In response to my article yesterday, about how job hunters should handle salary questions, my friend Jim Krouskop couldn’t resist weighing in with his thoughts, as well — and was kind enough to allow me to post them.  Jim’s a Partner with Shea Staffing and has been doing executive recruiting for many years now, so his answer is backed by years of credibility helping negotiate this sensitive issue with candidates and employers.  Here’s what he had to say:

Matt: You bring up some good points. Re: the answers you featured in your article yesterday, here is my take based on my perspective as a recruiter:

Answer #1: Not a good approach. Avoid this answer.
Answer #2: This is a decent answer and the best of the 4, but you can do better (see below
Answer #3: Complete failure.
Answer #4: See #1

My advice to candidates:

#1. Do your research and find out what the market rate is in your area for a similar position. Recruiters are wonderful resources for this type of data. They can tell you what the approx median and typical range is for your particular functional role and level and whether your desired comp is below, on par, or above market. Sample from several recruiters to get a representative data set.

There are also websites that provide this info but you typically have to pay and I don’t think you should have to pay for this info if it is available for free through recruiters as well as your associates. At least the good recruiters will/should share this info with you. Finally, talk with other folks in your line of work and ask them. It baffles me that people do not share compensation data. It is in candidates’ best interests to do so and in the best interest of employers that you keep comp data private. The more info you have the better prepared you are to go to market on a job search and maximize your earnings.

#2. Once you determine what the market range is for the type of position(s) you are applying for, determine where your desired comp falls on the spectrum. If your comp requirement is below, obviously you have room to go up. Use your job search to upgrade your comp accordingly. If you are on par, you have validated your worth in the market and are likely in the sweet spot for the employer. This makes you a good/desirable candidate from a comp standpoint and puts you on solid footing when it comes to negotiating your offer. If you are above market, you need to be prepared to justify this with some type of specialized subject-matter expertise, unique skill, deep network, executive communication, amazing looks (just kidding), etc. Some employers are willing to pay above market (especially for high-demand positions such as web developers), but they want to know what they are getting for the premium.

There are many variables that go into decision making re: comp packages and job offers besides base salary (bonus, benefits, corp culture, mission, location, career growth, etc). For the purposes of this exercise, you should have a good idea of what your desired total cash comp (gross W2) will be when you go out to market on a job search. As long as you have this figure, you can always work out the details on how you get there from a base, bonus, and equity standpoint during negotiations.

#3. This is the most difficult part. Be resolute in your comp requirements. When you are armed with the going market rate for your area of expertise/functional role, you will be emboldened to hold your ground as well as prepared to make the best informed decisions re: compensation and minimize selling yourself short by taking a job at below market. Most employers are willing and happy to pay market rate for good candidates. Organizations that want Nordstrom quality at Walmart prices are organizations that should be avoided, in my opinion. If they have this mentality about paying their employees, do you really want to work there?

Know the difference between what you are currently making and your compensation requirement. These are two separate things. The latter is what you will require to make a move from your current job and/or what you would consider compelling to accept an offer. The former is irrelevant when it comes to discussing your compensation vis-a-vis a job offer, in my opinion. Every candidates’ circumstances are unique and different. Some candidates choose to take a paycut in order to work for a great company, gain new skills, take a risk with a startup, etc. When it comes to discussing possibly accepting an offer, it should not matter what you are currently making as much as what your current market value is and what YOU believe would be compelling to make a move.

Recruiters and employers respect candidates that know what they are worth. This supports our assumption that good candidates are highly employable and can justify their comp requirements. If you are wishy washy about your comp, it makes me wonder if you are actually qualified to do the job, are desperate, or wanting to make a move for the wrong reasons.

Know what you are worth and stick to your comp requirement. Assuming you are on par with the market rate and offer comparable skills and experience for the job, employers will be willing to meet your requirement. You’ll be happier when you do come across an organization that recognizes your value and is willing to pay it.

#4. How to answer the question about compensation/salary. When you are asked what your comp requirement is, simply answer “My comp requirement is a minimum of $XXX to $XXX total cash.” This is the figure/range you know would be compelling enough for you to make a job switch and be happy walking through the front door on the first day. This answer leaves room for some flexibility, yet establishes a floor that you are not willing to go below.

If you are asked what you are currently making, my advice is to answer as if you were asked what your comp requirement would be. If they insist on knowing, state that it is not relevant because your comp requirement is the amount you need to make it compelling to make a move and anything less doesn’t make sense for you to consider. Most recruiters and hiring managers will respect this. If they do not, then I would again question if I would want to work for such an organization.

It is not appropriate or polite to simply ignore the comp question. Many recruiters and hiring managers want to make sure both sides are starting off on the same page from a comp standpoint in order to not waste each others’ time. I hope this helps and can provide a win-win scenario for everyone involved. Long-winded, but I feel important to get out there. It is a shame to see candidates sell themselves short on comp. The dynamic between candidate and employer makes it difficult to negotiate offers, which is why I believe it is in the candidate’s and employers best interest to have a third party (e.g., recruiter) as an intermediary. I think this is where we add most of our value along the value chain of recruiting. But that is best left for another discussion.”

Great advice — thanks Jim!