What to do with the Dreaded “Salary Requirements” Question

What to do with the Dreaded “Salary Requirements” Question

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 by Mary Schaefer, Career Transition Coach

One of my clients recently asked me how to handle an interviewer who is asking about salary requirements early in the screening process. She was worried her response would put her out of the running before she even got a chance to make a good impression.

We all know why hiring managers and interviewers do this. They certainly don’t want to devote time to a candidate who is going to expect more than they can possibly offer. At the same time, it can be a bit presumptuous to expect that salary is the only form of compensation a job candidate is willing to consider.

So what do you do, as a job candidate, when asked this question early in the process? I polled my fellow coaches and got some great responses.

Be cagey: Coach Ed Weirauch suggests being a bit circumspect – maybe ask questions first. For instance, say: “Do you have a range in mind?” If you like what you hear, you can respond, “That’s something I can work with.” If the range or figure is lower than your target, try this, “As I learn about your expectations of this position and the responsibilities described, I would think something higher would be reasonable.” Ed’s perspective is that your salary goal and the interviewer’s range ideally should be within $10,000 of each other. If they aren’t, you may need to keep looking.

Another way is to answer the question with a question: Coach Greg Moore suggested asking about the budget for the position, then base your response on what you hear. At the same time, we all realize that interviewers have been through many versions of this discussion.  Greg reminded me that sometimes candidates are asked about salary history. You can respond that you can offer your history, and at the same time acknowledge that there are so many factors that go into considering acceptance of a job, your history may not be particularly relevant in this situation.

Fall back on the tried and true: Coach Andrea Abernethy referred me to the latest version of the book, “What Color is Your Parachute?” a job seeker’s reference that has been around since 1970 and gets updated regularly. “Parachute” suggests three potential tactics: If the interviewer seems sincere and practical, you might respond to a premature salary question by saying something like, “Let’s hold off on that part of the discussion until you’ve decided you want me and I’ve decided I would be a fit.” If the interviewer asks the question really early, and won’t take no for an answer, you can try: “I will be glad to answer that question.  Can we first discuss a little more about what the position involves?” If the interviewer is insistent, offer a range.  This can sound like: “I’m looking for something in the range of $35,000 to $45,000. 

Think of your job search and job landing process as a bit of a dance: The entire process from applying to signing on the dotted line takes information, practice and finesse. For instance, with this example of fielding the salary question, practice your response to an array of scenarios. Ideally you would do this with a professional, like a career advisor, who can help you from start to finish with things like mining your accomplishments to create an impressive resume to networking to mock interviews.

Final advice: Don’t sell yourself short. Ask for the help you need, and deserve.