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How to answer the compensation question in an interview

Feb 24 '14 19 Last Comment
198kevin
Feb 24, 14 1:33 am

So you've just had a great interview, you feel like your really connecting to your interviewers and you like the firm your interviewing for even more now....and then the question, "what is the hourly rate your looking for?"

How do you answer this? I feel like it''s a guessing game of how much do I want the job and how little I know about what I am worth. Where are some resources to inform me about what a fair compensation is?

 

gruen
Feb 24, 14 2:03 am

Best to sidestep the question and get them to tell you their offer. Say this: "that is an interesting question. Since I am (pick one: new to this city, new to this type of position, a new archi grad, etc) I don't really know what the going rate is...could you tell me what salary range this type of position pays?"

You can do a google search and get more advice on answering this question. It's not unique to architecture.

Jeffrey ParnellJeffrey Parnell
Feb 24, 14 9:00 am

Salary.com should let you know what the average in your area may be, to at least give you a reference so you know you aren't getting swindled. 

LITS4FormZ
Feb 24, 14 9:16 am
DeTwan
Feb 24, 14 9:21 am

I agree with Gruen,

Most of the time (95%) firms know exactly what they are going to offer regarding compensation. It is really just a bullshit question to see first, if you are retarded and want to work for nothing, or if you are out of their 'hiring ballpark'.

I would say that it might be the first red flag that they, the firm is waving. It is important to discuss compensation, but it usually should start on the employers side of the court, not the employee's side. This is especially true for entry level positions. Anyone with substantial work history, in any profession should have a little wiggle room to negotiate wages, but entry level is quite a bit more cut and dry.

I would also start high, and move low especially if you feel you deserve it. If you look at alot of architectural job offerings nowadays, you see employers wanting 'salary history' included with the cover letter, and resume. That is a big red flag, saying, hello all you slaves, please let me know if I can walk all over your back, or how many other employers have walked on your back.

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Feb 24, 14 9:28 am

A Yankee trader never makes the first offer.

bklyntotfc
Feb 24, 14 11:51 am

You're an adult, applying for an actual real job...just answer the question.

You'll be asked this question on literally every interview you ever go on, and should be able to answer it intelligently, not just by saying "this is what I want," but by referencing AIA salary data, Archinect salary poll, etc.  Of course starting high is good...maybe add 10% to what you could live with...but don't go crazy, as you can price yourself right out of consideration.

If someone's asking 50% more than the norm, I don't negotiate with them, I just say "thanks for coming in, we'll get back to you," as I don't think they'd be interested in what we can pay.  If someone asks 15% more than I had budgeted, we can have a conversation about pay.

To me, not answering the question means that you're not prepared, and (for an entry level position) maybe not quite ready to function in the real world.  And yes, that means you run the risk that your ask may be $5K less than they were willing to pay, but that's life.  For all you know, your ask is $5K more than they wanted to pay, but you're worth it and they'll pay extra.

gwharton
Feb 24, 14 12:17 pm

The first person to give a number loses.

quizzical
Feb 24, 14 12:38 pm

^ what bklyntotfc says makes a lot of sense.

gwharton / Miles not so much.

Salary negotiation is not a p**sing match ... it's two people looking for common ground.

won and done williams
Feb 24, 14 12:54 pm

I've always believed in asking for what you believe you are actually worth. This implies a couple things. First, you know what the market-rate salary range is for employees at your level in your area. Two, you understand what your skills are relative to your peers. If you have a kick-ass portfolio, ask at the upper end of salaries. 

The other approach is to ask for what you need. Look at your expenses. How much do you need to live relatively comfortably (rent, SL payments, food, etc.)? Is this amount within reason for your market? Even if it's not as much as you hypothetically "could have made," you can at least rest easy in knowing that all of your expenses are covered. Anything you make above that is gravy.

postal
Feb 24, 14 1:24 pm

see, the problem is that, as employees we think the answer to this question will throw us out of the mix.  To the employers on this site, is that really the case?  Maybe if you're some corporate HR person trolling through many resumes, it might make sense to limit people based on this criteria.  However, I feel that if you feel like you're connecting, the answer to this question isn't going to hurt you.  The employer might have to counter.  Chances are, you're not asking for money that isn't somewhat in line with the dollars that are figured into your billable rate.  (You're not going to ask for Project Architect money when you're an unlicensed intern).

I think it's another way of proving your confidence and your knowledge of the profession.  It shouldn't scare you.  

If you approach your salary with hard and fast negotiation tactics, I think you're locked into that us vs. them.  I don't know, maybe I've just always had a really good relationship with the people I've negotiated my salary with.  A year ago, in an interview I asked for a good chunk.  I asked if that was within the ballpark.  The interviewer said, well  I didn't fall out of my chair, but I'll have to check.  (Of course we had a prior relationship and I was being poached so it was a bit of a different situation.)

So, in summation, I would have to agree with quizzical in trying to find a common ground.  Neither you or your employer want a situation where you will be unhappy.  And market pressures will keep you from asking for something you don't deserve.

mightyaa
Feb 24, 14 6:23 pm

for the 'older' guys, we have more room.

Keep in mind there is 'wiggle room'.  Benefits for example.  To insure my family of five, it's about $1500 per month.  So if it's standard, but my wife has that from her work, I be sure to point that out which means my salary savings to them is already $18k per year than the next guy even though he looks cheaper at first.  Lot's of middle management types who are hiring forget all the soft cost of an employee (or don't know it since someone else handles that). 

Other things I've heard; you have your own subscription to autocad, 3dStudio, or other various equipment (saving them cost to maintain and provide).  Basically there are other ways to look like a 'good deal' even when asking for more than the number they had in mind. 

Also don't forget that when you've been in the business a while, your network of clients, builders, etc. and portfolio (potential new markets to them) also has a way to heavily influence/justify your salary.  I also have my own billings records to show how much I personally brought into the firm over several years.  This would help me justify my outrageous salary requirements when I can prove they should still profit.  Because when it comes down to it, the top end of what they can pay is based on how much they can bill for you.

You can almost reverse engineer it;  A typical overhead rate is about 2.5-3.0.  So whatever hourly rate, like $85/hr they bill at, divide by 3. Roughly $30/hr * 2080 work hours per year = about $62k salary for that position is going to be where their top end is unless you can use above to 'wiggle it' higher.

empea
Feb 24, 14 8:44 pm

M

empea
Feb 24, 14 8:54 pm

Mightyaa lol what the frick sort of argument is "I have my own software licenses?" Have you actually used that?

Anyway as part of the above mentioned clueless middle management I can say that we really do rarely know about "soft costs" for employing someone. That said I would never go first in giving a number when I'm interviewing. It's integral to a person's professionalism to know ballpark what they/a particular job should be paid at. Not knowing this as a job seeker is one of many factors that drive arch salaries into the miserable state they're in. I would never ask someone's salary history off the bat, although if they do ask for what seems to be a preposterous number for their experience / the job in question / both I usually ask what they currently make.

You can most times tell when the interviewee knows their worth and ask a reasonable number, and in my personal opinion this puts them in positive light for me. Not knowing or asking way too much/little is not sign of professionalism in my view. Do your research. The archinect salary poll is excellent at least for US workers.

empea
Feb 24, 14 9:05 pm

Correction mightyaa: have you ever heard that? I just re-read your post

Volunteer
Feb 24, 14 10:12 pm

Since Medical Doctors start about at about $200,000 after residency, I think the term "professional" in many of the above postings is a joke. My gut feeling is that "professional" starts out at $65,000 plus medical and at least a 401k. Anything less and there is nothing professional about it, just putting meat in a seat.

empea
Feb 24, 14 10:35 pm

Volunteer I don't know what posts youre including there, but "professional" in my view has nothing to do with other professions and everything to do with your own one. Doctors and lawyers often make a ton of bread, get over it. Some of them probably don't deserve it but others keep people alive or out of jail. Architects need to get out of their own asses and realize that A. We are not medical or law professionals and B. It's our own fault our salaries suck cause we are all so damn "passionate" we'd happily work for free / minimum wage / whatever. Part of being a professithat is making sure you don't allow yourself to be part of the price dumping that drives down salaries.

empea
Feb 24, 14 10:35 pm

Volunteer I don't know what posts youre including there, but "professional" in my view has nothing to do with other professions and everything to do with your own one. Doctors and lawyers often make a ton of bread, get over it. Some of them probably don't deserve it but others keep people alive or out of jail. Architects need to get out of their own asses and realize that A. We are not medical or law professionals and B. It's our own fault our salaries suck cause we are all so damn "passionate" we'd happily work for free / minimum wage / whatever. Part of being a professithat is making sure you don't allow yourself to be part of the price dumping that drives down salaries.

Volunteer
Feb 25, 14 9:55 am

Actually, newly minted lawyers are lucky to be living in their parents' basement if not in a cardboard box underneath a bridge. The demand for lawyers has cratered at the same time new law schools were opening at a feverish rate, said law schools paying their deans hundreds of thousands of dollars for selling their students a tuition bill of up to $200,000 at the end of which there is no job. And the deans know it. Sound familiar?

mightyaa
Feb 25, 14 1:18 pm

Have I ever heard that?  Yes... autocad, $800/yr.  3dStudio $1200.  Adobe Creative Suite $800. MS Office suite $500, Computer, $3k.  Etc. and a willingness to sign an employee contract that states they will maintain it. It can mean a few grand more in salary.  Usually it's someone who went out on their own creating a failed design firm or contract drafting and got in way over their head.  They are looking for the stability of a regular paycheck.  Honestly though, it doesn't make a big difference to me.

Some other 'negotiation' things.  I can even negotiate telecommute privileges with someone who has their own setup in-lieu of salary increases. Works well for those parents with kids in school, so their hours are 9-3 with the remainder made up whenever they can fit it in.  Working parents... I'm their friend (I'm one too).  Essentially, win/win because I can get them cheaper, and they don't need daycare so they can ask for less because it helps their personal financial situation (and they still come out ahead given the cost of after school daycare) and still get the full benefit package of a full time employee.  Helps that my firm is in the suburbs to attract these kinds.  It also benefits me because I've found it helps maintain low turnover and loyalty... they get 'spoiled' picking up and dropping off their kids then finishing work after they go to bed.

I've even hired 'job share' situations; You work for two firms splitting your time (only done this with a support staff like marketing).  I've hired enrolled students working around their class schedules; Dirt cheap beer money wages.  All sorts of things are negotiable that might affect 'how much' to ask for where we both get what we want.

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