How to Handle Difficult Interview Questions #8
What are your salary requirements?
Ideally, salary should only be discussed when you receive a job offer from an employer because that is when you have the most leverage and bargaining power. Until then, try to deflect the salary discussion until you can learn more about the position and demonstrate your value.
Employers seek salary information to confirm if your expectations are within their range and your answer helps them to “screen you out,” rather than “screen you in.” If you answer this question too soon, and your range doesn’t fit their compensation guidelines you may be eliminated as a candidate.
During an interview, you can maintain your salary negotiating power by addressing the employer’s queries with answers that defer, deflect, or profile salary ranges instead of giving them a specific dollar value.
Deferring salary questions early in the interview process allows you to learn more about the new position.
“I would prefer to learn more about the position and assess how I could contribute to your team before discussing salary.”
“I would like to defer discussing salary until after I can evaluate how my skills and experiences meet your qualifications.”
“While salary is certainly important, it’s just one part of the picture, so my requirements are quite flexible depending upon the rest of the compensation package and the opportunities provided.”
“My sense is that XYZ Company has a fair compensation package. So, if we decide that this position is a good match with my skill set, I’m confident we will be able to agree on a salary.”
Deflecting salary questions gives you greater control and allows you to ask the employer to provide a salary range.
“My research indicates that compensation for this type of position falls in the range of $ to $ (use total compensation range – salary plus commissions or bonuses). Is this consistent with your range?”
“My salary expectations are fairly flexible. But I’ve been primarily focusing on positions in the range of $ to $. How does that compare with your range?”
“I expect to fit within your compensation range. Can you tell me what it is for this position?”
Profiling a salary range
When the interviewer is unwilling or unable to provide a salary range and pressures you to disclose a specific wage, provide the employer with a ballpark or flexible figure instead of giving them a concrete number. Sharing total compensation (not just salary) will give the employer a more complete picture of your expectations.
“While my requirements are flexible, the positions of most interest to me are in the $ to $ range. Of course, salary is just one part of an overall compensation package.”
“I’m not sure my salary history is directly relevant to this (role / industry). But let me share with you that, based on my research of your (industry/company/this role), I’m focusing primarily on positions in the $ to $ range. Of course, salary is just one part of an overall compensation package.”
Requests for Past Salary
There is a growing trend among employers not to ask questions about prior salaries, there are even a couple of states and cities that have passed laws prohibiting these questions.
However, if questions concerning your salary history do arise, they should be initially deferred or tossed backed to the employer. If you are pressured to provide an answer, try to redirect the conversation towards your current expectations rather than focusing on your past history, which may or may not be relevant. However, if they persist in inquiring about your previous salary, you could say:
“Based on my research, I believe we are in the same ballpark and I would be happy to discuss salary once we have discussed your requirements and evaluated how I can meet your needs.”
“Actually, the new responsibilities are quite different from my previous position and I would be pleased to fit into your salary structure. Can you share what your salary range is for this position?”
“Though my previous work history is a strong match for this job, I believe that different organizations have varied salary structures. What is your salary range for this position?”
When the interviewer insists that you disclose your past salary you could say:
“Although compensation is certainly important, I’m most interested in this position and the opportunity to contribute to (insert name of company), so I hesitate to let salary influence our discussion. However, at my previous job, my full compensation was in the range of $-$, including a benefit package.”
Recruiters – The Exception to the Rule
When working with third party recruitment firms or head hunting organizations you will need to fully disclose your salary expectations to them. This helps them manage expectations for both parties and helps them to ensure that they are presenting you with opportunities in keeping with your requirements. In some cases, they may actually negotiate with employers on your behalf and secure a job offer that meets your expectations. Remember, just as they are familiar with your “flexibility” they are also familiar with that of the hiring organization.
Many organizations use their online application systems to “profile” candidates which allows them to do some screening even prior to reading the resumes. If you are offered an option of “Negotiable” or the like, choose that option as you want to remain open to successful negotiations. However, this may not always be an option. As you have seen suggested above, you always want to aim to DEFER, DEFLECT or PROFILE, but unfortunately with online applications you don’t have as many options. It is suggested that, prior to filling out the profile, you do some research using COMPARABLE roles in COMPARABLE industries to see what the market is bench-marking. Also, be sure to source this type of information through networking. When you have a bit of a range in mind (what the market can bear), and if it is in keeping with your needs and expectations, use this information to respond to this type of question. That way you can be surer you are within their scope while keeping within your own.
Revealing salary history or expectations in a cover letter allows potential employers to screen out candidates that disclose a range that is too high or too low. If a posting asks you to include your former salary or current salary expectations, deflect the question and provide research based salary expectation answers or general overall compensation package statements. For application forms, enter the word “negotiable” or “flexible” when asked to state your former or current salary expectations.
This is the eighth installment in a series devoted to answering the difficult interview questions.
Below are links to the first seven:
Rick Christensen: Director, Career Transition Practice
Rick has been a career consultant for over 20 years, serving a very broad-based and diverse clientele. His specialties include effective group facilitation, one-on-one coaching and consultation at all levels including senior executives.
Rick’s passion is coaching individuals through career transitions, developing career management strategies and in identifying and sharpening competencies to open doors to new opportunities. His efforts have assisted thousands of individuals achieve their full potential.