Addressing Salary Expectations in a Job Interview

Two women talking at a table, discussing salary

There may not be any job interview question more sensitive or with the most potential to damage your chances than “what salary are you looking for?”. Not only is it difficult for many people to discuss money in general, but this question also requires a balance between the highest you can ask for without being no longer considered.

It is one of the most important questions to answer. It is important to address this question with tact and at the right time. It’s important that the employer know that you’re not only working for the money.

 

Research Your Probable Salary Ahead of Time

If you think there is even the slightest chance of being asked this question, it’s best to do your research ahead of time. It’s always a good idea to know if the offer is equal to what else is out there. If the company is full of bells and whistles, but the pay doesn’t match the market, there is usually a reason.

Check competent and reliable sources like the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics and search by industry. If your industry isn’t covered there, you can also check Payscale81cents is also a good resource, particularly for women and minorities.  Some people prefer Glassdoor, but the information is less reliable because it depends on who voluntarily gives their information which isn’t verified by Glassdoor or a third source. If the industry or company is small or so niche, you may have to rely on them instead.

The important thing is that you go into that interview armed with the information of what kind of pay your experience in the industry should pay you.

 

Choose The Right Time

Discussing your possible salary is a delicate matter. Don’t mention it in your cover letter or resume. Usually, by the end of the interview, the hiring manager will mention what they’re willing to offer or will ask what you’re looking for. If you’re called by a recruiter, then it’s acceptable to ask what the range is for the position they’re offering. This is acceptable because the recruiter needs to know if you’re a good fit for the position. If you’re chasing the position without the help of an agency, then you need to be more delicate about bringing up salary and should wait until the interview.

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Give a Salary Range

After you’ve figured out how much you need to earn, you probably have two numbers left: what you want and what you can deal with. If those are the same numbers, great! If (and more likely) not, than it’s easiest to give a range of what would be acceptable pay. When you’re asked directly, it’s easier to convey that you know what your work is worth.

Not only will you show that you know what your work is worth, but you’ll come across as open to negotiating. You’re willing to work with them, making the negotiating part of the interview easier on both of you. This is appealing to hiring managers, who may or may not want to have this discussion in the first place.

 

Don’t Plan on Renegotiating Salary Right After Accepting

One of the reasons you need to negotiate in the job interview is it may be your last chance for a while to do so. There are some people who believe that if you just accept the first number they give you to “get your foot in the door” and then prove what you’re worth, that your boss will notice and you’ll automatically get a raise. This isn’t a good idea for several reasons: you are in the best place to bargain before you get the job and you don’t rely on those paychecks yet. Once you do rely on that pay and you have lost your leverage, they have little incentive to give you more money.

Don’t plan on raising your pay afterward, unless you know for a fact that there are annual reviews. During an annual review, you’d be able to bring up pay and your hard work. Without those as a certainty, it’s hard for a manager to hear why you should have a raise when you accepted the initial salary unless you’ve been at the job for some time.

 

Turn the Question On Them

If it’s early on in the discussion and you’re not sure if it’s worth your time, you could politely ask. Some variation of “I’d like to know more about the responsibilities and the work culture before discussing my personal preference, but may I ask what is the salary range for this position?”. Cutting to the chase will save you a lot of time if the pay range is not acceptable. If it is far higher than you expected, than you may want to find out more about the position itself. There may be a reason for that higher salary.

If they ask you what you’re looking for and you feel it’s too early in the process, deflect. One option: “I’d like to know what other responsibilities are required for this position, so I can give you a realistic number.”

 

When You Need To Be Politely Direct

If you are called for a second interview, it’s appropriate to ask during that phone call before agreeing. It’s important that you don’t waste anyone’s time if the pay doesn’t match your needs. If you’re nervous about asking, you can start with “how does the compensation compare against the current market?”. This is nicely broad and is still theoretical, without coming across as pushy or negotiating. The answer should also tell you the range that they’re suggesting.

 

Reconsider Sharing Salary History

Employers often ask this to make sure that you’re not leaving a position that pays more than they can offer. However, if you tell them that you’re currently getting a low salary, they are likely to give you a lower salary than otherwise. Disclosing your past salary history can put you at risk of being undervalued. There a few ways to avoid this.

 

Method 1: Use Your Network

You can skip inputting your salary by avoiding any computer online forms that might require it. If your networking skills are up to the task, you can send your resume directly to a person. This method requires time and effort.

 

Method 2: Focus on What You Bring

If asked directly, you can refuse and swing the focus back to the value you’re bringing to the company. This approach is best for someone graduating from college and being hired for the degree but might have been working at an unrelated job to pay the bills. You may have to be firm and insist that salary history is personal information. Do not lie. Keep bringing the conversation back to your skills or past experience, because that’s why they want to hire you in the first place. If pushed into a corner, just remember that you can always say “I am considering all reasonable offers.”

 

Method 3: Ask Them Instead

The third, and a less confrontational approach, is to get the hiring manager to give you a number first. Ask them what the expected salary range for this position. If this is a defined position, they will already have a range in mind. Should the hiring manager refuse to give you a range at the very least, you can’t be expected to disclose. Remember these words: “I am considering all reasonable offers.”

 

Is It Legal To Ask Past Salary In Your State?

There are multiple states that are banning hiring managers from asking people their previous salary history. At the moment, the total amount of states that prosecute companies that ask this question is 19. You can find a running list here of the states and localities that have banned the use of asking an applicant’s past salary history until a job offer is in place.

 

 

In short, discussing salary is a delicate situation, but it can be done. When explaining what salary range you’re looking for, having a well informed and data-backed response can keep you from being underpaid or overshooting your answer. By giving a well-informed and authentic answer, you can convey clear expectations to the interviewer. Being prepared will gain them the insight of what it takes to get you on-board.

 

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