California Lawyers Association

HOW TO TALK ABOUT SALARY IN THE JOB INTERVIEW?

Answering the salary question doesn’t have to be as daunting a task as it feels if you respect where the employer is coming from.

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The odd thing about our society is that money is the thing that makes the world go round, but it's the last thing that people want to discuss. Your decision to take or decline a job offer will, in many cases, be based on the salary. An employer will make the same judgment about you based on the same reason. So it's important to understand the goals of both sides.

As a jobseeker, you don't want to sell your skills short. You were earning a certain salary at your last position, and you'd like a bump in that based on your additional experience. Or maybe you were earning too much at your last position and you know that you were paid above "market value."

As an employer, the company has a budget for how much they are able to pay for a position. Just like you have a budget for how much you are able to pay for a car or an apartment. Employers want to maximize the quality of the person they're getting for the salary they are paying, it's only natural.

The other aspect to consider is that there are certain phases of the interview stage. In the beginning stages, the employer just needs to know a salary range that you're expecting. Yes, in some cases you'll need to provide this on the job application. It's also a good idea to keep track of those positions that require you to provide that information, so when you are contacted for an interview, you know what you put on the application.

When asked in an interview, your first bet should be to send the question back to the employer and ask them what their budget range is for the position. This is a great strategy because in most cases they will have a set budget range, and very few job seekers use this strategy. Once you know their range, you can decide if you would like to continue with the interview.

However, if they reply that they are open or haven't decided, then you will need to provide a range. There's no other way to avoid the question.

Providing them a range shouldn't be a three-act play. Please don't do the "I would expect a salary in line with my skills and experience over 20 years of blah, blah, blah," because chances are you're the third person who has tried that windup today. Just give them a range. A range is fine because during the first interviews, you don't know much about them, and they don't know much about you. They are simply trying to figure out if you are within their range.

Also keep in mind that there is definitely a range in the market for certain types of positions with certain types of companies. Looking for a mid-level IT position with a large company, those positions will tend to fall within a certain salary range. Interviewing with a smaller company for a similar position, you may want to adjust your salary range lower. You must keep track of the data you collect for every interview and you'll start to notice patterns in the salaries.

Above all, don't take it personally if an employer mentions a lower budget range than what you're looking for. Sometimes they are limited by their bosses, how well the company's been doing that year, or some other factors they have no control over.

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About the Author

Melanie Szlucha has been a hiring manager for 15+ years and a career coach for 6+ years through her company Redinc, LLC.