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How Do You Handle the Salary Question?

Penelope Trunk has a nice post this week on her Brazen Careerist blog on a difficult issue all job interviewees face: Discussing your potential salary, should you take the job. Her basic message, which I agree with, is to stand your ground and avoid being the first to offer a figure. I can’t help but agree, and offer the following additional techniques for handling this question from potential employers.

Early in the interview process, interviewers have little knowledge of a candidate’s experience and talents.  Candidates want to delay stating a salary number until the company has a strong interest in making an offer.  Giving a salary number too early in the process can only hurt an applicant’s chances.
 
So, here are some techniques for responding to the salary question.

1) First, say you would rather not give them a specific number; Second, communicate that you’re interested in the position, and; Third, tell them that all you'd like them to do is make you the best offer they feel comfortable with. Putting it all together, it can sound like this:

"Regarding salary, I'd rather not give you a specific number right now. I'm very interested in this position, and I expect that you'll make me the best offer you're comfortable with at the right time."

2) Say that you’re happy to discuss salary at a time when there is strong interest in your background. It could sound like this:

"I'd be happy to discuss my salary expectations after we have both decided that there is strong mutual interest in possibly hiring me."

3) Ask them what the salary range is for the position. When they give you the salary range, you can say that your salary expectations are in line with the higher end of the range, assuming this is true.

4) State the following:

"When considering a position, several factors are important to me. Salary is only one factor, but not the most important. More important factors include quality of the position, growth opportunities, quality of the people I work with, company culture, and location."

5) If you’re faced with a question such as, “What's your current salary?”, answer this way:

Say, “I am (was) paid well and in line with job market conditions.”

  • Communicate that you'd be happy to discuss your specific salary later in the hiring process.
  • State that you can also provide salary verification documentation.
  • Say you're interested in the opportunity and you'd like them to make the best offer they're comfortable with.

Putting it all together, it can sound like this:

Interviewer: "What is your current (most recent) salary?"

You: “Regarding my most recent salary, I was compensated very well and in line with job market conditions. I'd welcome the chance to discuss my compensation later in the process when we've decided I'm the right person for this opportunity. I'd also welcome the chance to provide salary verification. When we've decided I’m the right person for the job, I’d like you to make the best offer you're comfortable with.”

Remember, as Penelope states in her post, the first person to give a number is at a disadvantage. You want to discuss salary only when the hiring manager is absolutely convinced the company can't live without you. It is at this point when you have negotiating leverage, but not until then.

Craft a response that feels comfortable for you and practice saying it.

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