Illustration by Rob Donnelly.

The Careerist: Toughest Interview Question: “What are your salary requirements?”

May, 2017

Q: Help! I changed jobs recently and now I work from home three days a week. I thought it would be amazing, staying in my pajamas, working on my own schedule, tossing a load of laundry in occasionally. But the truth is, I see everything that needs to be done at home and I’m making myself crazy. Our laundry is perfectly washed, dried, folded and put away; the garage is neat and organized; and all of our drawers are neatly arranged in that Marie Kondo style of folding that was all the rage last year (even if I still don’t quite get it). The problem is I never find time to actually work. Help me before I get fired!

A: Oh, my friend, why do we think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence? You’ve got to water, fertilize, mow and weed-pick that grass for it to be green. Getting rid of that dreaded office gig was what you most looked forward to – sleeping late some days, pajamas every day, catching daytime TV occasionally. But the problem is: That’s not working from home. That’s a sick day.

Productivity and work-life balance studies support the notion that telecommuting is likely to increase productivity and make for happier employees. A recent FlexJobs survey reported that only 7 percent of workers say they are most productive in the office, 51 percent say they get more done working at home, and almost 70 percent like it because they don’t have to contend with so many meetings and office politics.

But all that assumes you’re actually getting the work done. Another study done by Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor and productivity expert, found that, while productivity typically increases and happier workers result, some people just aren’t cut out for it. “Not everyone wants to or is disciplined enough,” he told Harvard Business Review.

As someone who has worked remotely extensively, I can back up what all the experts and studies find. It takes discipline and four critical elements to make it work:

• ROUTINE: Set one and stick to it. Figure out your most productive hours and work on your most critical projects in that window. Yes, you can do it in your pajamas, although plenty of experts argue that dressing for success is real – whether in the corner office or the home office.

• BOUNDARIES: Set them and protect them. Your laundry isn’t your only enemy. So are your friends, family, neighbors and those pesky hangers-on. They see you working from home and think free babysitting, midday surfing, shopping on a whim or a spontaneous Olomana hike. If you wouldn’t dare skip out of the office for it, why would you consider it now?

• BREAKS: No matter how good you are, you need breaks. Remember the water fountain at the office? Toss that load of laundry in. Check Facebook. Go for a run. But then get back to work.

• WORK SPACE: No, your bed doesn’t count. Set up a space daily for you to work, even if it’s your kitchen table or lanai. That space is your office, so treat it that way.

If it’s still not working, pack your laptop and head to a coffee shop. Or back to your office. You may be one of those folks Professor Bloom talked about, and that’s OK. Chances are you’ll have plenty of prime office space to choose from and fewer people who will swipe your lunch from the company refrigerator. You can tend that lawn – and the laundry, gutters and garage – on the weekends like everybody else.


Q: I’m interviewing for a new job outside my current company. Nothing’s wrong here, but there’s limited upward mobility and I am looking for a greater challenge. My resume is strong, I’ve got a good network of professional people, and I’m getting interviews. But I trip up every time they get to the money question. Everyone asks it differently: “What are your salary requirements?” or “How much are you making now?” or my favorite, “What do you need to make?” (That last one implies that, as long as my basic food and shelter needs are covered, I’m good. But no, not so much.) What am I supposed to say?

A: How I shudder when prospective employers ask that question! It makes you feel like they don’t want to pay you a dime more than they have to – which is exactly the point.

I turned to my go-to recruiter in Honolulu, Barbara Guss, for her best counsel on how to respond without tanking any chances you might have of getting the job (and the salary you deserve). “It’s tricky and it has to be done with confidence,” she says. “I always tell my candidates to say, ‘While compensation is important to me, I want to make sure that I understand the scope of the responsibilities and the expectations so I can properly assess my suitability.’” Bam! Like she says, you’ve got to do it with confidence, so make sure to practice that mouthful in front of the mirror a few times.

If the employer persists (and the employer most likely will), Guss suggests countering with something like this: “I would hope that after you consider my experience and my skills, you will make me your best offer.” Mic drop. They asked. You responded. They tried again, and you kept your dollars tucked safely in your pocket.

Remember that salary is only one part of your compensation, and you should inquire about the rest of the package. How strong are the benefits? What about paid time off (PTO), holidays and sick leave? Don’t forget the 401(k), wellness programs, work-life balance, flexible work hours and other employee perks. Employers today are incentivized to do more than the basics to keep good employees. After all, you deserve more than a pittance to cover those basic housing and food needs, and they need someone who can navigate with the confidence it took to get through that prickly conversation.

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