- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

THE WORST THING YOU CAN SAY

Dear Kate & Dale: I just saw a posting for a job that’s perfect for me. They say the salary is “very competitive,” then they ask for “salary requirements.” I am planning to tell them this: “I was a VP at one of the premier consulting firms, so I was well-paid. I am earning a decent income as a self-employed consultant after just a few months. So the salary would have to be very competitive to persuade me to give up self-employment.” — Nick

KATE: No. You will scare them away.

DALE: In fact, Nick, you’ve got me wondering what your cover letter might say to give you a worse chance of being called. Here’s one possibility: “My court-appointed psychiatrist feels that the incident involving the handgun and my last so-called ‘superior’ was an isolated event and highly unlikely to recur.”

KATE: Yes, that’s worse. But getting back to salaries, a client of mine lost a job offer because she candidly answered a question about salary. A hiring manager later confided that she was everyone’s favorite, but that she expected too much money. Turns out she gladly would have worked for what they were paying a lesser candidate.

DALE: Both sides start out thinking, “I don’t want to waste time if the salary isn’t close.” However, the definition of “close” changes throughout the course of hiring. The applicant doesn’t know upfront the workload or the opportunities. And management doesn’t really know what it’s willing to pay. Every time you go shopping for anything — a house, car, sofa, shoes — you realize that what you actually pay is often outside your original range. Shopping is education, and that’s also true when shopping for employees.

KATE: Your goal, as a job candidate, is to postpone the discussion till you get the offer. You say: “I’m a fair person. You’re a fair person. I’m sure we can work out fair compensation.” They might insist; but remember, the first one to name a number loses. When it’s a high number, you are essentially saying “Take it or leave it.” That’s not how you negotiate.

DALE: The salary discussion is about more than money. Your response tells managers how you deal with difficult subjects, which in turn tells them something about how well you will fit in. It also tells you something about management. You want to work for people willing to have an honest negotiation. By saying “You are a fair person,” you often get the chance to learn if it’s true.

***

Dear Kate & Dale: I recently started to look for work after 16 months. My husband had a stroke, and my brother, my brother-in-law, my boss and our dog died, all within a year. I fell apart. Now that I feel ready to go back to work, how do I explain the lack of employment without going into the details? — Vicki

KATE: You sure have had a rough time. Things can only get better, right?

DALE: That would be a marvelous attitude to grab hold of. There’s an old belief that suffering is ennobling, but I see little evidence of it. Instead, suffering is likely to lead to bitterness and wariness. The antidote to bitterness can be found in religious faith, or, more generally, in the wisdom of hopeful acceptance. For the latter, I’d suggest the work of two writers: Iyanla Vanzant and Paramahansa Yogananda.

KATE: And speaking of hope, the good news is this: Our research shows that being unemployed for two years or less has NO impact on a person’s job search. If you’re out of the work force longer than two years, you have a new set of hiring issues to address. However, in your case, Vicki, you would just tell prospective employers that you took some time off to help with a family medical issue, and that you’re ready to get back to work. Your instincts are right: no need for details. The best way to get the job of your future is to talk about the best of your past work, and your potential contributions to the company’s future.

Kate Wendleton is the founder of The Five O’Clock Club, a national career-counseling network (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Her books include “Targeting the Job You Want” (3rd Edition, Career Press, $13). Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators’ Lab. His latest book is “The Laughing Warriors: How to Enjoy Killing the Status Quo.” Please write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or via www.dauten.com for e-mail.

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