One email we received said: “I’m currently interviewing for a job and the hiring managers asked me how much money I’d be comfortable making. I wasn’t sure how to answer this. Any advice?”
Salary discussions are never comfortable — but like it or not, they usually come up at some point in the interview process. The hiring manager will typically ask what you currently make. Then, they sometimes follow up by asking, “And how much would you like to make in your next job?” or “How much do you think you’re worth?”
These questions are tricky because you don’t want to scare the hiring manager off by throwing out a number they can’t afford to give you — and you don’t want to leave money on the table by choosing an amount that’s lower than they would’ve offered you.
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,” weighed in on how to respond to this question.
“When hiring managers ask, ‘What are you comfortable earning?’ this is the time to shoot for the upper end of your range, and to have your well-prepared pitch ready,” she suggests.
Knowing your worth in today’s marketplace is critical to your success during this process. “But a general rule of thumb is that by changing jobs, you can expect a 10% to 20% increase,” she explains. “Much of that depends on your achievements, perceived potential, industry, attitude, the chemistry, and many other factors. The percentage can be higher if, for example, your specialty is in high demand or your current employer pays below market.”
Here are some additional tips from Taylor on handling this tricky question:
Offer a range, not a specific number. This gives you wiggle room and allows you to reach for the highest number, she says. “You can always drop down from there, as in any negotiation. Also, know your threshold in advance: What is the lowest salary you’ll accept?”
Share your research. If you’re uncomfortable saying, “I think I’m worth X,” refer to your research. This allows you to speak in more objective terms: “My research has shown that this kind of position with my experience is in the range of X.” “Remain poised and factual,” Taylor suggests.
Be honest. Make sure you don’t embellish on your current pay in order to boost your future one. It’s a small world, and the truth may be revealed later.
Think in terms of overall compensation. Before you get into specifics, know the entire compensation picture. They may ask you about “salary,” but are there bonuses, 401Ks, stock options, educational reimbursements, vacation time, travel allowances, excellent medical coverage, or use of a company car to consider? Find out before you blurt out a number.
Be reasonable. Don’t make an unreasonable salary request. “If you shoot for the moon, be prepared to explain why,” says Taylor. “For instance, if you say, ‘I’m now earning $100,000 and I want to be in the $150,000 range,’ you’ll likely raise eyebrows. But if you quickly back up an aggressive request with understandable circumstances that have kept your salary below market level, you’ll get better support,” she explains. Examples include: a difficult economic environment, downsizing, hiring or salary freezes, cutbacks, or the fact that you receive other forms of compensation and perks.
Don’t cave too early. Never throw out a number and then immediately say, “Well, maybe I’m notworth that much,” just because the hiring manager looks surprised. If you’ve done your research and feel confident in your request, stick with it as long as you can. You may need to come down in negotiations later — but let that process happen more organically.
Say you’re willing to negotiate. If you realize that you’re out of the employer’s ballpark, or feel you’re getting limited feedback, you can always say, “I should also mention that I’m flexible when it comes to salary for a great opportunity. Do you also have some flexibility in the compensation for the position?”
Pay attention. “Like many aspects of job interviewing, you’ll exponentially increase your chances of success through active listening, watching for nuances and gauging your responses accordingly,” she says. Let the hiring manager be your guide.
If you really don’t know or don’t care, evade the question. Normally this would be terrible job interview advice. But, if you really don’t know or don’t care about salary — or you’re too uncomfortable answering the question — try something like: “Salary is not my primary criteria. I really place a lot of importance on seeking a challenging, supportive environment where I can make a significant contribution and grow.”
Don’t settle. Just remember: You get one shot at the salary offer process, so don’t settle for something you’re really not comfortable with. If you know you’re worth more, and not so certain you’d reach your goal salary anytime soon, this might not be the company for you.