Question: “I’m scheduled to interview with a company I’m really interested in, but suspect the salary they’re offering is way below my needs.  Should I go through with the meeting, nonetheless?”

Alas, it’s a pretty safe bet that most job hunters have encountered this situation at least once during the course of their search, since most candidates feel that their skills are chronically undervalued and most employers, in contrast, try to hire Superman for minimum wage.  So when the salary under discussion lies somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, does it still make sense to go through with the interview process or is it a waste of time that all parties involve should acknowledge from the outset?

Like so many questions, the answer is “it all depends” based on a variety of situational factors.  For example, a candidate who is employed on a full-time basis — and only has limited time to interview — will want to qualify interviews a lot more tightly than an unemployed individual.  In these cases, if there is any suspicion that the compensation or responsibility level of a job might be significantly lower than the candidate’s target range, the candidate should address this up front, over the phone or via e-mail, with the human resource professional or recruiter in question.  This might sound something like:

“Mr. Smith, I’m very flattered by your interest in me and your willingness to move forward with the interviewing process.  However, I want to make sure that we don’t waste either my time or yours and that we go into this without anyone’s expectations being mismanaged.  Along these lines, I noted that the salary you are offering for this position is in the $60-70,000 range, depending on experience, and frankly this wouldn’t even be a lateral move for me based on my current pay rate at XYZ Company.  So with all due respect, unless you think there is a realistic possibility that your company would be willing to boost the compensation to at least the mid-seventies range, for the right candidate, I’m probably not the right person for this job and should probably bow out of the interviewing process.”

Handled in this diplomatic manner, any quality employer should respect the candidate’s integrity and be willing to provide an honest assessment of the job’s income potential.  If they instead get offended by the suggestion that their pay rates might be a little low, that’s probably a sign that you dodged a bullet and wouldn’t want to work for the organization.  Keep in mind, however, that if you consistently discover that your current salary is well above what employers today are offering, this might instead be a sign that your “market value” is not quite as high as you thought, no matter how much smoke Salary.com and some of the other salary survey websites out there might blow up your skirt!

As for job candidates who aren’t working at the moment, our advice is to loosen up considerably on this “qualifying” step since, frankly, your time shouldn’t be at quite as much of a premium — and you have many more possible things to gain (e.g. interview practice, useful contacts, etc.) by going through with almost any appointment you can line up.  So unless the level of job responsibility or the stated salary appears to be absurdly below what you’re seeking, go for it, sell your heart out, and do your best to make the employer fall in love with you so that they’ll consider bending their salary parameters upwards to bring you on board.  And if it turns out that THEY they are the ones who try to qualify YOU out of the process, on the phone, before the meeting, respond with something like:

“While yes, I can appreciate the fact that your salary range might be a little below the range I’m accustomed to earning, I’d still be very interested in moving forward with some dialogue since I’m not only in a position to be pretty flexible on compensation, but also believe strongly in the quality of your company and the upside potential it has to offer.  So as long as you’re comfortable with the idea, I’d love to come in, meet your team, and discuss some of the unique contributions I could make as your company continues to expand into new markets.  At the end of the day, if it’s the right fit, I’m sure we’ll be able to work out an appropriate compensation package.  What would be a good day for us to meet?”

With this strategy, you’re betting on the fact that most companies won’t let a great candidate walk away over a reasonably small compensation discrepancy.  Additionally, even if the position under discussion truly does turn out to be a bad fit for you, you’ll have gained another round of valuable practice in selling yourself — as well as established an important beachhead with a company that just offer up a more appropriate opportunity for you down the road!