Don’t name your price too early in job hunt

In last week’s column, I stated that job hunting is often easier when employers tell you exactly what they want. This is true when the hiring manager requests your curriculum vitae or mentions that the job opportunity demands a specific set of skills. All you have to do is highlight the most essential information and send the appropriate document. Very simple.

But there are times when an employer asks for something that is difficult — or not in your best interests — to hand over at this stage of your job search.

Here’s an example: You want a career; not just a paycheck. But you keep fending off inquiries about your salary. How much did you earn in your last three positions? What is your minimum salary requirement?

There is nothing inherently wrong with these questions. In fact, I appreciate a forthright conversation about money. As a serious job seeker, you deserve the chance to demonstrate your ability to drive revenue or cut costs for the company, which translates to a higher salary. At the same time, the hiring manager should discuss the organization’s compensation structure and commitment to rewarding top performance.

However, I find that salary discussions often arise too early in the hiring process. In many situations, job hunters are obliged to name a price before the manager bothers to learn about your background, determine the value that you bring to the workplace and explain the expectations and challenges of the job.

Search any online job board and you’ll find dozens of listings that ask for salary information up front. By requesting salary data in advance, the employer is looking to reduce your candidacy down to a single number. They want to know your bottom line. In most cases, they will use this information against you.

Let’s say that you need a minimum of $40,000 annually to make ends meet. You find a great job posting that insists that you send salary requirements, so you add this personal information to your cover letter. What happens? The resume screener receives your documents and instead of carefully assessing your strengths and merits as a qualified candidate, she looks at this financial figure to decide if you fit the budget. If your salary doesn’t line up, you can be kicked out of the running without a second thought.

Of course, this situation could go another way. Your low-ball number is $40,000, but the company was willing to pay up to $55,000. You might land the job at a much lower salary than you deserve as an employee or manager of this organization. Based on the company’s compensation plan, your salary could remain lower than average for the duration of your career.

Money is a tricky issue, so make it a priority to be your own best advocate. Unless you are absolutely required to bring up this topic in advance (a subject that I’ll address in next week’s column), resist talking about wages in your resume or cover letter.

When the time is right to pin down on your starting salary, the discussion should be candid, respectful and part of a face-to-face meeting. And the outcome should be in the best interests of both parties. Not just theirs.

Eve Nicholas: