Sunday, December 21, 2008

What is the value of your work?

I had a job interview not too long ago. It was a first stage interview where the organization asked some preliminary basic questions about my availability, willingness to travel, etc. Just as everything seemed to be going well, out popped the inevitable question of salary expectations.

Now, I was prepared for that question and prior to the interview,  had rehearsed the appropriate answer in my mind. I was ready to give the standard answer of how I feel that the salary offered should be compatible with my qualification and work experience. However, I am willing to consider whatever salary they are planning to offer me.

So feeling slightly smug that I had nailed the question well, the interviewer persisted in asking me to provide her with a figure. I tried to avoid giving her a straight answer and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, I have no idea at all what is the range of salary given by this specific organization. Since it is not the United Nations, I assume that it is much lower and I don’t expect anything close to it. However, it is an international organization with its headquarters in San Francisco and the job I applied for is a regional managerial position. So, it can’t be that low. But there is no way for me to know unless she tells me.

Secondly, I didnt really want to give her a much lower figure than what the organization is willing to offer lest they may take advantage of the situation and pay me less than what I would  have deserved. I also didn’t want to appear humble by undermining my own value.

I tried to approach her question cautiously because I felt that whatever answer I eventually gave her would be crucial in determining whether I would get to the second stage of interview. If I gave too high an expectation, they would think that I am too “expensive” and hence eliminate me. If I gave too low, then I could potentially decrease my own value and lost whatever bargaining power I might still have.

My attempt to stick to my original line did not work as she insisted that I gave her a numerical answer, rather than just blah blah blah….and in the end, I caved in. I gave her a figure which to me, was reasonable according to the Malaysian standard (how would I know what is the American standard?)

I don’t know. Sometimes, I feel like I am short changing myself and I am never good at negotiating  to my own advantage. My friend said that I am a lousy haggler.   I just think that negotiation is not all about one party getting the most out of it, but for both parties to be satisfied with the outcome.

With this job, I am not expecting to be paid ludicrously well because I need to keep in mind that it is a non-profit making organization. My expectations should be reasonable. However, I think I deserve to be paid reasonably well for my qualifications, experience and work ethics.

I think, an organization should not be the only one who has the right of asking  this sort of question to potential candidate. Instead, the latter should be able to ask how much value would the organization place on his/her professional qualifications. Unfortunately, many interview guidelines would tell you that it is never appropriate for the interviewee to pop that question.

Potential employees are always made to feel that they are beneath the organization and hence at their mercy. Let’s face it, unless you’re being head hunted or professionally recognised, you don’t really have much power to negotiate anything.

For me, the important thing is that I stay honest to myself and the organization. I will not ask for more, but I won’t settle for less as well. Neither unreasonable expectation nor fake humility will get me what I want.

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