Think before answering that interview question

A marketing  professional shared this little story with me. In his previous job search, during an interview, he was asked a question that he answered honestly. He feels strongly that he should not have answered it and  believes it was a factor in not getting an offer.

Here’s what happened.  He was interviewing  for a position for a Channel  Manager  spot open in a west coast market city. The company was based on the east coast. He was progressing nicely through the various steps until one interview question in particular  stopped him in his tracks.

He  met with a corporate recruiter who did the customary screening interview. They talked resume, city, ballpark salary, and deduced  from all of that there was mutual interest.  They agreed to get together and do another interview, this time face to face.  So far so good.

The candidate progressed through the various meetings and  interviews and next up was  a chance to meet some of the staff managers. It was not spelled out by the corporate recruiter that this was a panel interview. The candidate goes to the interview.  The panel was made up of four  middle management  staffers, accounting manager, operations manager, etc.

The Human Resources Manager was also in the conference room but not part of the interview panel.  One of the staff managers asked the candidate about salary.  The question was…  ” Please discuss your salary history and  your salary expectations for this position.”  The candidate replied, “I am leaving my last position at 77k and would be looking for a similar base in order to make a move.” It seemed to me that asking this question was not well placed or timed.

Key point. The staffers probably should not have asked such a question. Salary was discussed in the prelims and there was no objection raised by the corporate recruiter that the candidate was making more than the new position of Channel Manager offered. In answering the question to the staff manager, the candidate thinks now that they were all making 10k-20k less than he was.  He was troubled that  by answering the question, he  may have put himself out of the running for a job he was qualified for and wanted.

Shouldn’t the HR Manager have  stepped in and redirected the question since it had already been covered? In a fit interview with a panel of future “peers”, who cares what they guy makes or wants. Everybody has a salary package. Why allow it to come up in a fit interview where the objective should be more of a  “get to know you” type of meeting. Re-asking qualifying questions feels too aggressive to me and smacks of envy.

My suggestion to the candidate is to answer the question by not answering it.  Something like… “I believe  I was paid fairly in my previous position, and like everyone excited about a new job,  I am looking forward to salary growth…  however my first priority is in securing this position and making an impact in my new role. I would prefer to discuss salary details at the time an offer is made.” Then listen carefully for the next question.

This way you, the candidate,  are not playing your cards before you have to and  keep professional  jealousy in the form of salary envy in its place. This answer allows the discussion to continue without  a lead balloon being dropped  on the proceedings.  Of course, there is the old school take that you could go through the entire process and never mention your salary.  What do you think? I would be happy to hear from  you if have a different take or even agree with the question. Also, if you have had a similar experience, my readers would love to hear more.

4 thoughts on “Think before answering that interview question

  1. Pingback: QUESTION WEDNESDAY! - Unemployblog

  2. Pingback: Questions to ask your interviewer « dp@large

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