What are the odds of being caught, and what are the repercussions?
Q: When interviewing, one of the first questions a prospective employer will ask is about your current salary. If you’re offered the job, the new salary will usually be pegged to your current one. So is it OK to embellish one’s current salary if you think you are being paid below market value and you don’t want to perpetuate the problem? What are the odds of being caught, and what are the repercussions?
A: While I’d be suspicious of a potential employer who insists on salary details early in the interview, I do recognize the dilemma. The conventional wisdom, which the Workologist endorses, is to defer talking money until the interview process has gone far enough to let you make the case for what you have to offer (and thus, in effect, what that ought to be worth).
If you’re pressed on the money question before you’re ready, and if it’s a job you really want, there are a couple of potential tactics. One is to say that you’d prefer not to get specific at this stage — your interviewer knows conventional wisdom as well as I do — but just to move things along for now you can provide a range.
Another is to offer a “total compensation” figure, which accounts for the value of nonsalary items such as health care coverage and retirement benefits. (Of course, asking your current company for these details would be awkward, so you may have to do your own estimating; you can search online for total-compensation calculators.)
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Meanwhile, give some thought to what you really believe you’re worth, and why. If you think you’re being paid something below your market value, gather evidence to back that up. (And consider whether that’s a discussion to have with your present employer.) Having a personally believable take-it-or-leave-it number in your head, if not immediately on the table, can be a clarifying exercise.
As for flat-out lying: Surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that people do lie, but don’t do it. Yes, you could get caught, possibly when your new employer finally cross-checks the information you’ve provided — after you’ve already given notice.
But the real reason to avoid this tactic is that it is plainly dishonest. If you find yourself preparing to offer up a number that leaves you worried about “the repercussions” of “being caught,” start over.
Q: Recently, I asked one of my direct reports if she could handle a presentation I was scheduled to give the following day to a small group of managers. I had a scheduling conflict, and it’s material she knows very well.
Before leaving that day, she asked me if she really had to do it, because she had planned to work from home that day. I told her yes, I did need her to do this. The next morning I received a text from her saying she had been “up all night with an upset stomach” and needed to take a sick day.
I don’t feel I can criticize her for taking a sick day; it’s her right to do so as necessary. But I also feel the timing is very suspect. Is there anything I can say to her to let her know that I don’t believe her? I feel this is damaging our relationship.
A: By now, of course, your former direct report is about to head off to the new job she was interviewing for that day. So you can bring this up at the goodbye party.
OK, just kidding: It’s possible that she really was taken ill. Or maybe she just had to go to her child’s soccer game.
But it’s certainly reasonable to be suspicious of the way this played out. And it’s probably smart to figure out a way to investigate. To avoid making that an overtly accusatory conversation, step back to consider what her motivation might have been if she did indeed blatantly dodge what you assumed was a perfectly reasonable responsibility.
For example: Is it possible that something about the request bothered her? Perhaps she feels she’s often asked to do things that aren’t her responsibility. Had she told you in advance about working from home that day (possibly to deal with some personal matter she’d rather not discuss)?
Obviously I’m not suggesting she’s “right” about any of this — since I’m making it all up. The idea is that if you want to repair this relationship, set aside your (understandable) disappointment in her actions so you can figure out what’s behind them.
You might bring up the incident indirectly: “Remember that presentation I asked you to give? I know you got sick and I hope you’re feeling better. But I meant to ask: Is that something you’re comfortable doing?”
Keep it open-ended, so she feels this is an opportunity for her to speak, and you’re there to listen. She won’t miss the context, even though you’re not openly expressing suspicion.
Perhaps the result will be an outpouring of sincere guilt, which you might find reassuring. Or maybe you’ll discover some other disconnect between you and this employee that can be repaired. If so, focus on what happens next and let that past incident go.
If her reply is less productive — anywhere on the spectrum from indifference to defiance — then you may conclude that your dilemma is different. It’s not about how to patch things up with an employee you trust; it’s about how to manage one you don’t trust.
Submit questions to Rob Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.