Friday, February 27, 2009

Money Talk

I was looking for work a couple of years ago. I went to interview for a job that seemed to fit my skills very well. When I arrived, I was impressed by the offices of the small, young company. The company was founded by a man that had been successful at another well known company, the name of which I have forgotten.

The Human Resources lady and I got along very well. She knew the basics of the job I would be doing, but the manager to which I would be reporting was taking a couple of days off. Suddenly the demeanor of the HR lady changed. I could almost feel it. What the heck had happened? What had I said? She was still polite and said she would pass my résumé to the manager, but I could sense that something had gone very wrong.

I went home and immediately sent the HR lady an email. You know, the customary "thanks for talking with me" email. She replied that she, too, had enjoyed our talk and would let me know the outcome the following week. I knew she was just being polite, and that I would not hear anything more about that job.

What went wrong? I racked my brain for days trying to figure out what I had said, but I didn't figure it all out until some time later. A friend of mine had applied for the job and then suggested it to me. He mentioned in passing that the salary was around $25,000 a year. Bingo! In my interview, while talking about my previous job, I had mentioned what I had been making, which was much more than $25,000 a year. At that point, I indirectly told the HR lady that the job she had was not in my salary range.

Everyone is looking for something from a job, but the common denominator, the thing we are all looking for is M-O-N-E-Y. Money, money, money. Money is something we all have to have to get by no matter what we are looking for in our job. But following my law of opposites (everything usually works just the opposite of what you might think), you have to at least act like money is not the point. In other words, don't mention money until you have to. I think I heard someone say "don't mention money until they are pushing you out the door".

However, some interviewers, especially the HR people who are trying to filter you out, will ask you point blank what you were making in your last job or what you are expecting to make in your next job. The best answer is an honest answer, but no answer is even better. Remember, good employers like to top what you were making in your last job. They like to give you a raise -- a salary increase -- no matter why you left the last job. They know you feel rotten about losing your last job in spite of your totally positive attitude. So they want you to start your new job feeling just as positive because you got a salary increase.

As a contractor, it might help to state your previous salary in terms of dollars per hour. Figure that out before the interview. If you were making X dollars a year, that is roughly X/2000 per hour. Why 2000? There are 52 weeks in a year, but you probably took two weeks of vacation and holidays (yeah right). So let's say 50 weeks in a year multiplied by 40 hours per week equals 2000 hours. Therefore, your hourly rate was (yearly salary) divided by 2000 hours. For example, if you were making $50,000 a year, that would be approximately $25 an hour. If you were making $75,000 a year, that would be approximately $37.50 an hour. If you are like me, you had to get the calculator out for that second one. So do the math ahead of time. It gets easier if you just drop the thousands (000) and divide by 2.

You need to be familiar with that calculation when you look at the want ads, too. If a job is listed as $27 an hour, that is roughly $54,000 a year, unless it is a part-time job.

Remember also that benefits, like healthcare insurance, 401K, paid vacation and sick days, and so on, have to be considered in your salary negotiations. If you are a contractor and have to provide your own insurance, you may require more per hour than an employee with benefits.

If you are wondering what to say in a job interview and what not to say in a job interview, I would suggest that you do a Google search for "things to say in a job interview". You will get a ton of advice. However, I will tell you to stay away from the subject of salary (money) as long as possible. Besides, you want to make such a good impression in the job interview that money will be no object. The employer will have to have you at any cost. Money will be no object. OK, that is not likely to happen, but there is a possibility that they could meet your requirements even though the job was advertised at a lower rate than you were hoping for, especially if no rate was advertised (DOE).

The interview is a major part of the process of finding a job. The bottom line for finding a job is money, at least for most of us. You would think money and salary should be the main topic of the interview, but nothing could be farther from the truth (remember my law of opposites). Have a figure in mind before you go into the interview, but do whatever it takes not to mention it until you have to because you may have to revise it along the way. As you find out more about the job, your salary demands might increase just to work there. As the interviewer finds out more about you and all that you will bring to the job, they may be willing to pay you more than they had planned to pay someone less extraordinary.