The Negotiator Magazine

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Candidates must be prepared to indicate why they should be offered the position. What are their specific qualifications? When asked about their personal strengths and weaknesses, they should highlight their strengths. If they are asked specifically about any weaknesses, they should be honest but try not to focus on their negative traits. They should not hesitate to ask questions of the interviewer with respect to the actual job duties and the traits being sought by the employer.

It is best to avoid the discussion of salary information during this part of the selection process. If candidates mention a low figure, the interviewer might not consider them highly qualified, and if an excessive figure is discussed, it may destroy the candidate's chances of obtaining any offer. If candidates are asked about their present salaries and they are looking for higher paying positions, they can refocus the discussion by asking the interviewer about the salary for the open position. If they are asked specifically about their current compensation, they can disclose it, but indicate that they believe they possess the skills associated with positions entailing greater responsibilities - such as the one they are seeking.

During the interview process, candidates possess minimal bargaining power. Most employers are simply trying to determine which individuals to seriously consider among the qualified candidates. Anyone who says or does anything they don't like is likely to be excluded from consideration. It is thus important for candidates to emphasize why they deserve consideration, and avoid the discussion of topics which may cause their disqualification.

Once candidates successfully negotiate their way through the interview process and obtain job offers, the balance of power shifts in their direction. The employer has decided to employ them, and the personnel official wants to secure their acceptance. This is the time to ask specific questions about salary and benefits. Through friends, placement offices, trade groups, and Internet sites, the candidates should already have obtained information pertaining to the compensation levels associated with similar positions.

Candidates should try to get the personnel official to make the initial offer by asking what the usual salary is for this position. They may learn that the employer is willing to pay them more than they expected, and they can take advantage of this situation. Even if the salary mentioned is acceptable, candidates should not hesitate to politely ask if the figure mentioned is negotiable. Personnel officers usually begin with lower offers, and actually expect candidates to bargain for higher salaries. They respect people who take the initiative to bargain about this important topic. Candidates who seek to negotiate their beginning salaries are likely to obtain more generous terms than those who fail to do so, and their higher salaries will benefit them for the entire time they spend with this particular firm.

In their recent book Women Don't Ask (2003), Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever found that while 57 percent of male business school graduates at Carnegie Mellon University negotiated their initial salaries, only 7 percent of female graduates did so - resulting in average male salaries almost $4000 higher than average female salaries. They also found that men think they deserve higher salaries for the same positions than women. It thus behooves women to appreciate the degree to which they may advance their interests by seeking to negotiate their initial salaries, and by objectively assessing their real worth to their new firms. If they fear they may undervalue their own services, they should consult their male friends and ask them what they think someone should be paid for the positions in question.

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September 2005