Job hunt etiquette: How to handle 6 tricky situations

Job hunt etiquette: How to handle 6 tricky situations

What is the polite response when a company goes dark, or tells you that you're the runner-up, not the winner, for example? Use these tips from job hunt experts

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March 12, 2019

4. When the salary question comes up

Salary negotiations prove notoriously tricky to navigate. Even if you go into the conversation prepared, questions remain: Who should name their number first? At what point in the interview? How much back and forth is appropriate? What if you can’t agree?

“Don’t worry,” says Ross. “Legally in certain states, recruiters can’t ask you your salary. However, do ask the range for the role. If your salary is higher or a lateral, you can make a judgement call early in the process on whether or not pursue the role. Or, you can blatantly say you would make a move for $X and see if that fits with their range. If you are a finalist, a bit of transparency on your future salary expectations will shorten the offer negotiations cycle. It’s hard to issue an enticing compensation package blind.”

Spathis also advocates for staring the discussion early in the process. “Addressing it on the front end will avoid the back-and-forth towards the end of the interview process,” she says. “The interviewer may be asking about your past salary to ensure that they make a competitive offer that is within their budget. If you feel that you are underpaid, share where you are at and why you are seeking the number you are looking for. The same way you would talk to your boss about why you deserve a raise, highlight what you can bring to the role and the impact you can make for the company.”

If you don’t want to share your salary history up front, it’s well within your right to hold off. But it’s smart to have a strategy for how you will respectfully delay the conversation.

“Try to move the conversation away from the salary history and towards the role you are going for,” suggests Mark Burgess, head of resourcing for the recruiting firm The Talent Locker. “Remember that you can ask questions too, so this may provide an opportunity to ask what they expect for the role.”

"The more a role matters to you, the more likely you are to make a mistake."

Whatever you do, don’t let the pressure of the situation trip you up, says Burgess. “It is important to not commit to a salary on the spot just because you feel pressured into doing so. The more a role matters to you, the more likely you are to make a mistake. We’ve seen it happen when a candidate says they’d accept a figure that is way below their market value when the company would have offered a much fairer salary.”

You can, of course, name a range if you don’t want to pin yourself to a specific number, says Clem, whose company offers a Salary Guide for IT job seekers to learn the market rate for positions based on their geography. “You can also start your negotiation by letting them know you are not motivated by salary alone and hope to earn fair compensation based on the position’s responsibilities,” suggests Clem.

Whether you give a range or a number, you will have to give the hiring manager something to work with. Being too cagey on this topic could cost you the job, warns Spathis. “Withholding the information, especially if asked multiple times, may cause a hiring committee to move onto another candidate,” she says.

[ You need data to negotiate what you deserve. Read also: 5 top IT salary surveys. ]

5. When a recruiter goes dark

Few things are as disheartening as waiting days or even weeks to hear back after a job interview. Especially if you’ve followed up and gotten no response in return. “Ghosting is real and happening in the job hunting world. We’re seeing that some candidates don’t respond to an employers’ offer or messages, but it also works the other way around,” says Clem.

Stark suggests the following three-step approach when it comes to communicating with a prospective employer.

"You can tell a lot about a workplace based on the hiring process.”

“First, follow up with a phone call and leave a detailed message regarding the feedback or response you are seeking. Be patient and wait three to five business days for a response. If you have not received communication after five days, send an email explaining that you attempted to get in touch with the person via phone and haven’t heard back yet. Reiterate what information you are looking for and remember to be polite and courteous. Since you don’t have visibility into the recruiter’s schedule, you don’t want to come across as impatient or demanding by reaching out too often,” she says.

“Lastly, if another five business days have gone by with no response after the second attempt, you can send a final ‘closure’ email. State something to the effect of, ‘I’ve tried reaching out a few times and unfortunately I haven’t heard back from you. At this point I will consider you not interested in my candidacy and will stop attempting to reach you. However, if something changes and you would like to engage with me in the future, please feel free to get in touch. I wish you well in your search for the right candidate.’ Maintaining professionalism throughout the follow-up is key, even though you may be extremely frustrated. In the long run, you will know that you did not burn a bridge and have left the door open for future connections with that company,” says Stark.

Remember, professionalism and etiquette should go both ways. If you are ghosted, consider what that says about the company, says Ellis. “This is usually a bad sign,” he says. “If this happens with no warning, it's a sign that you aren't a priority or that the company may lack effective communication as a whole. You can tell a lot about a workplace based on the hiring process.”

6. When you come in second place

After several rounds of interviews, salary negotiations, and meetings with potential co-workers, it’s hard not to picture yourself in the new role. That’s why it can feel like a sucker punch to be told it was between you and one other candidate … and they went with the other person.

“Do what you need to do personally to remove your disappointed emotions from your communications with the employer,” says Ellis. “Share that you were very excited for the opportunity and ask if they would consider you for similar roles in the future. If you made it all the way to second place they have already decided that you are capable of doing the job.”

Instead of taking offense, keep an open mind, and ask why, says Ross. “Most times, you can get honest feedback about your interview or communication style that will help you with future interviews. Sometimes, the honest answer is that the hire was just a better cultural fit or had a specific experience that you didn’t. Take the feedback and learn from it. Communication with good recruiters shouldn’t be transactional, it should be informative.”

Stark acknowledges that this could be a tough conversation for both sides. She suggests posing the question: “Are there any reservations you have about my fit for the position that I could address?”

“This gives the interviewer the chance to discuss any gaps in the candidate’s experience that may prevent them from getting the role. At the end of the day, regardless if you know the reason for not getting the position, be polite and respectful and thank the interviewers for their time. Recruiters and hiring managers will remember your professionalism, or lack of, based on how you respond to rejection.”

[ Get more expert advice from leading technology recruiters. Download our one-page IT job interview cheat sheet. ] 

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