “We tried and it just didn’t work out.” Don’t ask them to “try” to do something. Instead, use more positive language like “I would be more comfortable with.”


8. More, as in “I want more…”

While this word seems counter-intuitive because you are negotiating to get more, it’s a word that is too general for a successful negotiation. Instead of asking for “more” salary or “more” vacation, this is your time to get specific.

“Don’t leave things to the imagination once you’re negotiating. Instead of “Could you budge on the salary?”, say, ‘I would be more comfortable with a base salary of $105,000.'”


9. Want

Lastly, the word “want” can tank negotiations.

Using it can undercut the entire premise of your argument that you deserve to be paid more and you deserve a more competitive salary. Go into a negotiation with facts and figures, making a compelling case.

“You could talk about what you want, which just isn’t all that important. Or you could talk about what the company wants, which is not as potent as talking about what the company needs, which are the most important thing,” adds Doody. “Focus on the company’s needs and how you can help meet those needs so they can easily see your value and work to compensate you for it.”

Find the full article at Glassdoor, here


Read: 5 things that will make or break South Africa in the next few years

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How to answer one of the toughest job interview questions