First, make an impression, and then discuss compensation.

Draper Bowen


As a manager, I’ve been amused by the various approaches taken by interviewees over the years. There are a few interviews that stand out as potential Academy Award nominees for Best Arrogant Performance.

The first performance features an inexperienced, newly graduated interviewee whom I’ll refer to as “Pug.” Pug arrived on time for the interview, was well-dressed, and appeared well-prepared.

I began the interview with a simple greeting, offered Pug something to drink, and explained what would happen during the interview. Pug informed me of his salary expectations and told me that there were other companies willing to meet his expectations before I could even ask my first question. I can tell you that his expectations were roughly twice what we normally paid newly graduated candidates, and I knew we would never be able to pay Pug what he was looking for. I decided to acknowledge Pug’s salary expectation and, to be honest, went through the motions for the remainder of the interview. Within the first few minutes of the interview, I had already decided to “decline.”

The second performance features a highly experienced and qualified candidate I’ll refer to as “Kip.” Kip had a lengthy resume with experience that would be beneficial to me, and he showed a lot of promise. I wasn’t sure about Kip, so I was looking forward to our interview. Throughout the interview, his tone was “you have to sell me on why I should come and work for you,” and he said it would take “a lot of money” to entice him away from his current job. I was very disappointed because someone who seemed promising at first turned out to be an arrogant mercenary looking to sell his services to the highest bidder. Kip eventually decided to stay with his current employer rather than come to work with me.

There was a common thread running through both performances. They both brought up compensation before I had a chance to decide whether or not I wanted them as employees. Don’t get me wrong: money is an important part of why we work; the mortgage must be paid, the kids must have braces, and the government must be paid. You must ensure that you are fairly compensated for your efforts. However, there is an appropriate time to discuss compensation: after the employer has decided they want you and you have decided you want to work for them. Before we get too far into this, I’m going to assume that you’ve done some basic job research and that you’re not expecting to make $100,000 per year for a job that pays $30,000. If there is that much of a difference, either re-align your expectations or abandon the interviewing process.

Assuming there is a match in compensation expectations, your interviewing priorities should begin with nailing the qualifications. Most effective advertising campaigns do not show you the product’s price first, then explain the value it provides. They get you to see how the product will meet a need you have, then they tell you how much it will cost you (and how great of a deal it is for you!) Your interview strategy should be similar; you want to demonstrate how you can meet a need and solve a prospective employer’s problem before discussing compensation. When an employer understands your qualifications and sees your value to the company, he or she is better able to focus on compensation.

Do you need some pointers on how to nail the qualifications first? Look at these:

Show them you want the job by asking good questions that demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position. Be interested and show it to the interviewer. Don’t worry about losing bargaining power because you’re showing interest. You want him or her to be enthusiastic about the prospect of working with you.

Don’t be a hard to get jerk – Showing disinterest or indifference to the job in order to entice the prospective employer to lure you away from your current job is simply bad etiquette. Rather than playing your game, the prospective employer will most likely walk away. If you come across as a diva, it could backfire and cost you a job you really wanted.

Find a problem and offer to help solve it – If you draw out a real-life problem that the prospective employer is experiencing during your interview, offer to do some research and write a write-up on some solutions that could be implemented to solve the problem, you will make a great impression. If your offer is accepted, stay up late if necessary to jot down your thoughts and send it to them within 24 hours of your interview. When interviewees did that with me a couple of times, I was impressed not only by the content they provided, but also by their initiative and responsiveness. Both of the interviewees were eventually hired.

Talk as if you already have the job – I like it when interviewees use “we” language. I didn’t think it was arrogant; I thought it was the interviewee’s desire to be a part of a team, to dig in and get things done. Don’t be afraid to speak as if you were a company employee; your interviewer is trying to determine your fit within the company, so demonstrate it.

Prior to negotiating compensation, establish yourself as a viable and qualified candidate. Your best chance of securing a fair compensation package is to first persuade the interviewer that you are truly wanted by showcasing your skills, demonstrating initiative, and demonstrating your desire to be an employee. First, make him or her fall in love with you, and then discuss compensation.