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How To Succeed at Interviews and Salary Negotiation


June 4th, 2018

- Updated on

September 19, 2019 - 4:02pm

The Best Online Resources for Job Seekers Series - Part Four

In the fourth post in our six-part series on the best online resources for job seekers, we tackle the subject of interviewing and negotiating. The key takeaways are to prepare, do your research and be on the lookout for red flags during the hiring process. We include our top online resource picks to get you started. For all posts in this series, we recommend you start with The Best Online Resources for Job Seekers - Introduction. 
Congrats, you got the interview! Now what?
  • Have you developed your behavioral stories?
  • Are you ready for the “Tell me about yourself?” question?
  • How about “Why are you looking for work?
Be ready as these are usually the first questions asked. Let’s start with advice on how to answer these “ice-breaker” questions:
  • Elevator Pitch for “Tell me about yourself”: Keep it professional and short for interviews – no longer than 15 seconds. An ‘Elevator Pitch’ means something you can say in the time it takes for the elevator to reach the floor you’re going to. It’s a quick professional statement that highlights your unique branding and strengths as they relate to the position you’re interviewing for. This statement is important for a variety of networking situations as well, so take the time to develop a good one.
  • Transition Statement for “Why are you looking for work?”: Same thing with this one – keep it brief. Long, complex (or negative) explanations are to be avoided. It also helps if you can find something positive to say about your current or previous employer.
These questions are all about first impressions. Be succinct, professional and positive.

Job interview cartoon

Behavioral Interviewing

Hopefully, you’ve already prepared your behavioral (success) stories. We suggest the PAR format (Problem, Action, Result) or STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result). It’s helpful to give each story a title, to make it easier to remember. Then, the idea is to have your top 5 stories ready for just about any question you’re asked.
Why “behavioral”? Because every interviewer is trying to predict the future, and the theory is that future behavior can be predicted based on examples from your past. Use your success stories to paint that future picture for your interviewer. And keep in mind, most likely your interviewer is looking for stories and examples.

Woman being interviewed


The Importance of Asking Questions

The focus of this article isn’t on the interviewer's questions for you, or how to answer them. The most important interview questions are the ones YOU ask. Why are your questions more important than the interviewer's questions? Because you'll need answers to decide if you want this job, this company – and most importantly, this manager. 
The key strategic point: you want your job interviews to be a dialogue – not an interrogation. You’re not there to answer questions correctly, you’re there to evaluate and establish chemistry. Are you a fit? That’s up to both parties to determine. So while you are prepared to answer the questions your interviewer asks, it is also critical to have your questions prepared so as to draw your interviewer out and get them to talk.
Checklist iconHere are some crucial areas on which to focus when asking questions in interviews.
  • Use background research to evaluate the company, culture, and management
  • Understand the position and reason for hiring
  • Understand the hiring process

Researching the Organization and its Industry

One of the things interviewers will look for is whether you’ve done your homework, in particular, whether you know something about them. They want to know that you have a genuine interest and that you’ve taken the time to find about their most recent acquisition, exciting new product release, or a recent reorganization. There is nothing wrong with viewing someone’s LinkedIn profile or even inviting them to connect before an interview. 
Being a good researcher is a very useful skill for a successful job transition and on-going career management. The next post in this series is dedicated to research and we'll explore this and other research-related topics in more detail. Meanwhile, here are some good options for getting started.
Company History, Products, Services & News Management Team & Culture Industry Information
  • Google
  • Company website
  • Guidestar: Free and premium non-profit information
  • LinkedIn Company Page: A Premium Business account will give you growth and functional trends
  • BizJournals: Click the magnifying glass icon at the top right and enter your company name
  • Industry Information Resources:
    A comprehensive source of information for more than 400 industries. For each industry, link to trade associations, industry publications, research firms, and other sources for industry analysis, trends, statistics, and forecasts, financial, compensation and salary surveys, and business valuation resources
Just as an employer wants to know why you left (or are leaving) your previous/current job, you need to know what is driving a hiring decision. 
  • What is the organization's motivation for hiring?
  • What is the history of the position?
  • Is this a replacement for someone in the position or is it a new position? 
  • If an existing position, what happened to the person who held the job previously?
  • If a new position, what business factors drove the decision to add headcount?
  • What are the key problem(s) they are trying to solve?
For Premium Career subscribers, LinkedIn's job postings now include competitive intelligence that can help you analyze your suitability for a position and provide you with some hints on how to prepare related interview questions.
LinkedIn - How You Match Screenshot

The Hiring Process

In a lot of ways, this is the most important question of all. It’s important to understand how the hiring process works. It’s also important to get feedback and establish the interviewer’s sense of your suitability to do the job. 
  • What are next steps?
  • How will the hiring decision be made?
  • What is the timing? How soon do they want the position to start?
  • Who are the decision-makers?
Once next steps are established, be sure and ask if you’ll be invited back for the next round. It always reflects well to show you’re interested. Even if they put you off, it’s okay to confirm with your interviewer that they see you as a qualified candidate. In the earlier stages of the process, in particular, that interview is your only shot. You may not get another chance to prove yourself, so you have to leave it all on the table. 

Hiring Process Red Flags

red flag iconAt the end of the day, your challenge is to evaluate employers in order to help you make informed decisions about whether the position and the organization is a good fit for you or not. In the case of permanent employment, the interview process is an important opportunity to evaluate the people and validate your upfront research. As stated in previous posts in this series, one advantage of contracting and temping is the ability to evaluate employers from the inside. 
There are numerous ‘Red Flags’ that will give you a clue about an employer you are interviewing with. Here are a few obvious examples:
  1. Your time is not respected. 
  2. You aren't given time to ask questions. 
  3. You are not treated with respect during an interview.
  4. Different interviewers define the position in different ways. 
  5. There’s no job description, or it’s very brief.
  6. The hiring process isn't defined and/or keeps changing. 
  7. Hoops are added to the process, such as preparing presentations. Or, you are 'pumped' for free information (E.g. proprietary competitor information). 
  8. Employee turnover is high.
  9. Your immediate boss or a significant manager in the organizational hierarchy is ‘to be hired’. Unless you get to meet your manager and your manager's manager, walk away.

Negotiation & Compensation

The first rule of negotiation is to understand what the market will bear. Once again, it’s important to do your research. Know your range. First off, where is your most recent compensation plan? Are/were you paid at the top or bottom of your range? And if you notice, everything is stated in terms of ranges – not specific numbers.

Salary Research

The sites listed below can provide accurate salary ranges based on market research. Glassdoor and Paysa provide specific salary info for employers (posted anonymously by employees), as the following screenshot from Paysa shows.
Paysa salary research screenshot

Broaching the Compensation Subject

Timing and the way a prospective employer negotiates will tell you a lot about them. Some major cities and states have already made it illegal to ask how much you made in your last job, so there seems to be a growing consensus that such questions are unethical.
Regardless of the legal question involved, let’s be clear that salary questions are the beginning of negotiations. Does it make sense to begin negotiations during the application process or a preliminary HR screen? Of course you must be the judge, but personally, I think it’s way too early and a red flag.

More Hiring Process Red Flags - Compensation

  • Compensation questions too early in the interview process: If your prospective employer negotiates unfairly, this is not a good sign. Employers have all the advantages in the hiring process, so if they try to leverage that advantage, it tells you something about how they treat their employees. 
  • Written offer before discussion: If you’re presented with an offer before any discussion, this is not a good sign. You certainly want to discuss your offer before it’s presented in writing. A written offer is more difficult to get changed, so once you get it in writing it should be the offer you’ve already negotiated.
  • Low ball offers: If the employer presents you with an offer that is below your stated range and pressures you into accepting it, this tells you a lot about them – and none of it is good. First, they don’t respect you and think you’re desperate, so clearly you wouldn’t want to work for them. Once you’re on the payroll, you will regret it. Secondly, you get what you pay for, so they are not smart. You are guaranteed to be an unhappy employee from day one, and you will certainly jump to a better paying position at your first opportunity.

Benefits & Perks

Compensation plans include other things in addition to base salary, including:
  • Performance bonuses (either individual, department, group or company)
  • Health insurance (may include Dental, Vision, etc.)
  • 401k / retirement plans
  • Paid vacation time (PTO)
  • Signing bonuses
  • Company vehicle
Get documentation for everything!

The Offer

Once you’ve agreed upon your compensation package, get everything in writing, and I don’t mean email. Employers who are serious will FedEx your written offer, with a form for you to sign and return signifying you have accepted the offer. Caution: just because you have accepted the offer and returned the confirmation, you are not done yet!

Background Checks

reference list screenshot We recommend having a reference list prepared ahead of time. Be sure to approach your references ahead of time and seek their permission to include you. 
Some employers will want to speak directly with your references. I suggest using a personal phone and email contact info, rather than their company information, which helps avoid any possible liability concerns.
Whether your prospective employer calls your references or not, most will conduct background checks, typically using a third-party service provider to do so. These may include drug tests and credit reports. One word of caution on this: false positives can show up on drug tests, and credit reports can be inaccurate. So, you are not home free until you pass all background checks and receive your official start date.

Recommended Reading & References

AJO Career Coach - Mike BallardMike Ballard is an AJO Career Coach & Trainer with 10 years experience providing career transition consulting services to 1,900+ professionals in transition, including C-Level executives, program and project managers, sales managers & account reps, IT, software developers, technicians, engineers, insurance & administrators. Mike specializes in helping job seekers understand hiring technologies and developing effective career marketing strategies to find the right job and employer.