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How to Handle the Question of Salaries During Interviews

In the following two questions, readers in the midst of their job search are expressing concerns related to salary issues. The first is worried that their lower current salary will limit future offers, while the second fears that the current high salary is preventing offers being made at all. Dr. David Helfand offers some general salary negotiation strategies to help guide both to fair and equitable salary offers.

Q: In interviews, the employers always ask for my salary. I feel uncomfortable in answering this question, as I feel that it may hinder my chances of getting a higher salary. Would it be all right to say when asked that particular question what I want to make? For example, the employer will ask what is your current salary? Can I reply; "my salary is on par with my experience level, however, I would like to make x amount of money."

A: Most salary negotiation guides are pretty consistent about a few points with regards to salary negotiation strategy. One is not to discuss salary issues, if possible, until you are offered the position. A possible response of the topic coming up before then could be:

"While salary issues are certainly important for both of us why don't we first see if we agree that I'm a good fit for this position and in fact you're ready to make an offer. This seems a better point at which to discuss my current salary and what might be appropriate compensation for this position."


The second point often suggested is never, again if possible, be the first to name an actual specific dollar amount. If the suggested response above doesn't seem to work and you're feeling pressured to not only state your current salary but what you might expect if offered the position in question, I would suggest being honest about your current salary (I like your response of "on par with experience," again avoiding naming specific dollar amounts if possible) but not to name a specific dollar amount that you would expect if offered the new position. Rather, I would urge you to do the research that clearly defines what your market value is according to your educational and work experience as well as for that particular work environment for the position you're interviewing for.

Once you've defined your market value put it in terms of a range, and even before giving the desired range I would make one more attempt at getting them to name a figure first (of course, without sounding uncooperative). You might ask "what do you see someone with my experience being worth in a position of this nature?" If not successful in getting the interviewer to name a figure, then you can offer, "my research has shown that for someone with my experience level and the nature of this position, an appropriate salary range would be xyz." Remember, rarely will an interviewer negotiate up, so pad your range just a bit so that you might end up with what you consider a fair salary.

Q: I can't get hired because I make too much money now. My husband and I took positions at the same firm. Recent layoffs at this firm put us in a vulnerable position and we have agreed one of us needs to move to another company - and fast. I interview well. Everything seems fine but after being turned down at three firms I finally asked one of them why -- it's because I make too much money at the firm I work for now. I would gladly take a pay cut if it would give me a chance to work at a stable company. The reason I make so much money is because of the location I used to live in - apparently wages are higher in Chicago than they are in the Boston area for similar positions. I can't move back to Chicago; I would like to stay in the Boston area. But I can't stay at the company I work for now.

A: Ok, so you say you interview well - let's assume that this is true. Let's also assume that in addition to having good content to your responses that you exhibit appropriate levels of interest, enthusiasm and sincerity. These are qualities important for any interviewee to convey but especially so for someone who may have a big question mark in another area (for you it's current salary). Therefore, I'm assuming that you come across well and also make it clear when you see a good match between your skills and experience and possible positions you're interviewing for.

If all this is accurate - then you need to, at some point toward the end of interview - make yourself as clear as possible. Something along the following might be considered,

"In closing, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to interview for this position. I truly feel that this is a good match between my skills and experience and the job responsibilities. In addition, I'm excited about working for an organization such as yours and this also is most important to me. Therefore, even though my current salary may strike you as particularly high - other issues (i.e. nature of position, type of organization, location of organization) are of greater importance to me and I'm flexible in reaching a mutually agreeable and fair salary if offered this position."


Of course, I'm suggesting this response only if it's all truthful. You need to come across as straightforward and sincere as possible and hopefully you'll be believed. One job search method that may help with all this is to incorporate as much as a networking approach as possible. Through this person-to-person referral process your contacts can convey your concerns and priorities. Having a mutual contact person help bridge the gap here may make the difference.

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