The answer to the toughest interview question


There’s a lot of advice on this blog about how to interview: Tell good stories, ask good questions, be a closer. But here’s only one most important thing to remember: when it comes to discussing your potential salary, never give the number first.

The right answer to the question, “What’s your salary range?” is almost always some version of “I’m not telling you.”

The person who gives the first number sets the starting point. But if that’s you, you lose. If you request a salary higher than the range for the job, the interviewer will tell you you’re high, and you’ve just lost money. If you request a salary lower than the range, the interviewer will say nothing, and you’ve just lost money.

So you can only hurt yourself by giving the first number. You want the interviewer to tell you the range for the position, because then you can focus on getting to the high end of that range. But you can’t work to the high point if you don’t know it.

So if there are two good salary negotiators in the room, it will be a game to see who has to give the first number. Fortunately, the company cannot make you an offer without also offering a salary, so the cards are stacked in your favor, as long as you hold your ground.

So here’s a list of responses for all the ways the interviewer will ask you how much money you expect to make. The more times you can fend off the question, the less likely you will have to be the one to give the first number. This works, even if you don’t have the upper hand and you really need the job.

What salary range are you looking for?
“Let’s talk about the job requirements and expectations first, so I can get a sense of what you need.” That’s a soft answer to a soft way to ask the question.

What did you make at your last job?
“This position is not exactly the same as my last job. So let’s discuss what my responsibilities would be here and then determine a fair salary for this job.” It’s hard to argue with words like “fair” and “responsibilities”—you’re earning respect with this one.

What are you expecting to make in terms of salary?
“I am interested in finding a job that is a good fit for me. I’m sure whatever salary you’re paying is consistent with the rest of the market.” In other words, I respect myself and I want to think I can respect this company.

I need to know what salary you want in order to make you an offer. Can you tell me a range?
“I’d appreciate it if you could make me an offer based on whatever you have budgeted for this position and we can go from there.” This is a pretty direct response, so using words like “appreciate” focuses on drawing out the interviewer’s better qualities instead of her tougher side.

Why don’t you want to give your salary requirements?
“I think you have a good idea of what this position is worth to your company, and that’s important information for me to know.” Enough dancing–this is one last attempt to force you to give the number first. Hold your line here and you win.

You can see the pattern, right? If you think you sound obnoxious or obstinate by not answering the question, think of how he feels asking the question more than once. The interviewer is just trying to get a leg up on you in negotiations. If you give in, you look like a poor negotiator, and the interviewer is probably not looking for someone like that.

So stand your ground, and understand that the interviewer is being as insistent as you are. And it might encourage you to know that research shows that if you mirror the behavior of the interviewer, you are more likely to get the job. Sure, this usually applies to tone of voice, level of enthusiasm, and body language, but who’s to say it doesn’t apply to negotiation tactics, too? Try it. You could come away lots richer.

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  1. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    In principle this sounds good, but it a lot of job ads I’ve looked at lately include something along the lines of “applications without salary history will not be considered.” I suppose you could argue that such companies probably have average to below average compensation anyway.

  2. Derek
    Derek says:

    I’m really curious to know if there is some value in getting the salary discussion out of the way first, or at least early on. Nothing screams “waste of time” to me than if I put a ton of effort into an interview only to find out the upper end of the range is half of what I’m currently making. I’m sure that goes the other way as well – they don’t want to waste an afternoon only to find out I’m way out of their league.

  3. Hope
    Hope says:

    I’ve had two phone interviews with the same company…the first one ended with them putting the open position on hold indefinitely in late 2007. They called back with another opening a few weeks ago and asked me to apply for it on their website. During the initial call, they basically shared the salary range for the position to make sure neither of us were wasting their time. This is quite common in my experience. I’m at a senior level, so maybe it’s more common with my years of experience, but why waste either of our time if we aren’t in the same ballpark?

    That said, it might be a function of the company size, the rigidity of the salary ranges, and the professionalism of the HR person. Because I’ve had the experience Derek describes…a great interview followed by an offer at half my current salary.

    • googs2004
      googs2004 says:

      Wow – I manage our company’s Recruiting staff, and our goal is to find candidates we want to hire. If you aren’t in the right salary range when you send over a candidate, now you’ve wasted three people’s time – the hiring manager, the candidate, and your own. The fact that you would be ok with wasting everyone’s time just to get an interview is lazy and unproductive.

      I hope that most Recruiters out there do not subscribe to this philosophy!

      • dan
        dan says:

        so if your goal is to hir ethe best fit and also not to waste anyone’s time, why not post the position with the salary range from the begining so you’d avoid receiving tons of resumes to begin with.

      • Alice
        Alice says:

        Most reputable recruiting companies I have worked with are very upfront about their clients range or exact number. If they know it, they share it and get it out of the way. Guess I have gotten lucky working with wonderful recruiters that actually have a great talent as matchmakers.

  4. Julia Stone
    Julia Stone says:


    You are correct. I am a professional recruiter and I am absolutely fanatical about getting people to give me a salary range first. Recruiters generally are good at what they do because they are very good at the phones and they are better negotiators than the average public. This puts most job seekers at a disadvantage from the beginning.

    Some recruiters care about the long term game plan & will take the time to make sure you are getting a fair compensation plan, most won’t. Some see this as a personal challenge to see how much they can squeeze out of you.

    At the end of the day, remember that recruiters do this for sport, the hiring managers just want to hire the right person & move on.

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      Wow, it’s encouraging to see that recruiters are more focused on playing the salary game “for sport” instead of hiring people who are qualified for the job based on technical skills and ability. No wonder we have so many pinheads working here. You recruiters sound like A-one polesmokers.

    • Jeremy
      Jeremy says:

      I appreciate your honesty. Of-course, I never negotiate with the recruiter. I only speak to the hiring manager about pay. I only tell the recruiter a ball-park pay figure so he does not waste my time sending me to irrelevant and pointless interviews. The good thing about recruiters is that when I take the time to update my CV they make good use of it and in the process make contact with the head-hunters who want the specializations.

  5. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Thanks for writing about this, until now I felt like I was better off wrestling alligators than answering this question and I’m sure it came thru in the interview.

    Now to sit in front of the mirror and practice these answers :-)

  6. Miriam Salpeter
    Miriam Salpeter says:

    It would be nice to know the salary offered before you go to the trouble of applying, but that is where networking and research come in to play. If you’ve done your homework, you should already know (within a reasonable range) if the job is worth your time.

    There are many factors you don’t control while job hunting – the employer, other candidates, market fluctuations – but you do control what information you share, and this is great advice for how to hold your tongue on salary. Think of it as one of the few aspects of the process that is really in your court. It can be empowering to plan ahead to refuse to give in.

    Miriam Salpeter

  7. Andrea C>> Become a consultant blog
    Andrea C>> Become a consultant blog says:

    I’m self-employed and I stick to my guns about my consulting fees — but, back when I was in the regular job force, I wasn’t sure what to do when the recruiter wanted salary history. I never reply to job ads with my salary info — if they want me, they’ll tell me. But what do you do in an interview where the recruiter wants to know your salary at each job you’ve ever held? It would be great if you could let people know how to handle that. Should people just say, “Those jobs aren’t really relevant to the value I bring to the position you have available”?

    • Marko
      Marko says:

      I always reply that each employer has insisted that salary information remains confidential, which they really have insisted on, and I never had any subsequent questions about that. I guess you can’t really argue that you should make public the previous salaries, while keeping this one confidential…

  8. asd
    asd says:

    A twist on the response to “What is your current salary” is to say that your current position is a very special case. Imply that you are making a ton of money which isn’t applicable to this position. You can even say your’re embarassed to mention it. If they do come up with an offer it is often higher than the lowball offer they would normally start with.

  9. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I would start asking the interviewer questions about the company’s benefit package if I got the salary question. I would let them know salary is only one component of the total compensation and cost to the company for an employee and that I would need to know the approximate dollar value of their benefit package. I would ask about health care, 401k plan, vacation, sick time, etc. details of their benefit package. If the company has a good benefit plan the interviewer should be happy to discuss it and be able to answer the questions. If the interviewer doesn’t know the dollar value of the benefit plan you can’t answer the salary question because you don’t have enough information.

  10. asd
    asd says:

    “What salary where you expecting?”
    Just delay.

    “I haven’t really thought about it yet. I still need to research what the current range is for this industry/company”.

    “It has been awhile since I’ve reviewed the salary ranges for this type of position. I prefer to hear all about potential position’s before I start considering what my salary requirements are.

    • JB
      JB says:

      Hmm. The only issue I see with this is that the answers, while fair, could be judged as having a lack of preparation that could hurt one’s chances for getting the job.

      When applying to jobs, not only is it important to know something about the company to which you’re applying, but it’s always a good idea to know what the going rates are for your geographical location, and what salary range is acceptable.

  11. Joe S
    Joe S says:

    Great tips.

    If a company treated me like that in an interview, I would be very skeptical of whether or not I wanted to work for them. Its more professional for a company to make you an offer that they seem fit, and if they try to screw you over in the interview, would you really want to work for that person?

    My current employer never treated me that way, and if any future potential imployers did, I’d seriously question why I wanted to work for that company in the first place.

  12. MariaMH
    MariaMH says:

    In some online applications that I have had to fill out, you have to choose a range from a drop-down menu and you cannot move on until you choose something. I have been out of work for 6 months so I don’t have the luxury of saying I just won’t apply, especially if it is a good position with a good company. I have to choose something. Often, you have to fill in a number, which apparently some people fill in with zeros. I have never had the guts to do that. If you do apply to a position, it is usually a given that you will go through HR and usually deal with one of their recruiters.

    I know I should be better at negotiating salaries, but I have never been good at game playing and think it is just ridiculous. Reading that recruiters consider this all to be some big game makes me sick. All the more reason to network like crazy so you can avoid recruiters and get to the hiring managers. They usually handle things a little more straight up.

  13. Gary
    Gary says:

    What would you recommend for companies such as mine that have a questionnaire as part of the interview paperwork (application, self identifier form, background check form) there is a salary and benefits form where they ask your current salary etc? I am really curious since I ended up filling out the form honestly, got an offer that gave me about a 12% raise, took it and found that I am actually below the salary range for my position.

  14. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Great advice in theory but there are two trends that make this increasingly difficult.

    Firstly, a lot of companies require an online application using their own web application software. You physically cannot submit the application unless you put a number into the salary expectation field – and they want just ONE number, not even a range. And there is no other way of applying. This is not just dud jobs by the way – this is how some of the best newspapers in Britain recruit.

    Secondly, a lot of industries are dominated by recruitment agents (who you sang the praises of in the last post). Recruitment agents won’t represent you if you won’t tell them salary. Yet they are not out to negotiate the highest salary for you – sure, they earn commission but their primary concern is placing you and earning the commission at all, not exactly how much commission they earn. Read the chapter about estate agents in Freakonomics for more detail – the same principles apply.

  15. Jeremiah
    Jeremiah says:

    It is so hard to negotiate when you’ve been in the job market for months and low on savings. Even if the situation isn’t so dire, most people have a natural tendency to want to give the interviewer everything they want. When I interviewed for my first job out of college I had read EVERYTHING on negotiating salary and was coached by several seasoned HR professionals. But when crunch time came I took what they gave me and told myself I’ll do better next time.

  16. david
    david says:

    …whatever salary your paying…

    Of course, if you use YOUR when you mean YOU’RE, you might lose a few dollars in compensation :-)

  17. Queijada
    Queijada says:

    After 20 years in HR, I agree with the general message of this article, with a few pointers:

    1) If you are working with a third party/external search firm, they should give you the range for the position. If they don’t have it, don’t work with them–their relationship with the hiring company is questionable. You should be able to honestly discuss your compensation history with the external recruiter, and they should advocate for you, regardless of where you are currently paid on the scale.

    2) Economics dictate that companies want to buy the most talent for the least money. However, the better companies & hiring managers will do a careful evaluation of what the market is paying currently, as well as the skill sets & current compensation of peers before they start to interview. They have a budgeted range which takes into consideration a candidate’s skills, knowledge & experience. Good companies want to pay fairly to keep their top performers & avoid discrimination allegations.

    3) Refusing to discuss money may keep you from being selected for the next round of interviews, even if you are a top candidate. It’s about saving time, eliminating “tire kicking” & presenting yourself as knowledgeable & confident of your worth. Job seekers should research their market value, just as they should research the potential employer. Stating a ballpark range of $10-15k, with the bottom above what you are currently making, presents you as an interested candidate & keeps the momentum going.

    4) Find your market worth by asking professional associations, mentors, and peers at other companies. Even purchasing information from a credible source is a good investment. It’s not unusual for individuals to exaggerate their pay, so gather a pool of information & look for trends. You can also ask about a company’s reputation for paying well.

    5) When discussing the overall compensation & benefits package, it’s ok to ask about the compensation philosophy of the enterprise. For example, some pay a slightly-less than market value salary, with a killer bonus (ask what the historical payout has been); others may offer options (ask about vesting etc). This is also valuable information about a company’s culture & direction that probably isn’t in the mission statement!

    • AS
      AS says:

      Oh how I wish your first point were true. I’ve had an an interview with a headhunter which went well until the salary question came up. On hearing my answer the headhunter informed me that despite him feeling I had most of what the company was lookimg for he wouldn’t be putting me forward to his client because I didn’t currently earn enough.

  18. David R
    David R says:

    In general I agree with your suggestions. I have frequently negotiated salaries, either giving or receiving. My preference is not to “play games” but to add conditions. So I might say: “My salary requirements are only one part of the total compensation package. I prefer a position with significant upside based on performance but would be willing to consider a higher base salary if the bonus potential is lower. What structure do you use here?” If pushed for a salary number I invert the argument and say “My minimum requirement is $X, (you’d better have a good idea what you want to say before you get this question) for a position and company with an industry leading bonus structure. The way you’ve described the bonus structure would suggest we would need to go somewhat higher on the base”.

  19. David R
    David R says:

    Apologies, I hit send before I was finished …

    The second piece is once they have made a salary offer I am happy with I close the negotiations with words to effect of: “I appreciate the efforts you’ve made to make this work, I think we are close enough that with assurance that this offer is with the range for high performers at this level in your company we’ll have a deal. Can you confirm that now or do you need to check on it?” At least twice the written offer has come back higher than the “final” verbal offer. I also make sure to get that last piece in writing as part of the offer.

  20. Terry
    Terry says:

    Sorry, you lost me at “request a salary higher than the range for the job…and you’ve just lost money”. Can someone explain why that would be?

    If the interviewer is interested in establishing your previous salary or current expectations, more often than not he or she may be hoping to low-ball you, but it could sometimes be the case they are really just trying to determine whether then can afford to employ you. I think it depends on the organisation, the position being sought, etc. But if it leads to the interviewer revealing the salary range I do not see where the problem would be to high-ball them, just to break up the pack.

    As to the question about your previous salary in an interview setting, I would suggest asking why the interviewer considers that relevant and see where that leads. If you’re tough enough to “tough out” salary questions, it seems to me you are capable of being direct and straightforward.

    The real problem seems to be how to deal with salary information demands in on-line applications. I sympathise with MariaMH and if it’s any consolation I’d rather work with people of her integrity than any number of gouging b’stards (whichever side of the table they sit).

  21. matt
    matt says:

    From 2006 – 2007 I negotiated salaries for 2 jobs and moving expenses for the 2nd. The first job I was jobless and rattled and only asked for about 10% more than my previous salary. I regretted that since the workload was brutal and the guy after me made more than double. The 2nd job I did something I’d never done. When the HR recruiter asked how much I made, I told her what I ‘wanted’ to have made for the current job – which was 20% higher than my actual salary. My request for the new salary was about 35% higher than my existing salary at the time. I was knocked down finally to 20% but that was about 40% more than I currently made.
    This might seem unethical but if I followed the ‘rules’ set out by HR people I wouldn’t get anywhere anytime soon. And to be fair the new salary was much more in line with the market for my job type – I just jumped ahead a bit.

  22. Steve
    Steve says:

    If they ask, “what is your salary range?” just respond, “am I to consider this a job offer?” If they say no, then say you’ll talk salary when you’re offered the job. Pretty simple!

  23. Woody
    Woody says:

    I’ve generally worked with recruiters or contract agents and let them manage the compensation portion. I would direct all interviewers to discuss it with my representative as they would know my current salary and expectations. If pressed, I would clearly state that it was the agents policy that we not discuss salary directly with employers. (Warn your recruiter you may use that line first though!)

    On the few occasions I’ve negotiated myself, I’ve usually be asked “What is your current compensation?” When I was under-valued I would bump up 10% or so and add: “but as you see, I’m actively seeking a new position.” Giving them a clear indicator that their offer should be higher, or they won’t have much in the way of loyalty. When I was over-valued I would still bump up a bit and add: “but I’m flexible, based on other benefits or performance incentives.”

    If you’re young and inexperienced, find a discussion group for people in your area and in your field and find a good agent. But I wouldn’t advise trying it yourself the first time.

  24. Robert in SF
    Robert in SF says:

    I have heard of a response to the “How much do you make?” question that seems to make it a “us versus them” scenario:

    I would like to discuss my current salary, but as I signed a non-disclosure agreement with my current company that keeps me from discussing any business related proprietary information. You know how competitive the job market is, and if I revealed information about my current company’s salary structure, it could be construed as giving you information the company doesn’t want in the field. I am sure you understand the nature of the business.

    As for a response to “How much do you want?” question, turn the tables and explain that the company is probably limited administratively more to a range than you are, what with internal equity, salary ranges or job bands, etc. Explain that if they were to tell you the range currently associated with the position *and* the factors that determine where in that range candidates are placed (experience, degrees, direct reports or travel, etc.) then we can figure out what’s fair.

    These scenarios are geared more for larger, more formal companies, not for a small start up (where, let’s be honest, how much you make depends on *who you know there* than the experience and hard work you bring).

    The one retort I *hate* from the HR person is “How funny, no else has *ever* had any problems discussing their salary with us…but OK……”. I hate that psychological pressure of making me feel like I am being difficult or not a team player. I just grin and bear it but it still sticks in my craw!

  25. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    I disagree with the advice not to give a number when asked. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve come out well to the good. I won’t take up a huge space in your comments saying how, but you can read my blog at the URL above to see a different perspective.

  26. Danny
    Danny says:

    Well, I think you’re way off on this one…..(climbing up on soapbox, or high horse now)

    As a professional recruiter, my job is to make the best match. There is no benefit for getting a candidate “cheaply” especially on many contingency searches, a recruiter will get a percentage of the comp so therefore getting the most for the candidate is in the recruiter’s best interest. But that’s small potatoes to finding the right fit and ALL employers now ask candidates for W2 confirmation on what they were making. So what’s the point in hedging or bantering?

    The other issue is to get away from the attitude that I describe as “buying the house” syndrome. This is where the whole negotiation is viewed by both sides as if it were a house purchase. The buyer wants to get it as cheaply as they can (ie the employer) and the seller wants to get as much as they can (ie the interviewee or candidate). The difference of course is that unlike a house sale, both sides have to live with each other for a long time after the negotiation is finished.

    Even though we are in tougher economic times, perhaps a recession, it is still a candidate short market, especially with certain types of positions. My professional advice is transparency and honesty. This is what you are earning, this is what the job pays, we will try to make it attractive to you, but if it does not work, then let’s both move on. Time is still the most precious asset that we can never recover so why waste it with clever banter? (in the dating world, lo those many years ago, I was NOT a good game player!).

    So, if I’m the interviewer and the candidate comes in with the lines you suggest, and I was working with a recruiter, I will not use that recruiter again…he or she did not do the job right is finding someone that may be a fit. If the person came in on their own, I want a candidate that realizes that every meeting can be worthwhile if a connection is made. In other words, even if it is not a fit, I want every client of mine to have every candidate leaving a meeting singing the client’s praises because the interview went professionally and both sides learned something about each oher. The dialogue you suggest is just not in that spirit. I’ve seen too many people get jobs that were in no way related to the what the first interview was supposed to be for to feel that any kind of banter like you describe in a first meeting would be at all anything but counter-productive.

    OK, off the soapbox now, and I don’t like horses much anyway.

    But, in my humble opinion, for the first time since I’ve been reading your stuff (which you know I love!), I think you gave bad advice.

  27. Milton
    Milton says:

    I’d really like to hear (read) what you have to say when the only way to apply for a position is online, and the only way to submit the online application is with a single ‘salary requested’ figure.

  28. JC
    JC says:

    My strategy and advice I’ve been giving to everyone is to state the salary first. And that’s the strategy I’ve been using all the time. I wasn’t denied a job because I was a “bad negotiator” either.

    One reason is because I know what I’m worth. I do some research to check the salary range for my job with my relevant experience. Then I ask for the appropriate salary based on that range (usually in the upper range). If the company thinks that’s too much, then I keep that in mind when I decided which company to work for.

    My last job, I was actually offered a higher salary than what I had said initially. Then again that could meant that they budgeted something higher than what I said, and I just undersold myself. Who knows.

    But I do see your point. Maybe I should try to play the game if I’m ever in the job market again and see the results.

  29. AA
    AA says:


    Most companies insist that you put a number first. If you don’t they simply get negative vibes and are not interested in furthering the interview. Sorry but HR people think they are the king, and if you can’t get over the HR hurdle, yu have no interview with the hiring manager!

  30. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    Since so many recruiters have given their views here, it is worth saying the following:

    1. If a headhunter is involved, he/ she is beholden to the client and is paid a retainer. BUT for seriously senior roles, his/ her compensation from filling the role is usually linked with what you negotiate for yourself. A more paradoxical situation can possibly never be, because what you negotiate enriches the headhunter who will then become your ‘friend’ and headhunt you to other positions where you can negotiate for him/ her.

    2. If a recruiter is involved, he/ she is usually paid after the assignment is over. In theory he/ she should tell the candidate the salary range upfront but in reality this does not happen due to the incentive structures in place. In theory a recruiter should also help the candidate negotiate but that too does not happen.

    Confused yet?

    3. So the third scenario is to face the employer directly. Where it is important to understand the “job description” though in truly influential roles, asking for one probably should disqualify you for the job, since you show yourself to be someone tied to job descriptions and not the possibilities arising from the role. (Most senior execs I know practically created their roles in their companies once they were in – and they get paid hand over fist for their capabilities). Anyway so in front of the employer, it is worth asking details and in any case, do your research and back up all that you say, demonstrating your research and networking abilities.

    If it truly is an employees’ market, as P suggested in a post or two ago, why are you worried after all? In such a situation, should the employee not be able to set the standards or his/ her ability to walk away be taken seriously? Just wondering!

    A true employees’ market at the moment is India! Capable candidates are overnight doubling salaries and moving to new, more responsible roles with high growth trajectories. Employers are making offers to candidates first and discussing job content later so that they can prevent competitors from laying their hands on good candidates. Sounds like 1980s Silicon Valley? May be.

  31. frikingeniero
    frikingeniero says:

    Hello penelope!

    Mind if I make a Spanish traduction of your article?
    I´ll send you a literal traduction for you, but I would like to do a little changued version for my own blog in spanish.

  32. maryellen
    maryellen says:

    This has become WAY too complicated. I’m a professional corporate recruiter. I have worked for large companies and small ones across industries. I have open positions, and it is my job to fill them with the best MATCHED candidates. Match includes skills set they bring to the position, ‘fit’ with the team AND desired position for the candidate. I like the people in my company. I want to ADD to the success, not just “fill the seat”. If everyone’s not happy, along with stressed coworkers, I have more seats to fill all too soon – and I’m NOT on commission. Your desires likely include environment, team, challenge, rewards and compensation. Let’s discuss all.

    I am asking your salary to make sure we are discussing the right position. It’s my job to save people’s time and only have them interview viable candidates. If the position pays 60 – 70 and you make 35 – frankly there is a very good chance you are not qualified – or we can talk about why you’re underpaid. If the numbers are reversed, you will be insulted after spending time on the phone with me to learn that it pays half of the salary that you are trying to improve upon – clearly this isn’t the position for you. Bottom line – it is a conversation. Use the suggestions in the article to START a conversation, not end one. In most companies you are NOT going to get an offer without a signed application to let me know your work/salary history – which is often checked – so why pick this fight.

    Answer to the online application question: your desired salary – or a 10% increase over your current salary – whichever is most in line with the market. We’re looking for a range, not a bull’s eye. You’re communicating what position will be a match for you.

    This is how I pick a company to work for. I work for companies that pay within the range for the position based on performance – not who negotiated the best deal. I don’t want to work anyplace where Joe has done a great job in the role for 2 years and makes 50k, and the last 2 people that came in make more than Joe because they negotiated better and we were desperate. I want to – and do – work where hiring managers and/or HR managers say – “no – we can’t go to 55 because Joe’s at 50, and I value Joe. They can have 45k and prove themselves”. Then we all go home and sleep at night – including Joe.

    • AmyInNH
      AmyInNH says:

      “…what you get for a salary is not a number pulled out of thin air”
      And so the question is Pam, why not put the number in front of the candidate instead of asking previous salary and making assumptions? Role/responsibility/salary (range), “shall we continue?” – it’s not complicated. And I have to wonder how many top-notch candidates you’ve slammed the door on?
      I’ve taken salary cuts for better companies and for more engaging projects.
      Money is critical for some, not for all.
      Paycut justifications:
      – shorter commute
      – better work hours
      – better position
      – proximity to other needs or interests
      – industry change
      – career function change
      – and the quite common, “I want to be a bigger fish by moving to smaller pond”

  33. frikingeniero
    frikingeniero says:

    In spanish:
    La respuesta a la pregunta más dura de la entrevista.

    En este blog hay muchos consejos sobre como hacer una entrevista: contar buenas experiencias, hacer buenas preguntas. Pero sólo hay una cosa importante que recordar: Cuando te pregunten que salario quieres nunca des tu respuesta primero.

    La respuesta correcta a la pregunta ¿Y que sueldo estabas buscando? es casi siempre alguna versión de “no te lo voy a decir”.

    La persona que dá el primer número estable el punto de partida. Si pides un sueldo más alto que el rango que tienen establecido para el puesto, el entrevistador te dirá que estas demasiado por encima, asi que pierdes el puesto. Si pides menos del limite del puesto, el entrevistador no dirá nada, estas perdiendo dinero.

    Asi que solo puedes perder si dices tú primero un numero. Tu quieres que el entrevistador diga primero su número. Quieres que el entrevistador te diga el rango en que se mueve para ese puesto, porque entonces te puedes centrar en pedir más o menos lo más alto que estan dispuestos a ofrecer. Pero no puedes apuntar a lo mas alto si no lo conoces.

    Asi que si hay buenos negociadores de sueldos en la sala, se abrirá un juego para ver quien es el primero que tiene que dar el primer número. Afortunadamente la compañia no puede hacerte una oferta sin ofrecer a su vez una cifra, asi que en ese momento las cartas las tienes a tu favor, mientras mantegas tu posición.

    Asi que aqui hay una lista de posibles respuestas para todas las formas en que el entrevistador os preguntará cuanto dinero esperais obtener. Cuantas más veces podais “esquivar” la pregunta menos probabilidades tendreis de ser el primero decir una cifra. Esto funciona, incluso cuando no teneis todo a vuestro favor y realmente necesitais el trabajo.

    ¿Y que rango de salario buscas?
    “Hablemos primero de los requisistos del puesto y espectativas, asi me puedo hacer una idea de lo que necesitais” Esta es una respuesta “suave” a una forma “suave” de hacer la pregunta.

    ¿Cuanto ganabas en tu trabajo anterior?
    “El puesto que ofreces no es exactamente el mismo que en mi ultimo trabajo, asi que hablemos cuales serán mis responsabilidades aqui y estimemos entonces un sueldo justo para este puesto”. Es dificil para el entrevistador responder a palabras como reponsabilidad o “justo”, asi te estas ganando respeto.

    ¿Que esperas en terminos de sueldo?
    “Estoy interesado en encontrar un trabajo que realmente se ajuste a mi. Estoy seguro de que sea el que sea el salario que pagais es correspondiente con el resto del mercado.” En otras palabras, tengo respeto por mi mismo y quiero pensar que puedo respetar en esta compañia.

    Necesito saber que sueldo quieres de manera que pueda hacerte una oferta. ¿Me puedes ofrecer un rango de salarios?
    “Apreciaria si me pudieras hacer una oferta basada en cuanto haceis presupuestado para ese puesto ypodemos partir de ahi”. Es una respuesta bastante directa, asi que usar terminos como “apreciar” se centra en ofrecer las mejores cualidades del entrevistado más que su lado más duro.

    ¿Por que no me quieres decir tus espectativas salariales?
    “Creo que teneis una buena idea de cuanto vale este puesto para vuestra empresa, y esa es una informacion importante que deberia saber.” Esta es una de los últimos esfuerzos por forzarte a responder una cifra. Mantente en tu linea y ganarás.

    Veis el patrón, ¿verdad? Si creeis que pareceis obstinados o “cabezones” al no repsonder su pregunta pensad como se siente él al pregunar lo mismo varias veces. El entrevistador sólo está intentando doblegarte en la negociación. Si te rindes pareceras un negociador mediocre, y eso es precisamente lo que el negociador no está buscando.

    Asi que mantened la posición, y entended que el entrevistador está siendo tan insistente como vosotors. Quizas os encoraje saber que estudios dicen que si imitais el comportamiento del entrevistador aumentais las posibilidades de obtener el puesto. Por supuesto, esto se aplica tambien a tono de voz, nivel de entusiasmo y lenguaje corporal, pero ¿quien dice que no se deba aplicar a tecnicas de negociación tambien?
    Intentadlo, puede que termineis bastante más ricos.

  34. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:


    Couldn’t agree with you more! In my most recent job (got it last July), my boss asked what salary I was looking for and I responded “You must have something in mind, right?” And he laughed and gave in. But he’s a really cool guy and not every employer is.

  35. John Michael
    John Michael says:

    What if they hand you an “employment application” with the words at the top ALL INFORMATION MUST BE PROVIDED and the signature says it again?

  36. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    When I read this chapter in your book I chuckled to myself because at first glance I failed this tip miserably. Last year when I got a job I was asked into the boss’s office after the interview to “talk” more about things. He asked me and I blurted out the number. After thinking about it I don’t think I failed however, and here’s why. I blurted out a number that was 25% more than what I was making at my current job. I figured even if they countered I would still have a good raise. They didn’t counter, they just accepted the number. With the job I just got salary was never brought up. They offered me a job, I countered and now i’m here. My point is if you have some wiggle room and you are not already at the top of the scale for your position it may not be a bad thing to just get that number out there, especially if you don’t “need” a job. Be liberal and see if they bite. To Penelope’s point though, I may have been able to get more had I not said anything.

  37. Pam
    Pam says:

    Oh Penelope, I always enjoy your column, but as a professional recruiter (mostly contingency but have also worked onsite as corporate), most of this advice is dangerously wrong!

    Here’s a little secret….this advice will only work for you if you are a superstar, as in they have to have you and everywhere you go you get offers. Most people just aren’t that in demand. So, what happens when you play games like this, especially early on in the process? It is very, very common for you to not get past the first interview. Why? Well, if you’re playing games like this and I can’t give the hiring manager the information he needs, he may decide, “he/she sounds like trouble, who else do we have?”

    Because these questions don’t generally come up at the end of the process, they come up at the very beginning. And as someone who says he/she is a recruiter (which I doubt by the way), I have been doing this for almost 15 years, and noone that I know considers this sport.

    I usually ask the question on the phone, before a first in-person meeting. Why? To save everyone time.

    Here’s a tip though, one way you can answer that should work with any recruiter. When I ask you ‘What is your current salary?’, you can evade the question for a moment if you like, by asking me, ‘what’s the range for the position?’

    I will always tell you. But please know that in my experience most candidates don’t hear the full range….they just hear and fixate on the top number (not that I blame them). So, I always explain that it’s a range, and that where a person will fall into the range depends on a few factors, their current salary and how that experience relates to the job, and internal equity, meaning how are we paying others in similar roles.

    Internal equity is a big factor, huge, in what you are offered. If you are making 100k for instance and others in the group with more experience than you are at 115k, then in most cases, they will offer you somewhere in the 110-115k range, but not above 115k, because that wouldn’t be fair to their group. And people talk, and think about how you’d feel in that group if you were making 115k and found out that someone with less experience was hired in at 120k? You probably wouldn’t be thrilled….and that’s what companies try to avoid.

    So, when you are asked for a range of what you are looking for, don’t play games. Be confident in your skills and research what the market is paying. A general rule of thumb, if you are going for a somewhat similar role, you can expect a bump in salary in the 10-20% range. It’s rare to see more than that, and hard for the company to justify.

    So, be aware when you give a range, have that low end be a number you would really be happy with, so if you’re making 100k for instance, say you’re looking in the 115-125k range, but you’re flexible. Leave it at that.

    Now when you work with a good recruiter, like me, we do the negotiating for you, and will always tell you salary range on a position up front before you decide to have your resume presented.

    There’s really no getting around the current salary question I’m afraid. It is one of the benchmarks taken into consideration. Now if you feel it is on the low side, you may want to explain why you accepted it, maybe it was a great chance for you to side step into another industry? Be aware though that if you take a pay cut when you take a job somewhere, that it may haunt you in future negotiations. However, depending on your total years of experience, it might not be that much of a factor, again because of internal equity…which is almost a formula of sorts where they look at total years of experience and how that fits into their salaries, so you could get a good bump up.

    But, what you get for a salary is not a number pulled out of thin air. Being evasive on giving salary history is not going to help you because eventually, before an offer is given, you will need to share the information. So why not do it at the outset before you waste your time or the companies? Make sure you’re in the ball park!

    The way you truly negotiate a higher salary is to stick to your guns and be able to walk away. That’s the key, you need to really be able to say, ‘no thank you, I can’t accept at this number, but I will if you can come to xxx.’

    That works….unless it’s completely out of the range.

  38. Vickster
    Vickster says:

    I had my first ever interview yesterday and I countered with some version of ‘what salary do YOU have in mind?’. It worked in so far as the interviewer gave me a wry smile and a range. But then I didn’t know how to react… So my question is, once you’ve won the ‘battle’ of not being the first to give a number, how do you negotiate yourself towards the upper end of the scale?

  39. David H.
    David H. says:

    Ahhh Penelope!!! I really wish I would have had this article exactly one week ago! I got a call about a position I really wanted and the HR lady asked a few questions over the phone, one of them being “What kind of salary are you looking for?” I somewhat panicked since I didn’t want to answer but didn’t know a good way around it. Nonetheless, if I don’t get this job I’m glad for the advice for the next time I interview! I love your column when you keep it focused on useful topics like this!

  40. Scott Messinger
    Scott Messinger says:

    I’m really curious on the range of opinions about this. Some people think this is great advice and say it has worked for them. Others say this is terrible advice and works against the candidate.

    So why the two completely different experiences?I think it has to do with the idustry you work in.

    Penelope works in a artistic industry. She’s a writer. The value of such skills are much more subjective. I imagine that the positions she and her peers interview for, are not very standardized. In these cases, a persons perceived value is very nebulous, so tough negotiating is needed. Such candidate can’t really point to specific skills, and add them up to say what they are worth. So the first indication of the job candidates percieved worth is what they list as theyr salary range.

    On the other hand, many of us work in industries where our value is much more objective. I myself am a programmer. My value is based on the the number of years experience with specific computer languages and products. My title belongs to a job class that is standardized across the industry. The only wiggle room I have is in how good I am at my job (I like to think I’m above average) and that’s not much when you look at the big picture. So such tactics that Penelope suggest would not work well for people like me, and for many others out there.

  41. Pam
    Pam says:


    That’s a really great point, and as I mentioned this advice does only work if you are a ‘superstar’ or truly unique as an artist type is. For the majority, it just doesn’t work and will backfire on you because each job has a definite range, and budget and playing games with hr/hiring managers isn’t going to get you far.

  42. Ramesh
    Ramesh says:

    What if i ask for a range, and she gives me an upper range that is lower than what i am worth.
    For example, if i am worth 60000, and the HR gives me the range as 40000 – 50000, what do i do then?


  43. Pam
    Pam says:


    If the range is below what you are looking for, just say so, and if they say it’s a firm range, then you just say forget it. Unless you are willing to take a pay cut, which usually is not a good idea. Better to find out at the beginning rather than after you’ve wasted time for a job that won’t pay what you need.

  44. Baceman Chris
    Baceman Chris says:

    Dear Editormum,

    If an employer asked me for a W-2 confirmation, that would end the conversation right there! Not a chance in hell would I give them that. Either I’m right for the job or I’m not. I’ll perform full disclosure once I’m hired and then ONLY if my job requires that disclosure for conflict of interest reasons.

    I’m doing full financial disclosure just to get the job for anyone. That’s my business!

    People so often forget…to me it’s my life…to them, it’s a job. BIG difference.

  45. Maryellen
    Maryellen says:

    If you would like to continue the process, fill it out completely. You can hold it, take it into the interview with the salary blank and say “I have to check the exact figure, but I feel I was underpaid there. Is salary history a big factor in determining an offer?” Then – be quiet – and listen to the answer.

    To continue being considered for this company, you will need to complete it. If it REALLY bugs you to have to do it, then look at another company – probably a smaller one. This one may not be a fit.

    I also suggest only answering the salary question once per company – ideally to the recruiter/hiring manager at the beginning of the process. Sometimes 4 interviewers will each ask you – they’re just being nosey! They don’t all have an impact on the salary decision. It’s fine to say that you discussed that with the recruiter or HM already, and change the subject.

  46. Flying Squirrel
    Flying Squirrel says:

    I always thought that the tried and true rule was that you didn’t discuss salary until AFTER you had a job OFFER. In an interview? I don’t think candidates should have to discuss salary at all. After the interview is a different story.

    But reading some of these recruiter’s responses, maybe times have changed and it is now deemed acceptable? Personally, I’m uncomfortable being asked about salary in the interview stage.

  47. Brent
    Brent says:

    I am currently negotiating for a new position. The application required salary requirements to be considered. I gave my answer as a range–the low end of which is 15% more than I’m currently making. I’m probably not qualified for a job that pays any higher. To be sure, I always check sites like to do a little profiling. Very helpful. There are ways to “win” without being coy or beligerant. You just have to be smart. If the range I gave was out of their range, then they wouldn’t have called me back…and I still would’ve won. Most recruiters are good folks who like people and are just as uncomfortable talking about it as you are. The goal is getting the right person for the right job at a salary that makes both sides happy. Work with them to make it a win-win, and you’ll come out ahead.

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