Dodging this curly interview question? It could have a lifelong impact03/07/2023
Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” Coinciding with International Women’s Day this week: tackling the dreaded money question at an interview, feeling like a ‘diversity pawn’, and issues of ageism in job searches.
I am going for a new job and dread the interview question about salary expectations. I am young, the only female in my role in my current workplace and I know I am not paid well, so I want to avoid mentioning my current salary because they will think that is the starting point. I don’t know how to avoid answering the question. What do you recommend?
This is the question most people find the hardest to answer; you are not alone. As a woman, research shows it can also widen the gender pay gap over the course of your career, so this question really does matter. There are a few schools of thought about whether you should be the first to say how much you want, or whether you let the recruiter or employer tell you what is on offer. My preferred approach is to wait until you are told what the salary on offer will be. That gives you a starting point then to understand where your expectations sit relating to that offer.
If you can get them to tell you what is on offer first, regardless of the number, play it cool. It may be the salary on offer is much more than you are on now. I would just calmly say, “OK, thanks. That is in the general range of my expectations, too.” Save your screaming excitement for home. If the number is a lot less than you were hoping for, at least you know what you are dealing with. This is when you can say something like, “It would be good to understand the scope of the role a little more clearly since that is quite a lot less than I am paid now.” At that stage, you are bound to be asked what you would need to entice you and that is where you can give the range you had hoped for.
There is a recent article that goes into much more detail about how to navigate these tricky salary conversations which will help you be well-prepared for your next interview.
I work in a male dominated industry and myself and the few other women in the office are sick of being “diversity tokens”. In tenders the company submits, we’re often in the proposed team structures even when there is no intention of us actually undertaking the work. This also happens with marketing material. The last person who brought it up as an issue was simply told, “Don’t worry, it’s just to demonstrate diversity.” Any advice? on how to bring this up with senior management again?
My advice? Get out of there. I wish I could reassure you that dinosaurs will change, but sadly, they still roam the earth, and it sounds like you are working with some. If you have leaders in 2023 including you and your female colleagues in marketing documents simply to wash over the fact they are lacking in diversity at all, and then having the audacity to verbalise their lack of belief in diversity at all, then there is little hope of change. You and your talented female colleagues are better off finding a workplace that will value all you bring and will seek out your diverse views knowing it will result in a more successful business, a stronger bottom line and a better working environment. Run, don’t walk.
Recently, I was left feeling a bit baffled after one of my job interviews. I have the appropriate training, qualifications and experience in the industry I am seeking work in. After applying for many positions, I got an interview but then, at the interview, they seem to keep moving the goal posts. What do you think older women workers like myself should do to get back into the workforce?
It sounds like you have all the skills on paper that you may need but the interview itself was challenging. It is hard to know from your email whether that was due to a mismatch of expectations or whether you were experiencing age discrimination.
It may be worth getting some help from a recruiter in your industry or someone who can help review your applications and CV to advise you on any areas that may increase your chances of getting an interview and succeeding in the interview itself. In that particular interview, were you able to get any feedback? I suspect right now the more objective feedback you can get the more you will be able to tailor your approach next time.
All that said, there is no doubt age discrimination is a real issue, and particularly for women. It is a pervasive issue and one that is very hard to nail down or necessarily point to, then and there. It may take a little longer to find the right role for you but hopefully with some external help you will find an employer who values the additional experience and expertise you bring.
Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.
Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an author, columnist and company director. Her latest book Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership (Penguin Random House) is available now.
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