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I say tomato, you say filet mignon? Three tips to avoid salary expectation mismatches

You’ve finally found the perfect candidate and are ready to make an offer. 

It took weeks to go from the pile of applicants to that final choice – managing multiple calendars, chasing down the hiring manager several times, and getting all that paperwork in order, but it’s done! All that’s left is to settle on a salary to fill in that last blank spot on the paperwork. 

You set up that last call but after a few minutes it becomes obvious this isn’t going to work, the expectations are wildly off. Your heart sinks and so does your head as it crashes onto your desk as soon as the call is over. Now you must start all over again.

So frustrating, so common, and luckily, so avoidable. Here are three tips to help avoid the heart-sinking conversations that end up with great candidates parting ways with you over salary. 

Three tips for avoiding late-stage salary negotiation failures. 

1. Know the going rate for the role

Before talking to the first candidate, get a sense of the salary ranges for the role. Ranges should include the level of the role as well as the location. You don’t need to match or beat the average, but it is good to know it, so you know what kind of conversation you are going to have. 

There are several resources that are free to get you started. 

  • Glassdoor and other similar sites. They are crowd-sourced datasets (i.e. people reporting their salaries) so take those numbers with a large grain of salt. 

  • Job boards. Many companies post salary ranges for positions, so you can search for similar jobs to get a feel for the competition. 

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. government maintains extensive data on salary by occupation by State. It is not to the level of the role or or city, but it a great start. The one downside is many don’t find the interface user friendly. However, Career.Place provides a user-friendly view of the Labor Statistics data. Just go to and type in the occupation of interest to see the salary data (it's free and no sign-up required!).

2. Define and communicate the compensation package

This probably should go without saying, but it is missed enough that it has to be said – specify the compensation range up front. Include bonuses, commission, equity, benefits and perks. 

Ideally, advertise the compensation package so candidates can self-identify if it will work for them before anyone wastes their valuable time.

If your salary range is sitting at average or below average (or even if it isn’t), it helps to be prepared with other benefits or selling points.  For example, how is your vacation package or healthcare offering? Do you have an equity grant or profit sharing? What about the culture, is great environment worth taking a bit of a salary cut? Go ahead and get creative – money isn’t everything, at least more money isn’t everything.

3. Do a quick compensation ‘check’ up front

Many are uncomfortable with a salary conversation – cultural norms, discomfort with negotiations, or just a general sense of wanting to get the candidates to ‘fall in love’ with the organization first, for and some reason money is usually the last conversation. This is not wise.

If your organization’s grand strategy includes getting the candidate to really want to work there first before dropping the s-bomb (salary) – at the very least, do a quick check to make sure you are in the same ballpark. Falling in love may cause a candidate to drop a few percent in compensation expectations, but if you are maxed at, let’s say $60,000 and they are thinking $100,000 – there is no amount of love that is going to close that gap. 

This quick salary check be done anonymously through a third party (like a recruiter) or a technology solution. For example, within the first couple of minutes applicants going through the evaluation process are asked what their minimum salary requirements are for the position. They don’t know what the organization is willing to pay, and the organization doesn’t know what the candidates are willing to accept. The technology just makes sure that the two sides are close enough that they are in the negotiation realm, so no one is wasting any time.

I say tomato, you say tomāto, let’s not call the whole thing off

The next time you are gearing up to find that perfect candidate, taking weeks of pains-taking vetting, avoid the heartache of everything falling apart in the 11th hour over salary. Take the time to know the going salary range for the position, specify and communicate the full compensation package to whatever level the organization allows, and check to make sure the compensation works for the candidate early.

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