The Salary Question: How to Field It, When to Ask It

Salary. It’s often the elephant in the room when it comes to job interviews. Too often, employers fall into one of these scenarios: Either they bring it up early, with the dreaded, “What was your salary at your last job?” or “What will you expect to get paid?” Others may stay completely silent and dance around topic of salary until AFTER the job offer, which can be incredibly frustrating, too.

When to Ask the Salary Question

The short answer? You don’t. It may be incredibly frustrating to wait until further along in the interview process to find out if the job is even within your desired salary range, but you’ll be better rewarded if you do.

“Once a potential employer is invested in you and excited to have you on board, they may be more willing to meet your salary demands,” explains Craig Patterson, Managing Director of The HT Group’s Professional Services Division. “By the time you get the job offer, you’ve ‘passed the test’ by spending quality time with the stakeholders, taking the assessments, and going through other hiring checkpoints. The employer now feels you’re ‘the one’ and will be in a better frame of mind for negotiating in order to win you over, too.”

If you’re searching for work through a recruiter, this part can be much easier. The recruiter will be able to respond to some of your salary concerns, find answers to questions you may not feel comfortable asking yourself, and may even have experience with the specific employer and how the salary question has been handled with them in the past.

How to Answer the Salary Question

If you’re working with a recruiter, feel free deflect the question to them. Respond with something like, “I’m sure you’ll put your best offer forward,” and that your recruiter is prepared to discuss it with them. Recruiters are skilled negotiators and most times have extensive knowledge of the market and employment vertical in which they are working.

If you’re not working with a recruiter, Marc Miller, an Austin-based career design specialist, recommends turning the question around on them and, in return, ask, “What do you have budgeted for this position so I can tell you whether you are within my range?”

“Make them give you a number,” Miller says.You are worth what a company is willing to pay you. That amount has nothing to do with your current salary, by the way. This is particularly true if you have worked for the same company for five or more years.”

Catherine Jewell, The Career Passion® Coach, agrees and offers a similar response. “Never mention a number or range,” she recommends. “You can say, ‘I’ve done my research and believe your company pays fairly. I know if you extend an offer, we’ll be able to come to an agreement on a fair salary.’”

If the topic of your current salary or your salary history comes up, Miller recommends deflecting it with an answer like, “I am looking for $X in salary, but I will be evaluating the entire compensation package, which includes salary, bonuses and benefits.” Paid time off (PTO), health insurance and other benefits can dramatically affect the “value” of a job above-and-beyond a mere salary. He offers a full list of considerations when evaluating a job offer here.

Lest you feel deceitful about not disclosing your current or previous salary when asked, it’s important to understand this very question is now illegal in Massachusetts, the city of Philadelphia and, soon, other cities and states. It’s become a matter of equal pay for equal work, so don’t sweat deflecting it when necessary.

What to Do When the Offer Is Made

At the point when an offer is finally made, Jewell adds, you should never negotiate money on the spot.

“If you get an offer, act very excited and ask for it in writing. An email suffices. Once you have the entire package—salary and benefits—you should give yourself 24-48 hours to make a decision. At this point, it’s great to have a career coach to help you decide whether to counter-offer. Most HR people expect a counter-offer. If you are brave, you can almost always get another $5,000-10,000, additional vacation days or other perks. If they truly want you, asking for more will not ruin the deal.”

You’re in control of your own destiny when it comes to salary. Play your cards right, don’t be pressured into showing your hand, and you may come out with more than you expected.

 

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