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How to Handle Compensation Questions

The Pietrack Press

How to Answer Compensation Questions

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get when prepping candidates for interviews is what to do when they are questioned about compensation. The number one rule, which usually goes without saying, is to not bring up compensation until someone else does. There has been much written about this, and I think there is wisdom in what others have published. From my experience, here are the main things you should know.

1. What to do when your recruiter asks you, “What are you currently earning?”: My recommendation is that you disclose everything about your compensation plan to your recruiter, especially if they represent a viable career interest. One of the rules of recruiting that came down from Mt. Sinai is to not present to a client a candidate who won’t tell you what they are earning. In my years of recruiting, I haven’t found one good reason for someone to be less than transparent with their recruiter about compensation. So, please don’t be coy or dishonest, don’t give a range or inflate the number, and don’t leave any critical information from your recruiter.

2.What to do when a prospective employer asks you, “What are you currently earning?”: Again, my recommendation is that you are fully transparent about your compensation with your prospective future employer. Don’t embellish, but list everything that you consider compensation. Tell them your base, bonus, car, stock, cell phone reimbursement, home office, 401K match, pension, everything! The reason they need to know your income is to structure an appropriate offer, so why would you not give them the full picture?

3. What to do when a prospective employer asks you, “What are you LOOKING to earn?”: This is a tricky question to answer, and my recommendation is to not name a specific dollar amount or range. In my experience, you can only do yourself damage by naming a number. If the number you say is too high, you can price yourself out of the job. If the number you say is too low, you may have left money on the table. Unless you can guess the exact amount that the person is thinking, then I would recommend not naming a number. And if you can accurately guess what people are thinking, let me know, because I’m taking you to Vegas!

Usually, compensation questions come from HR or an application. This is how I coach people how to respond if questioned: “Cindy that is a fair question. At this point, I am very intrigued with what I’ve learned about XYZ Company, and I can see myself working here. If the team feels the same way, I am confident that money is not going to stand in the way. Plus, based on XYZ’s reputation in the market, I’m sure that if an offer were to come my way, it would be FAIR AND REASONABLE based on my background and experience.”

Try to stay away from the words FLEXIBLE and NEGOTIABLE. If you say, “I’m flexible,” you are telling the company, “don’t worry, I’ll bend–you don’t have to.” If you say, “I’m negotiable,” then you are setting up the situation for them to give you a low offer first because they are expecting you to come back high. Plus, no one WANTS to negotiate and the word has a negative connotation. The best language that I’ve seen is FAIR AND REASONABLE. That is exactly what we are going to be during the offer stage, and that is what we expect them to be as well.

If the question comes on an application where the field is required, either write in “Competitive” or “Commensurate”. If you have to type in a number, which is rare, type in your current base with a “+” after.

I hope this information is helpful as you interview and interact with recruiters. If you have questions, feel free to contact me the following ways:

Michael Pietrack

About the Author: Michael Pietrack is a leading executive recruiter in a the Pharmaceutical Industry and arguably the top recruiter in the Medical Affairs space. His specific expertise is recruiting in Field Medical Affairs placing Medical Science Liaisons, and therefore, he has been dubbed “The MSL Recruiter” (www.TheMSLRecruiter.com).

What is TMAC Direct?: TMAC Direct is an executive search agency that serves the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industries. This boutique firm fills critical staffing needs on a retained, partially retained, or contingency basis. TMAC Direct is the direct-hire recruiting division of The Medical Affairs Company, commonly known as TMAC. Together TMAC and TMAC Direct, provide an unmatched staffing service in the Medical Technology arena, whether the hiring needs are on a permanent placement or outsourcing basis.

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1 Comment

  1. Ed Mannix says:

    Thanks for this very helpful information, Michael.

    -Ed Mannix

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