It's hard not to panic when asked about salary during a job interview—and it will inevitably come up during the interview process. This can be especially difficult when switching industries or moving to a new city.
But how you respond to questions about how much you want to make will directly affect your future compensation package. That means that gracefully dealing with salary questions is one of the most important interviewing skills you can master.
Here are some key points to consider when discussing your salary requirements with a potential employer:
Timing. When you’re asked about salary early in the process, recognize it as a screening tool to either bring you in for an interview or eliminate you from consideration. For this reason, do not include your salary requirements in a cover letter.
Instead, salary discussions should come toward the end of the interview process, when the company already wants you and understands your value—when you have more leverage. Salary ranges tend to be more flexible once the employer knows you’re the perfect candidate. Few hiring managers will let their perfect candidate get away because of a small gap in salary range.
Preparation is key. Prior to interviewing, do your homework and come up with a ballpark figure on the fair market value for the position and your experience. Use sites like Glassdoor.com to get an idea of what the employees (current or past) at that company earn, especially those who occupy a similar job. Research the employer's competitors, too. Don't forget to check out recent industry publications; many conduct salary surveys and share the results. If you have a relationship with a recruiter, she may also be a good source of information.
Become a skillful dodger. Avoiding the salary question makes most people nervous, so rather than dodge it, they answer it, then spend the next week beating themselves up over it. Don’t answer the question. If the hiring manager asks you about your expectations, tell him you know the company likely has a budgeted range, and if he’s willing to share that range, you could tell him whether you fit within it.
It's also important to emphasize that you’re considering the overall job opportunity and compensation package. One way to avoid answering questions about your current salary is to say that your current job responsibilities and compensation package are surely different than what they’re offering, so you'd rather discuss the job expectations and then determine a fair market salary for their job.
Don't be the first to name a price. When it comes to the salary game, if you're the first party to name a price, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. You want to receive an offer based on your experience and market value, not based on your previous salary. While expecting a huge raise isn't always realistic, the company may offer a higher range for your experience. But you’ll never know that if you reveal your hand first.
If you're underpaid at your current job, you risk leaving the hiring manager with doubts, devaluing your experience, and falling out of the running for the job. If you state a number too high, you risk pricing yourself out of the job before the company fully understands your value.
If all else fails, give a range. This is your last resort, and it’s where your preparation will pay off. Say something like this: "I assume [name of company] pays a fair market wage. In my research, I've found a position with these responsibilities in [geographical region] pays between $55,000 to $75,000. Is that what you had in mind?"
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.