These are two very different questions and need to be answered carefully. Your answers depend upon who’s asking the question. If it’s a recruiter asking: Give them the straight answers. A recruiter will have 3 or 4 different opportunities and will slot you within a reasonable range. The recruiter should also give you information about the job, the company, the pay range, the issues to be resolved and the position description.
When contacted by a company, you may not have the best information to respond to the question. Usually on-line applications, position descriptions, ads in publications have the compensation listed, a pay range and a list of benefits. You don’t want to be too far below the minimum nor too far above the mid-point of the pay range. So, what to do?
1. If you’re currently being underpaid, but overproducing, state it. However, make sure you have backup information and measurable results to prove it.
2. If you’re overpaid but looking for more responsibilities, state it. Your honesty will pay dividends because the hiring company will verify the information. If you fabricate it, then you have a real problem.
3. If you can, give the hiring organization a “pay range”: From X to Y. In that way you have more flexibility to negotiate later on, when an offer is made.
4. Don’t evade answers or a lot of red flags will go up. If you spell out the reasons why your total compensation (salary, bonus, benefits, incentives) are out of whack, then the hiring organization can make adjustments. Help them understand your value.
5. If you’re being paid under the marketplace value, then help them understand why you’re leaving your current employer. Explain why you’re worth more, especially if you have skills, ability or experience they need.
6. If you’re being paid over the market value, ask yourself why another organization will want to pay you more than other candidates. If, however, there is something to convince the hiring company that you are worth more compensation, make sure they know their investment in you will be well worth it.
7. Redirect the question and ask, “What’s the range of the open position?” or “What do you see as the key issues that need to be resolved within the next 12 months?” Then talk about your experiences in solving similar problems.
8. The higher the responsibilities and the greater your experiences in parallel with their issues, the better chance of your being paid more than the stated compensation. Why? If you can show them that you’ve successfully solved a similar problem before, you become of higher value to them. You represent a higher percentage for success.
In summary, always focus on what you can do for the hiring manager in the short and long term, rather than what someone else paid you before. Stand on your record of achievements that are measurable and you can verify. Never, ever lie.
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