Discussing your potential salary can be one of the most unnerving moments of your job interview. While it may not be the most desirable portion of the interview, it is inevitable. The hiring manager will ask you about your current or past salaries and what you expect to be paid if you are hired with their company. Ideally we would all love to be offered a salary well and beyond what our previous job paid us. More importantly, we would want that salary to portray our growth from past experiences and our overall worth. Many job seekers worry they will disqualify themselves based on information they give the hiring manager about past salaries.
So, what are the best ways to answer the hiring managers’ questions? How are you to respond when they ask you about your current salary and what you expect to be paid if you are hired on with them? Robert Hellmann, a senior certified career coach at the Five O’Clock Club, and Richard Serby, President of GeoSearch, Inc., will help us answer these questions.
“I’ve always thought it was a horrible question,” says Hellmann. “What you are currently making or what you made in your last job is really beside the point. The point is: What are you currently worth in the marketplace? What are your skills worth, and how do companies price those skills? That’s what you should be discussing.”
He advises his clients to try to avoid answering the salary-history question, especially if they’re in the enviable position of being able to walk away from a potential job because they have other good prospects.
You can deflect the question several ways, Hellmann said, in addition to possibly putting “to be discussed” or “n/a” on an application that asks for salary information. One tactic is to turn the tables by asking a potential employer to disclose the pay for a position upfront. Job seekers can also try to politely change the subject, he said.
Richard Serby has recommended a solution to tackle the question head on. This method puts the ball back in the court of the hiring manager. You can respond with something along the lines of “I’m sure you have a salary range in mind that you believe is fair given the duties and responsibilities required.” This will force the employer to give their explanation and reasoning behind the offer.
Job applicants, Hellmann added, ought to look askance at companies that refuse to budge on the issue. “That’s a sign to me,” he said, “that they’re already focusing on the wrong thing” when it comes to hiring.
Of course, it behooves job seekers to be armed with good information going into salary negotiations. Networking is one way to gain insight about what you can expect in terms of salary for a particular job, said Hellmann. You can also find plenty of resources online, such as Glassdoor.com or the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Richard Serby also adds that “It is a good idea to get local, regional comparisons through sources such as Salary.com or at GeoSearch.com which provides salary information specific to geospatial industries. Once an offer has been made you can use the salary survey data to negotiate further, if necessary.”
“Ideally, salary discussions should take place after a job candidate has landed an offer and is armed with information about the position’s total compensation, which can also include retirement benefits, profit sharing and other perks,” said Hellman.
"It’s best to discuss salary after there’s an offer,” explained Hellman. That’s when all the leverage is switched to the job seeker. Before that, salary is really used as a candidate screening criteria.”