Ask the Headhunter: The easy question you should ask before agreeing to a job interview

Many people think it's too forward or inappropriate to ask what the salary is — and employers love that.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees—just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: On an almost weekly basis, headhunters ping me about technical jobs they want to fill. Then we get down to the brass tacks, and rarely do any of these corporations want to pay what I know I'm worth for what I bring to the table.

My skill set wasn't developed by being average, and I will not accept anything average. I make my employer lots of money. I impact the bottom line and that will cost you.

It's interesting to watch companies lose money because they employed campers instead of climbers. I'm willing to do the job for those employers, but when I tell them they need to pay me $25k more than they're paying the campers, they squeal. Meanwhile, millions are being lost right in front of their eyes. Go figure.

Why do employers waste my time talking about jobs they don't want to pay appropriate salaries for?

Nick Corcodilos: The unfortunate fact of life is that most people and most employers are tire-kickers. They won't spend what's necessary on the product, service or hire that they want. But they will keep looking, usually until they find a less costly solution — and by that point, they convince themselves it's sufficient. Employers view new hires as an expense, not an investment. An expense costs you. A good investment generates a good return. It seems few employers look for returns — they're just trying to fill jobs with bodies (that don't cost much). Then they wonder why their business is mediocre if not failing.

I think the prudent approach is to have a simple protocol for limiting the time you spend with headhunters without missing a real opportunity. In my opinion, it has to involve an up-front discussion about salary range. (See "Only naive wusses are afraid to bring up money.") Many people think it's too forward or inappropriate to ask what the salary is — and employers love that.

It's the old foot-in-the-door sales approach. The more time and effort employers can get you to spend talking to them, the more chance you'll compromise on the money later on, to justify all the time you spent.

I say bunk to that. We all know money is the first bridge, so cross it immediately. Don't let it seem complicated. In "Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer)," there's a chapter titled "The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money," pp. 13-15, that offers the best, simplest, most effective tip for this situation.

When the headhunter or employer tells you about a job and asks if you're interested, be ready with the perfect response.

How to say it:

"Sure, what's the pay like?"

Yes, that's all it takes. An off-handed, casual, natural, obvious question. Would you take a nice-looking bottle of wine to the checkout counter at a liquor store if it doesn't have a price tag on it? Of course not. So, why would you agree to spend hours talking about a job whose salary range you don't know? You'll just have to put that job back on the shelf, after you've wasted precious time and energy interviewing for it.

When an employer declines to disclose the salary range for a job, it's time to end the discussion. A good employer will share the information readily, because it wants only suitable candidates, and because it wants to show you it's worth your time to meet and talk. Don't be afraid to ask the salary before you agree to interview.

Dear Readers: Have you interviewed for a job only to find the salary is unacceptably low? Do you interview for jobs without knowing what the salary range is? How do you handle situations where a recruiter refuses to tell you what the salary is for a job?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2015 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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