Online job boards – Answering tough questions

During one of my lectures on job search sites, a participant asked, “What about those tough questions about salary and travel…how should I answer them?” I knew exactly what he was asking, because I had fretted over answering those same questions during my last job search. “What if I leave off the salary, will they not consider me? How much travel do I need to accept if the job posting doesn’t say? Am I limiting my opportunities by not being willing to relocate?” So, I’ll address these “tough questions”, but you’ll need to make the decision about how to answer them.

Are you willing to relocate? (Yes/No)

I really want to answer, “Maybe” — but that’s not a choice. To help you determine an answer, let me ask you a few other questions:

1) If they offered you an excellent salary, would you consider moving?
2) Are you absolutely bound to your current geography?
3) Is there a support network where they might move you?

I’ve personally always answered the relocation question as “Yes”. If the compensation was adequate (say around a 7-digit salary), I’d relocate almost anywhere. For me, it’s a balance of compensation versus inconvenience. Sometimes you can’t relocate due to external issues (aging parents, legal issues, etc.), so saying “no” might be necessary. But think hard on this…is your answer based on a valid constraint or just a preference?

Outside of these first two options, you have to decide if it makes sense to move to a new city, state or country. I would hate to be stranded in a strange city, far from friends and family, when the company pulled the plug on my new job. So, I’d advise the safe approach of accepting relocation only to locations where you have a support system in place in case you need it. Moving to within 50 miles of friends or relatives gives you access to resources that you might need to get settled in or to even help out if the job opportunity falls through once you’ve moved.

So, my recommendation for relocation is to say “Yes” online, but when they talk with you, your answer can be “Yes…it depends.”

How much are you willing to travel? (0% – 100%)

Sometime the posting doesn’t indicate if it’s a travel job or not. So what’s the best answer? First, determine if you can travel at all! Some people have physical limitations or other valid reasons to travel only rarely…if at all. You probably want to go ahead and mark 25% even if you can handle only a couple of days a month. This gives the recruiter a realistic idea that you can travel, but only rarely. In general, if you can handle a modest amount of travel, go ahead and mark 50%, as this sets the tone with the recruiter that you can do what the job requires, but you value a certain work-life balance.

If the job posting says that it’s a travel position, then the recruiter is probably filtering off anyone that selected less than 50%. There are many consulting jobs where you fly out on Monday morning and return on Friday night. These are a bit less common than they used to be, but the job posts usually indicate it clearly as a “high travel” job and the recruiter expects you to answer 75% to 100%. If you can’t handle being out of town for at least 3 of every 4 weeks for the next 18 months, then answer truthfully at 50% or less.

For a basic rule of thumb…answering 0% or 100% usually indicates you are inflexible or you are overly anxious to land a job. Generally you should avoid these two values unless you want to send that message. Think about the next 12-18 months when responding to this question…and feel free to negotiate when you talk to them. You aren’t making a commitment with this information, you’re just providing guidance.

Desired Wages or Salary?

This is a tough one. There are two schools of thought on this. If you leave it blank, then the recruiter might favor a person that has listed their salary. However, if you enter it, you might be eliminated because your compensation requirement was outside the recruiter’s preferred range. What do you do?

First, you need to understand your Worth and your Baseline. How much is someone else, with your similar skill set, worth in today’s market? You might try exploring, or a salary link, or to the salary info at CareerOneStop or the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what’s the norm in your geography. Next, look carefully at your budget and expenses. Cut out the non-essential things (Cable TV, sports club membership, etc.) and get down to just what you need to feed your family and keep from going bankrupt. That’s your baseline. Now, you should have 4 salary points…your baseline, your current/recent salary, the industry averages, and of course your desired salary.

Second, decide where you are in the job hunt. For example, if you have been unemployed and your funds are getting tight, entering a number between your baseline and your geography salaries increases the odds that you’ll be contacted. If you’re employed and looking for a change, then using a number between your geography and your current salary is a good choice. If you’re looking for an advancement and expect that your strong resume is enticing enough, you can fore-go posting the salary or you can list your desired salary.

I suggest you try it out a couple of different ways over the period of several weeks. Track the contacts you’re getting and decide which one is working the best for you.

Bottom Line: Questions about salary, travel, and relocation are common on job or career sites. Assess the level of travel you can handle, but avoid the 0% and 100% answers. For relocation, I always like to say I’m open to considering it, but if you absolutely can’t move, then state it. And before you answer any questions about salary, understand your budget, your worth, and your geographic impact on wages. But when in doubt, leave these questions blank.

(Updated 4/18/2013)

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