Candidates Should Be Ready To Name A Price 

By Kris Maher


Few hiring issues rattle job seekers more than negotiating a starting salary.

Laura Allen was interviewing recently for a position as vice president of communications at a small New York entertainment company when its chief executive suddenly asked what salary she hoped to earn in the position. The company had posted the range for the job at $42,000 to $55,000, and she picked the upper limit.

"The fact that I said $55,000 first completely put me out of the ballgame," she says. She had been earning between $75,000 and $80,000 in her prior job as a vice president of sales and marketing at eCatalogmail, a New York online-marketing company, before she was laid off in December 2001.

But she suspects she appeared arrogant by naming the company's top salary figure, without leaving room to negotiate. "I learned that as the job seeker, if you mention a number first you lose," says the 32-year-old New York resident. Many career experts agree with that rule of thumb, advising job seekers to put the onus of setting a starting salary on the employer, regardless of when the subject comes up in the hiring process.

Conventional wisdom holds that if a job seeker names a figure first, negotiations will push the salary down, while when an employer speaks first, a negotiated salary can only go up. Moreover, naming a salary figure prematurely sometimes knocks you out of contention early in the process, experts warn. But some hiring managers insist that candidates should be upfront about salary requirements -- and in fact make naming a figure a prerequisite. "Companies can't react to something they don't know," says Scott Stahlmann, a vice president of talent acquisition for Prudential Financial Inc. in Newark, N.J. He argues that candidates could actually hurt their chances for a position by being coy about salary issues, and says he always asks candidates for their salary requirements in preliminary phone interviews. "The ones who don't give me an answer usually won't get a call back," he says.
So how should you handle yourself in the heat of the moment? Here are some tips:

Do research. Before you walk into your first interview for a job, be informed about what a company is likely to pay for the position, says Peter Goodman, author of "Win-Win Career Negotiations." He recommends visiting Internet salary sites, including, that allow you to research salaries for related positions at similar firms in similar regions. When pressed by a company, candidates should provide a salary range based on their research. "If you're going to put the first figure on the table, make sure the low end of the range is the number you're willing to accept," he says. David Schmier, president of, a New York company that teaches job-finding skills, advises clients to avoid naming the first salary figure at all costs. This includes a candidate's first response to postings that ask for salary requirements (unless they insist on such information) as well as an impromptu query from a manager early in the interview process.

Mr. Schmier says that, in his previous post as a director of interactive marketing for AOL Time Warner, he frequently asked candidates for their salary requirements, and more than 90% of the candidates responded with a figure. "I knew how much I was going to have to pay them, and I would low-ball them," he says. Now he advises clients to delay such a discussion until an employer makes an offer of employment. Even then, candidates should express their enthusiasm for the job and ask for a day to consider the offer; they should then come back to negotiate any additional compensation items.

Practice negotiating, and don't be afraid to ask for what you want, says Lori Davila, an Atlanta-based career coach. Many anxious job seekers are currently selling themselves too low in today's market, she says. She advises her clients to always make a good-faith counteroffer. "It's showing the hiring manager, in a sense, how you're going to approach this new job -- that you have good negotiating skills, that you work hard and go after things" she says.

Author Information:

Kris Maher is a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal. 2003; The Wall Street Journal; All Rights Reserved