Hey, data scientists and software engineers, this one's for you. There’s one simple rule to increase your salary by up to 50%...that rule is… wait for it… hmm… it doesn't exist. Sorry. Nevertheless, there are ways to shine in a job interview, secure a position in your dream company, and double or triple your existing salary.
Since I’m not an HR professional myself, I interviewed HR veteran Simona Bareikė, who provides expert advice to software engineers, and Turing College co-founder Benas Šidlauskas, whose role focuses on placing hiring data scientists & analysts.
Hunting for the ‘one simple rule’
Simona claims that following the promise of ‘one simple rule’ to improve your career outlook is looking for shortcuts and outplaying yourself. In terms of career progress the one-size-fits-all rule simply doesn’t exist. On the other hand, using other professionals’ ‘success recipes’ for inspiration and self-analysis can really help. In her opinion, the best route to success is to follow a formula that will help everyone assess their personal and professional capabilities, and answer all the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’.
‘We often imagine professional changes, salary upgrades, career upgrades and other events related to career “improvement” as difficult, demanding actions that will require giving up something, feeling discomfort, but it doesn't have to be that way. There is no one rule that is suitable for everyone, but after doing some homework on yourself, your skills, your inspirations, what kind of impact you want to make, etc. can be put together as a “simple formula”’, says Simona.
For his part, Benas adds that there are approaches you can take that will always help you to find a job faster and obtain a better salary: consistency and an interest in the company.
‘From our experience, we see that those who plan a weekly job search and stick to it, find a job two to three times faster than those that don’t. Thus, the chance of even having several offers at the same time increases. Anyone who has multiple offers to consider is already in a much better position to negotiate their salary. We have observed that companies usually keep a ‘buffer’ of between 15 and 20% to raise the salary when a candidate reaches the final stage of a job application process. Companies can tell whether you are desperate or not. If you can use the fact that you have another option, it means you can negotiate a better salary. Two to three times better, actually. It’s worked for Turing College alumni’, says Benas.
If you like a particular company, Benas adds, if you are interested in its activities, you can simply message the company, express your interest in working there, ask questions and indirectly show that you are very interested in possibly joining them.
"We've had many cases of candidates wanting to get a job in the company of their dreams, when there were no vacancies publicly advertised. Contacting the tech leads of a company helped them secure a job in those companies’, says the Turing College co-founder.
What does ‘do your homework’ mean ahead of a job interview?
When I talk to HR professionals, I often hear them say ‘you need to do your homework,’ but what exactly does that mean? How do I know when I’ve done enough homework?
As an in-house HR officer, Simona has conducted over 5,000 interviews (impressive!). In her opinion, preparation starts with gathering information about the organisation and the product or service they are creating, the technologies used, the seniority of colleagues, the prevailing culture in the organisation or the position for which you are applying, but first of all, you should invest in some quality time thinking about yourself.
‘So now, when advising clients on job search issues, I first invite you to take a step back and take an inventory of yourself, thus creating a clear, holistic picture, from which it becomes easy to give information about who you are, what your strengths are, what impact you can create for the organisation, what you want, what motivates you and then ultimately what you are looking for. Then the job interview itself rises to a completely different level, to a really sincere and interesting conversation, an exchange of information and a discussion,’ says Simona.
How to prepare for a job interview to get a better salary and more and avoid looking ‘desperate’
Simona and Benas have helped pull together some guidance that will help you become a leading candidate in any job interview and achieve what you want – and not only a better salary.
Prepare communication about financial expectations
This is a tough one for many of us. According to CareerBuilder, more than half (55%) of candidates don’t try to negotiate a pay raise. Worse still, women tend to request lower salaries. So money is often a more sensitive topic during interviews for different reasons: sometimes we’re afraid to express our expectations or we’re afraid of not being selected for a position because our financial expectations might be too high. The salary topic takes some getting used to, but it’s crucial to get right.
A good start is to do some research and find out about standard salaries for your position in the market. Don’t forget that it also depends on the country in which you are hoping to work in.
But, according to Simona, you don’t always have to name a specific figure. You can suggest several amounts, for example, you might not have the experience as stated in the job ad, but the field of work is very interesting to you and you’re a fast learner – negotiate a starting amount with the possibility to increase this if you have met clear goals after a specific period of time.
During the interview, it’s always wise to find out what salary system is in place in the organisation before stating your expectations. If the salary is reviewed every few years, this information is likely to influence the starting amount you ask for.
Additionally, gather information about all of the other employment benefits. For example, maybe you had private health insurance in your last job that covered gym membership or medical expenses, and the job you are being interviewed for doesn’t offer this. In these situations, you should add your personal expenses to the salary you are requesting.
Lastly, don’t forget the additional 15 to 20% salary ‘buffer’ that Benas mentioned, which companies usually hold back for the desired candidate.
Interviews are often seen as ‘high stakes’ environments and cause many to experience nerves and anxiety both before and/or during. It might seem like a simple thing, but according to Benas, mastering your nerves is something that candidates too often neglect to address. A growing number of studies show that breathing techniques are effective against stress and anxiety. If job interviews are very stressful for you, simple breathing exercises such as inhaling for 5 seconds, holding your breath for 5 seconds, exhaling for 5 seconds, waiting for 5 seconds, inhaling again for 5 seconds, if repeated several times, is an amazing stress relief for most people.
‘No matter how banal it sounds, before every interview, even if you are in a desperate situation, you must arrive with a clear head’, says Benas.
Organise your LinkedIn profile
The internet is full of tips on how to manage your LinkedIn profile (here is one very helpful article from LinkedIn professionals), but Benas wants to add a couple more rules: avoid announcing that you're ‘Open to opportunities’, also manage your headline (without using these 10 buzzwords), don't add ‘seeking’ or ‘looking’ for. Instead focus your headline on your target.
Having the correct approach to a job interview and your position within it
Job interviews should be seen as a mutual introduction and exchange of information, during which the candidate and the company meet for a chat.
For example, if a junior engineer candidate comes to an interview with the Head of Engineering, who has significantly more experience, the junior engineer may doubt their own experience and start thinking ‘I can't do anything compared to them’. In this case, the optimistic outlook and confidence that the candidate arrived with will probably diminish pretty quickly. So when you catch yourself on a negative or judgmental spiral,take a second or a sip of water, and bring yourself back to a positive state of mind. Share the information they want from you about your skills, the work you've done, your greatest achievements or proudest moments without any judgement and in a positive manner.
Holding the attitude that this is an equal conversation makes it much easier to ask and share anything else that is important to the interviewer(s).
Prepare real examples and situations from your work and/or other activities that reflect your personality, work style, motivation, and strengths, etc. Think of real life examples that demonstrate your skills so you are able to communicate these clearly.
‘If a candidate asks if whether is possible to start the working day at 11am or 12am, for one company it may be completely OK, for another – not so much. But if the question starts by introducing some context to the situation such as ‘I want to help my wife with the morning routine for our three children, so I'd like options a), b) and c) in agreement with clear outcomes that both parties can agree on’ it will provide the recruiter with all of the necessary context and it sounds completely different’, says Simona.
Ask for feedback
According to Simona, an incredibly common phenomenon in the job market, is the failure to provide candidates with feedback after an interview. For the candidate, this information is valuable and vital to helping them prepare for future interviews, and equally, it’s a nice opportunity to thank the candidate for their time.
Therefore, during interviews, you have every right to ask whether you can expect feedback after the selection process, both positive and negative. If you don’t receive anything, drop them an email asking them to elaborate for example, ‘Communication about soft topics is not my strong point. Please could you give me some feedback on how I managed to introduce myself in these topics?'.
Don't underestimate yourself
Often, during interviews you might be asked to evaluate yourself: how do you rate your programming knowledge with language x? How do you rate your English language skills, etc. We don’t usually know who we are up against and what level of expertise and knowledge they might have, so it's better to provide as much information as possible about the given topic, but avoid judgement.
‘So, if for example you are asked about your English language skills,share how many years you have been using the language, how much of it you use in your work, etc. This will be an excellent answer from which additional questions will be asked if needed,’ adds Simona.
Be sure to mention hobbies, interests or pursuits you have been doing for a long time. For example, a particular sport you play.
‘This shows that you are someone that perseveres at things, you have goals and dedication. And this is a great value for a recruiter’, says Benas.