This is a question that all Prostitutes and Serious job seekers hear way too often. Although certain employers offer a fixed salary that saves people the stress of negotiating their skills and assets, others unfortunately do not. And even though this is a perfectly legitimate question to ask a potential employee, in the age of unpaid labor and in many fields gradual replacement of paid staff by eager interns, I wonder if this is the right question to ask a potential candidate anymore.
In my career in Job Searching I have been asked to give a price many times. As with asking everything else in life, asking for a price can have a positive or negative result. Just ask nicely and no damage is done even when the numbers don’t match. Like that time in Shanghai when I was interviewed by a young American born Chinese entrepreneur. He asked for a number, I gave him one. He kindly and straightforwardly replied this was outside his range. Our interview ended in a dignified way and all I remember now is his beautiful face and not an uncomfortable conversation.
Having been interviewed many times in the UK, China and Greece my experience always varies. My worst experiences have been by far in my native Greece and both times it was for two different Shipping companies, which represent by far the most prominent industry in Greece. For both jobs I was referred by someone, so bear in mind this might also had something to do with it.
Interview A and I am there for an Executive Secretary vacancy. Executive Secretary for the Big Boss, to be precise. I show up in time dressed in my most professional looking clothes: black trousers, white shirt, black blazer and heels. I have flown in from London for this interview and I have covered my own expenses too. I realize I am to be interviewed by the Big Boss’s daughter as the first part of the interview. I hold my resume nervously as she opens the door. She looks very young, wears jeans, a simple jumper and ballet pumps. She looks bewildered to see me all dressed up. We discuss a bit about my CV. When we finish she tells me there is a number of other people I need to see as part of the process. From her positive attitude I feel like she gives me the ok to move to the next stage of the interview.
For the next 2-3 hours I am sent to see at least 4 or 5 other people. In fact I am thrown like a ping pong ball from office to office and I am asked to repeat everything from the beginning. I do so but in the end I feel sick. My mouth is dry, I have a headache and I feel like fainting. I meet lots of people in high positions that belong to the close circle of the Big Boss but not the BB himself. A blonde plump woman in a high position tells me that the previous Executive Secretary left the company because she had a bad attitude. “She had worked in Shanghai and thought she was better than anybody else.” she says.
Last stop: the HR office. By then I have already realized that these people are not going to hire me. They are just inspecting me like a rare plant during their coffee breaks.
“So how much you want?” asks the HR man.
I leave the company almost 3 hours later. At the exit I run into the Big Boss’s daughter waiting for her driver bring the car. There is a sad and somehow frightened expression in her eyes. “Good Luck” she whispers as we say goodbye. There is a national strike and there is no transportation to go home. I sit on a bench in an empty bus stop for a while and try thinking my experience through.
Interview B. I am referred to a prominent owner of a Greek Yachting empire (not so prominent as the first guy though) by a very kind dear friend who wants to help out. This second guy is different from the first one: He is not the conservative “old money” type but rather a “liberal leftist past” guy. You get the picture.
This guy is trying to open up his business in China and is looking for people who have relevant experience. I know nothing about specific vacancies or needs that the company has. The liberal past personality begins to manifest itself very early. I get a number of phone calls on my cell phone from the Big Guy himself. After introducing himself on the very first phone call he asks directly:
“How much you want?” (Greek Πόσα θες?)
How much I want to do what? In my knowledge accounting is different from translating as is serving coffee while lap dancing.
At some point he asks me to meet him briefly one afternoon at a central 5 star hotel where he gives a speech at a conference about the Future of Shipping in Greece. Five minutes before I arrive for our 13:30 appointment I get a text from him: “I am the guy giving a speech at the podium right now”. After his speech I meet him briefly and we have a short but friendly chat.
On the same afternoon I get a serious call from a professional sounding secretary that informs me that I have an appointment with the guy’s son in law at their central offices. I show up at 7pm for my interview, it appears I am the last appointment of the day. Sitting comfortably on the leather sofa among the matching dark leather walls, I can hear him in his office chatting away in English with a client.
The Big Guy’s son in law is famous not only as a businessman but also for his prestigious career passage at Goldman Sachs, as well as frequenting the social columns with his handsome fat free physique. He finally appears showing his guest out, and after shaking the other man’s hand cordially, he glances at me and with a nod shows me his office door. I follow him silently. He does not say anything and does not shake my hand.
Sitting smugly at his glass desk and pretending to inspect my CV, he starts quoting the reasons why my experience does not look suitable for the role. (What role is that exactly?) “We have one person working at our Shanghai office right now” he says “It is a Bulgarian woman, we are happy with her services and are not looking to hire anyody else”
I stare at him pissed off. I am not sure if he realizes it because he is just so full of himself. Ignoring his arrogant speech, I try to show him I am tired and just want to hit the road.
“That’s me” I say staring at him expressionlessly. This time I know better.
He finally understands and the smug expression disappears from his face. “Where exactly did you meet X?” (Our common friend) he asks curiously.
“I met him in the street by chance.” I lie taking my revenge.
He shakes my hand and we say goodbye relieved to get rid of each other.
And somewhere here comes my experience in the Greek public sector to give a happy note to it all. A couple of weeks into the job and I still could not get a clear response from anyone about how much I earned.
Whenever I went down to the HR and asked that question it was like I was asking people the color of their underwear. People went pale and looked at me like I was crazy. Their expression read
“You got the job, now what do you want?”
A colleague of mine finally gave me the solution:
¨I was like you when I started; I got no replies about my salary from anyone. My mother advised me “Give it time daughter”.
Finally at the end of the first month I went to the bank and checked my balance.
And I was so thrilled; it wasn’t that bad after all…¨