Posted by: careerworks | May 23, 2011

Answering Salary Questions, 3 Basic Rules

In this post I have been asked to respond to a question from a reader, and one that I get often. The question is: “I recently interviewd with a local company and was asked about my salary history and goals during the first interview. If this should happen again in the future, how do I gracefully dodge the question?”

Talking about money to early in the process is never a good strategy. The employer is asking “Is this person a bargan or are they too expensive.” If you answer with a number that’s high you’ll be eliminated without the opportunity to build your value.  If you answer with a number that is low, you will never be able to get beyond that value no matter how well you negotiate.

There are three basic rules to negotiate compensation successfully.

1. Avoid talking about compensation until after you have received a job offer.

2. Get the employer to volunteer the first figure.

3. Engage the employer by listening, asking questions, and using silence to your advantage.

If you are asked about your salary history and expectations early in the interview, you answer with: “It is hard for me to say what the value of this job might be. I’d like to learn more about your expectations so that I have a better idea of your needs.” Or you might say, “Previous positions that I’ve held are not easily compared to what we are discussing today. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Or you might ask, “What is the pay range that you are contemplating for this position?”

If the employer answers with a range, and if the range is acceptable, then give your prospective employer an indication that the range would work for you. If the high end of the range is acceptable, then indicate that.

Later in the interview, (if you’ve deflected the question earlier) the question may come back to you in other forms, such as “What are your salary expectations?” or “What will it take to bring you on board?” Whatever the case, the employer wants you to throw out the first figure. If you do, the employer will most likely have the advantage since they will know where to start negitiating with you. Whatever you do, don’t state a salary figure which you may come to later regret; especially when you learn that you settled for much less than what you could have received had you paid attention to the three basic rules of salary negotiations.

Again, the best way again to handle this question is to get the employer to volunteer a salary figure. Try responding to the question by asking: “Based on what we have discussed, what would you offer someone with my qualifications?”

Another way of asking this question is: “What do you consider to be a fair salary knowing what I’m likely to produce for you over the next 12 months?”

Don’t be surprised if you use one of these answers that the interviewer may come back with a question like, “How much money did you make last year?” Again go back to the suggested response of wanting to learn more about the job and the employers expectations.

Your goal in the job interview is to build your value by verbalizing relevant successes that will make you the most desirable candidate, in fact, the only candidate.


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