Discussing salary is always a bit uncomfortable — but it's especially tricky when a hiring manager asks what you currently make during a job interview.
Why? There are a few reasons.
First, maybe they were going to offer you, say, $90,000 — but you tell them you currently make $65,000. Once they hear that, they might decide to offer you just $70,000.
Second, maybe they can only offer you $60,000 because that's all they have in the budget for this particular position. When you say you currently earn $65,000, they might think they can't afford you or assume you wouldn't be willing to take a pay cut, and therefore decide not to move forward with you as a candidate.
Third, if you make much less than the average person in your job, the employer might assume you're not a highly valued employee. If you're paid a lot more than the average worker in your position, they might assume you're overqualified.
And lastly, it's just awkward to discuss how much you earn, especially with a stranger.
But whether you like it or not, there's a good chance this question will come up in the interview process.
We spoke to Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, who provided tips for handling this query. Here's what she said:
1. Be informed
Enter the interview armed with all the knowledge you can about the salary range for the position, so you'll put your best foot forward, says Taylor. "Visit salary sites like Payscale.com, Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com, and Salary.com to get insight — but also tap into your contacts on LinkedIn and other networks."
She suggests talking to people you may know who work at the company, used to work there, or people who know others who have worked at the firm. "Know in advance your desired salary range and try to be realistic based on your research."
You might be fortunate enough to get the inside scoop during your discussions with HR before getting into the interview. "That would certainly give you a leg up in your salary negotiations," she says. "But many companies will want to vet your experience more closely before divulging their budget."
"It's often a game of who'll blink first, but it's well worth trying, using a great deal of diplomacy: 'Well I'm flexible on salary. The position and its growth potential are much more important to me than compensation. Would you be willing to share the rough salary range you have in mind for this position?'" Taylor suggests.
The interviewer might be easy on you and give you a ballpark. In the worst case, they'll say, in effect, "I asked you first," putting you back in the hot seat.
3. Gauge the situation
If you think your desired salary is too high, inquire about other compensation factors, such as 401(k)s or vacation policies, versus a higher or equal salary. If your salary is extremely below market (one of the reasons you may be leaving your current job), explain why.
"Maybe you've taken on greater responsibility lately, which isn't yet reflected in your salary, or your department has downsized," says Taylor. "You don't want to alarm the interviewer into believing you're underqualified."
Either way, you're adding depth and context to your answer, versus a terse answer: "I make X." "You're also dialing down the 'deal killer meter' by inviting discussion, talking up your strengths and asking questions," she says.
4. Vet the interviewer
Keep in mind that this is one of those opportunities to judge the hiring manager, too, Taylor says. "Do they give you a chance to explain your larger objectives beyond salary, or rush to judgment? A good prospective boss will listen with interest to your true long-term goals. A bad boss will practically abort the interview if you're even slightly outside the salary parameters — end of story," she explains. In the latter case, you might have just dodged a big bullet.
5. Be honest
If your hiring manager is steadfast and lobs the ball back in your court, just answer truthfully, says Taylor. "But it's good practice to immediately put back emphasis on the position itself, as an addendum: 'Compensation is certainly important, but I'm really looking for other factors in my next job, too — such as growth potential and making a difference with a great product and team. Perhaps you can you tell me what is budgeted for the position and we can discuss it?'"
6. Don't lie
Whatever you do, don't tell mistruths or exaggerate about your current salary — up or down; it could backfire through a little investigation, she says. "Not only could you lose the opportunity, it could damage your professional reputation."
7. Keep the focus on your passion for the job
By placing more emphasis on your passion for the position and how you can contribute to their bottom line (i.e., make them money) — versus your salary — you will have their attention and maximize your bargaining power, she says.
"With some advance preparation and the proper strategy, you can warm up this chilly question with a two-way conversation that leads to a meeting of the minds," Taylor concludes.
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