One of the mistakes I see from job seekers is changing their compensation expectations during the interview process. It’s as if there is salary inflation causing their worth to go up over a period of weeks. I noticed this long before I became a recruiter – I made this mistake early in my career and it cost me a great opportunity.
The Company’s Perspective
When a company interviews a job seeker, they want to make sure that the individual will accept an offer if they extend one. For this reason, hiring managers are very complimentary during the process. Many will even discuss things like, “when you’re on board, you’re going to be very successful fixing this,” with “this” being some major problem.
This type of language is polite and in the company’s best interest. They want the job seeker to feel good about joining the company. Receiving compliments during an interview does not mean the hiring manager is going to want to hire you. All it means is that the hiring manager is being polite and is trying to insure that you want the job – in case they decide to hire you.
The Job Seeker’s Perspective
Job seekers should feel proud that they are being courted. Unfortunately some make the mistake of assuming that they “have the job” and forget to continue to sell themselves. Worse, some job seekers interpret every compliment as an indication that they should expect a higher salary. This is the mistake I made and the mistake I’ve seen other job seekers make.
Most companies have salary guidelines for each position. Large companies will have salary ranges and guidelines for how different experience levels affect the placement in a range. Although it’s not completely scientific, there is often a lot of analysis that goes into setting salaries.
Now lets look at a real life example – the mistake I made early in my career. I was being considered for a position that was in many respects, absolutely ideal. It was a significant promotion over my current role. It had a great opportunity for advancement. It was in a much better location (and had paid relo). It had a better compensation level. Finally, the type of work was closer to what I wanted to do than my job at the time. But I didn’t get the job – and I was the one that caused it to fall apart.
When I started the interview process, I was told the compensation range (I was working with a recruiter and they filled me in). The bottom of the range was above my current comp and acceptable to me. In the first interview it was clear my experience was less than they wanted (remember this would have been a big promotion for me). There were other skills that made me an attractive candidate, but experience wasn’t one of them.
Through the interview process, everything went well and I demonstrated enough potential to get an offer. Unfortunately, every time I heard that I would be very successful with them, that I would have a good chance of getting promoted quickly and that I would be a key part of the team, I concluded they were getting desperate to hire me. All of this made me conclude that they wouldn’t offer the bottom of their range, they would offer something higher. I started expecting an offer around the mid-point.
When they made the offer, it was below the bottom of the range I had been told at the beginning – not by a lot, but definitely below the range. This was justifiable since I really didn’t have the experience for the job and would have to grow into it. The problem was that I didn’t think about that until it was too late. I was so convinced they would offer a figure well above the bottom of the range that I was actually shocked by the offer. My reaction, immature and arrogant, led to the offer being pulled.
In hindsight, the offer was good, the opportunity was phenomenal and the company wanted me. And yet, I didn’t get the job.
It was an important lesson. First, no matter what I thought of the offer, I should have reacted positively. Second, I should have recognized that when they complimented me, they were being polite and when they said I really didn’t have as much experience as they wanted, they were discounting my salary. I did the opposite of these.
Bottom Line: React positively when an offer is made. You can assess the value after the call. This doesn’t mean you don’t negotiate the best deal. Just don’t let emotions dictate the result.