Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Question: If a job application asks you to list your salary preference, does it put you at a disadvantage to say “salary negotiable”? If an application requires you to give an actual salary figure and you don’t know the salary range, what’s the best practice for dealing with the question? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Typically, an employer asks for a salary requirement to identify early in the process job candidates whose salary needs may be larger than what the position can pay.
Putting “salary negotiable” on your application doesn’t necessarily put you at a disadvantage unless you appear overqualified for the position. In that case, the recruiter might assume your salary expectations will be too high. But a good recruiter will ask you about your expectations early in the process – likely in an initial screening interview – so no one’s time is wasted.
As for setting a salary expectation, you don’t want to undersell your talents, but you also don’t want to price yourself out of consideration.
It’s always good to consider what you believe your true market value is. Do some homework to determine comparable salaries for jobs in your area. Career websites such as CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com have salary tools that can help you determine your market worth and offer typical salaries for various job titles and responsibilities.
From HR’s perspective, the key to salary negotiations is to find the “sweet spot” – that is, a salary well within the desired pay range for the position but that also considers the candidate’s education, knowledge, experiences and skill set.
As a job candidate, you probably have a magic number in mind – whether it corresponds with the job you’re currently doing or reflects what you anticipate earning in the job you seek. But it’s important not to overestimate your worth.
Once you’ve done some research, provide the potential employer with a reasonable range that includes your sweet spot and some flexibility in case the position does not pay as anticipated.
Many job-seekers get stuck on this question, so please know you’re not alone. Doing some research and using available tools can set you up with a good ballpark number.
Q: Are there ways to figure out a company’s culture before committing to a job? What interview questions can help you determine if a company’s culture is a good fit for you? – Anonymous
Taylor: Many job candidates do not consider an employer’s culture before taking a job. That’s a mistake, since finding the right culture fit is important to your success and happiness at work.
Because there are different types of organizations – from nonprofits to family businesses to public companies – it sometimes can be difficult to figure out a company’s overall culture. That’s particularly true for large organizations with multiple locations, each with unique workplaces.
But asking a few specific questions during an interview can help you determine whether a company is the place for you.
Start by looking at how the employer treats and recognizes its employees. You could ask whether there are incentive programs for good performance, such as bonuses or pay for performance. How are employees rewarded for their good work?
You also could ask whether the company promotes camaraderie and appreciation through company-sponsored events or perks throughout the year. Are team-building activities scheduled regularly? Are there opportunities to work across departments? Are strong performers given opportunities to move up? Is there ongoing training? Does the company participate in community-service projects?
A company’s beliefs and values make up its culture. As the #MeToo movement has shown us, a workplace must have a healthy workplace culture – one in which all employees are treated with dignity, respect and civility.
A company’s culture also is evident in communication from its leaders. How do executives reach out to employees? Are ethics addressed? When problems arise are they resolved?
Granted, you might not learn the answers to all these questions. Nevertheless, be sure to talk with everyone you interview with. This will give you the broadest sense of the workplace. Ask them common questions such as, “What do you like about working here?” or “I see that you’ve worked here for several years. What keeps you here?”
The key to determining whether an organization’s culture fits you is knowing what you need as an employee and asking the right questions to help determine whether you would feel fulfilled there.