The job interview is progressing just great. You've established a good rapport with your interviewers and you feel really positive about the opportunity. But then that 800-pound gorilla of a question is tossed at you: "What kind of salary are you looking for?" You want to be cooperative, but you're torn. Do you answer the question and move forward? Or do you play the "you-tell-me-first" game?
Sometimes, a well thought out "non-answer" will earn the employer's respect; other times it will simply annoy. The experts can lean either way, so you need to understand the different schools of thought, then decide how to answer.
Before the salary question comes up, you need to find out the appropriate salary range for someone with your experience in the kind of position you're seeking within your market. There are a handful of web sites that can provide this information. You should research salaries as well as information about the company as part of your pre-interview preparation.
The idea behind trying to postpone an answer to the salary question is that if you state a salary too early in the hiring process, you lose two big opportunities. The first is to get them to love you before they know the price. Until they want you, you have no negotiating leverage. The other opportunity is to demonstrate your ability to handle an uncomfortable situation (i.e., being asked this tough question) confidently and respectfully, without caving - a prized skill in most jobs.
If you feel it's in your best interests to avoid the question, your reply should respectfully and professionally communicate three general principles:
* Your interest in the opportunity;
* Your expectation to be paid in line with market conditions and your experience level; and
* Your willingness to discuss salary history once you and the company decide you're the right person for the position.
To Answer or Not to Answer?
If you're applying for a sales-oriented job, where negotiation skills are critical to success, then by all means, demonstrate your negotiating finesse and your ability to diplomatically sidestep the question. If you're applying for an administrative assistant's position in a huge company with a rigid salary structure, there's not much point in negotiating.
When you should answer depends on when in the hiring process the question comes up. Some companies demand salary history with your application. Others will ask the salary question in an initial phone screen. The trouble is, at these early stages, they're most likely trying to screen you out, not in. Even at these early stages of the selection process you have a choice whether or not to provide a compensation number.
Whether you want to answer the question directly or indirectly, immediately or later, here are four principles to help you craft a professional answer to this inevitable question.
What to Say, When You Say It
Use the following examples as a guide. Modify them to suit your style and personality, and practice until you can say any one of them with a smile.
1. "I was paid well in my last (or current) position. The number was in line with market conditions and the results I delivered. I'm very interested in this opportunity, and I'll be happy to discuss my compensation history when we determine that I'm the right person for the job."
2. "I realize you need to be sure my expectations are consistent with the salary range for this position. To ensure that we're aligned, please tell me your range for this position."
3. "I'm reluctant to focus on just one factor at this stage, when other factors affect what makes an opportunity a great fit. What's more important to me are the position, the company, the people I'd be working with, and growth potential. So far, I'm impressed with what I have learned about this opportunity and I remain very interested in learning more!"
4. "The actual figure will depend heavily on a number of important variables, but my experience and research tell me that fair compensation for this position falls in the range of __________." [Note: Name a wide salary range toward the higher end of your expectations. For example, "$45,000 to $65,000 per year" or "$14 to $19 per hour."]
Remember, your negotiating leverage goes way up once they're convinced they can't live without you. But some employers will insist on a number up front, so be ready to give one. If you don't give one, chances are the employer won't toss your resume in the wastebasket, says Michael Neece, chief strategy officer at PongoResume. "Your resume has already proven that they want to talk to you. I've never known of a situation in which a prospective employee was eliminated from consideration after an interview because he or she refused to answer the question."
Don't get caught off guard. Craft a response that feels comfortable for you and practice saying it. Think that sounds silly? Remember that being unprepared for the salary question can literally cost you thousands of dollars if you undersell yourself, or price yourself right out of consideration.