The Proper Ways to Discuss Salary in a Job Interview

By Paul Michael on 23 May 2017 0 comments

Interviewing for a new position can be stressful. It's also a balancing act that can take time, and practice, to perfect.

When it comes to salary expectations, the pressure increases exponentially. How much will they pay you? How much dare you ask for? What about benefits, and other deciding factors? The way you play this game can put thousands of extra dollars in your paycheck. So how should you bring it up?

When to discuss salary

There are a few different schools of thought on this. Some people say that you should wait until the person asking the questions mentions it. If they don't bring it up, you stay silent and wait for the next interview (if there is one). Others say that you should bring it up yourself if the interviewer doesn't mention it or skates around the subject. And some people are of the firm belief that you should only discuss salary once you've been offered the job.

The fact is, there's no right or wrong answer here. You have to get a feel for how the interview process is going, and also the demeanor of the person doing the interview. If you have an instant rapport with this interviewer, and the meeting is going exceptionally well, you can be fairly confident that bringing up the subject of salary without being prompted will be OK.

However, if you have one of those interviews with a cold interviewer behind the desk and very little chitchat, asking about salary in an already tense atmosphere could just make things worse.

If the interviewer starts talking about the subject, without actually mentioning salary directly (for instance, they discuss benefits packages, paid time off, sick leave, and so on) then you have a natural "in" to bring it up.

Salary research is imperative

Chances are you already know the salary range for this position. If you don't, be prepared. Before you go into the first interview, or even apply for the job, do your research. Look on sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor.com to find the salaries of people in the position for which you're applying. Get a good range. Then, look at what different companies are paying for that role, and how that salary differs from state to state (or even country to country).

You need to understand what you are worth and what the market will pay for someone with your skills and expertise. When you have that information, you put yourself in a position of confidence. Knowledge is power, and you will have a much stronger negotiating position if you have the research to back you up.

Use the anchoring technique

It's a technique widely used by people in sales, advertising, and marketing, and it works. Contrary to popular opinion, you need to come out with the first number in the interview. Old school interviewers and interviewees will say this is risky because you could name a number so high it disqualifies you, or so low you'll miss out on more money. Actually, as long as you've done your research, it's good business, and puts you in control of the discussion. (See also: This Simple Negotiating Trick Puts Money in Your Pocket)

Let's take a hypothetical: You know that this position is worth, say $95,000 a year plus benefits. You also know that you are highly-qualified, have a superb resume, impeccable references, and that the company in question has had trouble filling the role. Therefore, you ask for much more than $95,000. Start at $120,000, or more. You have good reason to want this much money. You are worth it, and every day the company does not have this role filled, they are wasting time and money looking for a candidate. If they really want you, they'll pay it. If they don't, they won't.

By anchoring the interviewer to a higher figure, you can eventually haggle your way to a salary that you are comfortable taking — say $100,000, which may be $5,000 more than the company wanted to spend, but $20,000 less than your asking price. Everyone's a winner.

How to tackle some of the tricky salary questions

You are going to get asked about salary in a variety of ways. Remember, you're in a negotiation; you want the most money for the role and they want to pay as little as possible. Here are some typical questions, and how to handle them.

"What kind of salary range are you looking for?"

Think about that for a second. It's a ridiculous question. They're asking you, "What is the least amount of money you would be willing to take for this role, and what is your high-end?" Do you think they're going to give you the top end of your salary range? Of course not, you've already told them how cheaply they can get you.

So, narrow the answer down to something that gives very little wiggle room. For example, "I'm looking for a salary in the high $90s" focuses on a salary that's at least $97,000 a year. If you say "$90,000–$100,000," guess what … you're getting $90,000.

"How much are you currently making?"

This is another nasty question, although it may seem like a perfectly innocent one to ask. You may currently be earning $60,000 a year, but so what? After doing the research, paired with your experience, you know you should be getting at least $80,000 a year for the job to which you're applying.

Don't fall into this trap, because you are selling yourself short. Simply answer with something like, "It's an apples to oranges comparison to compare my current salary to this role. If you supply me with more information about the role, the benefits package, the hours, the workload, and so on, I can let you know what salary I am looking for."

"What are your salary expectations?"

"Ummm … I'd like as much money as possible please!" Clearly, that's not the right answer, but that's what you're thinking. Again, you need to be realistic based on the research you've done, your current level of experience, and what you can bring to this new firm. There is no harm in saying "That's not a question I can answer until I have a much better grasp on the requirements of the position, and what benefits come with it."

"We really want you, but can't afford you. Would you take a pay cut?"

If you've already named your price and they ask you this question, don't give up. If they really want you, they should be willing to pay. This is a sly way of setting your expectations low. They're saying "We're cheap, we want to pay the minimum."

Well, until you know what that minimum is, you cannot possibly answer this question. Never say, "I'd consider it," or, "Sure, if that's what it takes to get my foot in the door." That's just rolling over for them. Instead, make them put the entire offer on the table first, including benefits, travel allowances, vacation time, sick time, and so on. It's possible that you could take less money than you're earning now if they give you other concessions, like working only four days a week, working remotely, or getting six weeks of paid time off.

Remember, salary negotiation is a crucial part of the interview process, but you should not be chastised for wanting a good living wage. Good luck out there.

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