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Basically I've been to a job interview on a big software company and I was rejected. They didn't give a reason, but I asked someone I know who is working there and he told me that the main reason was that I asked for a high salary, but other than that I was a pretty good match on every other aspect.

During the interview I was asked what was the minimum salary I was willing to work for, which caught me off guard since I was expecting more of an "expected salary" instead of a "minimum", an so I was very objective and said I would only work for at least the same amount as a Phd scholarship. That would be (980€ * 11 months) / 14 months (in Portugal we get paid 14 months a year).

I came up with this figure almost on the spot, thinking it wasn't too high, and I still don't think it's high.

After a month, I was contacted via email stating that I didn't make the cut and that they kept my contact in their database.

So now I'm left with a few questions:

  1. If salary was the only issue, then why didn't they make a lower offer?
  2. Is it normal for a company to ask what is my "minimum" salary?
  3. Do companies really keep rejected applicants contacts or are they just being polite?
  4. If they didn't like me the first time, why would they call me again for a different job?
  5. Should I have taken a different approach to the interview?
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    it sounds like the guy you know might not have been telling the real story. He probably didn't even know the real story. – andi Jun 9 '15 at 15:05
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    A likely scenario is that they felt you were not the best person for the job, and your contact at the company didn't have the heart to tell you that, so he copped out and went with the salary excuse. – Kent A. Jun 9 '15 at 15:24
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    I know it's not central to the topic, but I'm struggling to understand how you fit 14 months into a year.... :/ can you explain? – yochannah Jun 9 '15 at 15:30
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    would not a PHD scholarship be a lot less than you would get as an employee? 980 euros is under £800 a month basically unskilled labour – Pepone Jun 9 '15 at 21:09
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    As others have pointed out I don't think you asking for a "high salary" is the real reason here as not even 1000€ per month is ridiculously low, even in Portugal. Instead, I guess it could have been that it was too low. Especially in bigger companies you normally have a band (or level or whatever) which you are aiming for - If the job is supposed to pay around 40k per year I think many companies would dismiss you because you ask for a way too low salary for this position. – dirkk Jun 10 '15 at 8:34
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Answering all the questions:

  1. It seems that the salary was drastically lower than what you would accept, to the point where it probably wouldn't have made sense for you to move. They probably just figured you wouldn't take it.

  2. Yes, but keep in mind "minimum" means "what the candidate will accept". Generally, you don't want to give a number and instead ask what the salary range for the position is, then go from there. However, I personally believe you did the right thing by asking high. It filtered you out of a job you wouldn't have taken.

  3. Yes, so they can contact you in the future if a job within that pay range opens up. They already know you're good, so they take less risk by having you and waste less time.

  4. You said that the reason they denied you was because you asked for too much, not that you're not good. Usually people who know they're good ask for high salaries.

  5. Next time, don't give a number. Whoever gives a number first in an interview loses. This is contentious among many people, but it's what I have experienced.

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    Your answer has been helpful, but could you please elaborate on point number 5? Is not giving a number some kind of negotiation tactic? Should I never give specific numbers? – Davide Jun 9 '15 at 15:18
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    Don't give specific numbers on the spot. It's ok to say you need some time to think about it. And then ask what range they are budgeting for the position. – andi Jun 9 '15 at 15:22
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    It's also OK to say that you need to see the total compensation (benefits, vacation time, etc) before you talk salary, because salary is just one component of your total compensation and it doesn't make sense to look at it in isolation. – andi Jun 9 '15 at 15:24
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    I think it has to be specified that in Europe the minimum benefits (paid holidays, sick days, pregnancy leave) are mandated by law and everyone usually sticks to that, and health system is unrelated to the employer too. – Formagella Jun 9 '15 at 16:36
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    "The exact salary would depend on the benefits package and the environment, but I'm comfortable with the industry norms." "I don't think I know enough about your company right now to give an exact number, as it depends on a lot of things, in particular your benefits, how raises and promotions are handled, and the fringe benefits. Are you planning to pay a standard salary for this position?" Lots of ways of answering without answering the question. – Joe Jun 9 '15 at 21:54
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If salary was the only issue, then why didn't they make a lower offer?

You gave them your minimum. They already know you would not accept less, so it wouldn't make sense for them to offer less.

Is it normal for a company to ask what is my "minimum" salary?

I'm not sure how to characterize "normal", but it's certainly not that unusual. It's a pretty standard tactic for some companies.

Do companies really keep rejected applicants contacts or are they just being polite?

Most companies keep records of applicants for a long time. Don't read too much into that - they typically keep the same records for poor candidates as for good candidates.

If they didn't like me the first time, why would they call me again for a different job?

They probably won't, and certainly not if they didn't like you.

On the other hand, if a new position becomes available, and they have it targeted for a higher salary level, you might then be considered. And, if the current choice doesn't work out, they may choose to increase the target salary, and invite you back for consideration at that time.

Should I have taken a different approach to the interview?

No. Not unless you were lying about the minimum you would accept. You don't want to work for a company that is paying less than what you need.

Perhaps next time such a question won't catch you off guard, and you'll have your answer ready.

8

"During the interview I was asked what was the minimum salary I was willing to work for, ..."

This is a negotiating tactic. Its purpose is to see if the other party knows how to negotiate. It has become popular because of a television series known as "Hardcore Pawn" in the United States. Short version: The owner of a pawn shop asks this of people looking to sell items. If they answer, he knows they are a weak negotiator and he destroys them.

If a company honestly demands you answer the question, you should say, "I'm sorry - I came here prepared to negotiate, not plead." Then walk out. There is no offer a company such as this has to make to you that is worth your time, as their management style will be similarly inept and ham-fisted.

You should count this as a positive learning experience. Had you been selected, there is almost no chance that this job would have been fulfilling.

Life experience. Your mileage may vary.

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    This particular company is seen as very forward in it's ways by the media. Giving free food to employees, having workshops, gym membership discounts, xboxs for relaxing. I for one think this is a way to get cheaper labor from the young, naive and inexperienced, now that I see they aren't willing to pay a salary that is less than the national average for a qualified position. – Davide Jun 9 '15 at 15:44
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    @Davide - Did you feel that? That's wisdom creeping in. You just figured it out. If they can save 10000€ per employee with a handful of XBoxes and some pizza now and then. BTW - "Free Workshops" = training they should be doing anyway. Gym membership discounts are just legwork, no hard costs (usually). You've got it figured out. – Wesley Long Jun 9 '15 at 15:53
  • -1. I refuse to believe that every single time this question is asked it comes with bad intention and some interviewer demanding an answer implies, with absolute certainty, bad things about management (not to mention that you might not be greatly affected by said management style in the job). You may not believe that either, but your answer sure does make it sound like you do. Walking out in the middle of an interview because they asked a minor variation of something that has to come up eventually seems very silly. – Dukeling Jun 10 '15 at 13:43
  • @Dukeling - I used to think as you do. I had to change my belief in the face of empirical data. "Life experience. Your mileage may vary." – Wesley Long Jun 10 '15 at 17:12
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@Davide: One thing you forget, the PhD program gives you hopefully a PhD, so for a normal job you should ask more. You seem to have already figured out, that your salary suggestion was probably too low, just reinforcing you :)

1

They didn't make a lower offer because they are not able to meet your minimum payment requirements as stated. This isn't common but it reduces a lot of negotiation over salary which can be beneficial for both parties. Companies do keep applicants on file and it's not very uncommon for interviewed candidates to get call backs about better filling positions at a later date. If would have been willing to work for less you should have given a lower minimum number that you would have worked for.

  • "it reduces a lot of negotiation over salary" -- you'll note that they could also skip the negotiation if they start out by telling the employee what the maximum they can pay is. Their goal isn't as such to reduce the negotiation, it's to win the negotiation in one step :-) – Steve Jessop Jun 10 '15 at 2:18
  • @SteveJessop Lots of businesses do offer their maximum out of the gate because the pay for the role is predetermined (ie minimum wage jobs or union jobs). Either method takes pressure off of both parties to be strong contract negotiators. There is some value in that. – Myles Jun 10 '15 at 13:44
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You can research salary ranges online. It's difficult to get a precise idea, because salaries can vary a lot based on the particular type of job, experience, location, etc. For example Glassdoor finds 12k€/year for a [junior] “programmer” (but it has very few samples) and reports a range of 18–41k€ for a software engineer. Payscale gives a range of 11–33k€. Salary Explorer quotes an average of 19k€. There's a lot of variation, but clearly the 11k€ that you asked is very close to the bottom. This is consistent with your asking for the equivalent of a PhD's salary: engineers are better paid than people working on their PhD everywhere I know.

So the explanation that they couldn't meet your salary expectations is unlikely. Either they have another reason that they didn't want to tell you, or the friend you asked didn't know or had heard garbled information. Between the possibility that someone is lying and the opportunities for miscommunication, I don't think it's useful to speculate as to what happened. Just take it as a generic “we don't want you now” and apply elsewhere.

There's a general piece of wisdom that whoever mentions a figure first in a salary negotiation loses. That's not an absolute rule, but it is a good guideline. HR people have more training and experience than the people they're interviewing and so they know they should try to get you to break first, so it happens pretty often. Your reasoning wasn't far wrong if you just completed your Masters and presented it as “I could be doing a PhD now, if I'm going to work in industry I want more” or “I've just completed a PhD, certainly I should make more now”, but you should definitely make it clear that this is indeed a minimum and that you'd be unlikely to accept an offer for that minimum — it would have to come with a lot of advantages. (Beware of unwritten advantages like “you'll be able to work on [topic X]”, they rarely pan out.)

I've heard of some US companies blacklisting people that they've rejected, but that can't be good business, and I've never heard of that in Europe. Keeping someone that they rejected on file and calling them if there's a new, more suitable opening is something that definitely happens. It isn't common, so you shouldn't count on it, but it isn't implausible. If you find a future job offer from that company that looks right for you, do apply normally, don't wait for them to call you.

  • +1 Thank you for giving links to where I can find references to salary ranges. I didn't know those existed for Portugal – Davide Jun 11 '15 at 11:15

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