It's the First & Most Important Question of the Interview
This is the first of a two-part series on successful interviewing techniques.
When you sit down for a job interview at a new company, the first question from the hiring manager is rarely going to be, “Why don’t you start out by telling me a little bit about your salary.”
In fact, anyone that’s been on a number of interviews knows that the opening question they’ll most likely be asked is, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
However, just because the topic of salary might not come up until the very end of the first interview -- if at all – it doesn’t mean that the answers you give won’t affect how much you’ll get paid. In fact, the answers you give every step of the way can strengthen your negotiation position and set you up for success down the line.
For this 2-part story, let’s picture Rob, a 26-year-old technical project manager, interviewing for his third job.
Here are some interviewing tips for negotiation success.
Open Strong, But Short
So what DO you say when you’re faced with that opening “Tell me about yourself” question? First, you should rehearse this answer relentlessly to make sure it’s succinct, powerful, and starts off the interview on the right foot.
Since this mini bio can also be used in several areas of your job search, such as an “elevator pitch” when networking, the opening paragraph of a cover letter, or when introducing yourself over email, it’s worth it to hone it to perfection. How do you know you’ve got it down? When you’ve rehearsed it so much that it doesn’t seem rehearsed.
Some people have a tendency to go on too long and try to “sell” the interviewer with your impressive resume right off the bat. Don’t fall into that trap. Make sure to time out your response and keep it under 2 minutes. Here’s why.
Cede Control & Watch What You Say
First, you want to let the hiring manager have control of the interview, especially in the beginning. If you start off the first 10 minutes of a 30-minute interview with a monologue about the details of every job you’ve ever had, you lose the back-and-forth, give-and-take conversation that builds rapport, and it doesn’t allow the hiring manager to structure the interview the way they’re used to.
Second, what you say can hurt you. Let’s say that the advertised position listed several desired qualities such as team management, writing skills, technical chops, and graphic design. You’d be surprised at how often the posted job description can vary from the actual work -- the job listing might have been written by someone outside the department, or the goals of the group might have changed. If you spend 5 minutes talking about your extensive design experience, and it turns out that skill is only needed about 10% of the time, you’ll come off as a poor fit for the position.
Set Yourself Apart
Third, this is not the time to simply recap your resume. Not only will it seem lazy and redundant (after all, the hiring manager probably reviewed it before the interview and has it sitting right in front of them), but this is what every other candidate will likely do. Here is a chance to distinguish yourself from the pack.
What to do instead:
- Cover the early part of your career quickly, but with something memorable
- Summarize your recent jobs with a big-picture perspective
- Throw it back to the interviewer to dig deeper and determine their needs
Get It Down Pat
Here’s an example of how Rob might structure his opening pitch:
“I grew up in Northern California and my family moved to Seattle when I was 8, when my dad took a job at Microsoft. For as long as I can remember, we had all these computers around the house, and as soon as he let me start tinkering with them, I was hooked. I got a Computer Science degree from the University of Washington in 2009, and my first job out of school was installing new web software for small real estate companies to let them be more productive and increase their sales. After two years I joined a startup with an amazing team and was the project manager for their first mobile app launch. When I look back at my experience thus far – and I’m happy to give more specific examples at each position -- my greatest strength has been the ability to spot emerging technology trends and learn them quickly, then work with teams and help companies profitably integrate them into their business. That’s why I was so excited to see your job posting for this project manager position, since it looked like such a great fit. Can you tell me a little bit more about it and the type of person you’re looking for?”
Be Quick & to the Point
Let’s take a look at what this intro accomplishes for Rob:
- Total time: Under 1 minute. Quick and to the point.
- He covers his entire life from age 0 to 21 in 15 seconds flat. However, within that time he very quickly paints a picture of how his upbringing shaped who he was. He doesn’t just use computers, they’ve been an integrated part of his life for as long as he can remember. He could even add another line that makes things even more descriptive, for example, “Our basement was stacked floor to ceiling like a professor’s laboratory, with motherboards, memory chips, and mismatched keyboards ready to be brought to life during our Saturday morning father-son hacker sessions.”
- He summarizes his two jobs quickly, but is able to reference relevant keywords: productivity, sales increases, team members, startup atmosphere, mobile.
- While he doesn’t dive deep into the details of his job, he makes sure he’s not hiding them by offering to give specific examples later in the interview. This lets the hiring manager be able to pick and choose which elements from his resume to explore more thoroughly.
- By mentioning his greatest strength, it shows a degree of self-awareness and of course, is tailored to the position being offered (what manager wouldn’t want someone that can spot future trends?).
- Lastly, he finishes strong, tying things back to the position at hand and prompting the interviewer to expand on what he’s looking for.
The last bullet point is key. At some point near the very beginning of an interview, you want to get the hiring manager to talk about what the perfect candidate looks like. Listen intently! By picking up on the specific requirements of the job, as well as subtle clues, you can tailor your responses during the rest of the interview to match what they’re looking for.
Learn the Importance of a Great First Impression
OK, you’ve started things off on the right foot, which is half the battle. Studies show that people form an impression within minutes of meeting someone, so if you don’t get this part right, you won’t get the job and obviously there won’t be the chance to negotiate.
By being confident, prepared, self-aware, and company-focused, you’ve already set yourself apart from many of the other candidates. When it comes time to negotiate salary later on, you’re going to bring these same qualities to the table.
- You’ll be confident in your strengths
- You’ll have researched the market objectively
- You’ll be able to empathize with the company and their goals
Get Ready to Negotiate
Next week, we’ll look at the rest of the elements needed throughout the interview to set you up for negotiation success. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you're made an offer you should negotiate salary. It can be tough, but that's where we come in. Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.
The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.