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.

245 replies
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  1. Roman
    Roman says:

    I usually e-mail from a separate address not connected to my name asking what the salary is if I have doubts.

  2. Carolyn Bahm
    Carolyn Bahm says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve tried to figure this out on my own but have never heard some concrete examples like you provided. And I know I used to be dramatically underpaid. When I moved to my present company, I managed to get the interviewer to name a salary, and her first offer was double what I was currently making.

    Kinda hard at that point not to stand up and say, “SCORE!”

  3. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I have to say, as an HR professional without a lot of time on my hands, I get very annoyed with people who won’t tell me their salary expectations. I don’t want to waste time with someone who wants way more than I can offer. If they aren’t willing to answer the question with at least a target salary range, I won’t continue the interview process. It sounds tough, but like everyone else in the business world, I’m busy and time is essential. I ask about salary in the telephone interview and reconfirm at the final interview. I appreciate people who know what they want.

    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      Lisa,
      Since you and the other HR pros out there are so pressed for time, why not save a lot of time and aggr for all parties concerned and simply post a salary range, or at least a starting salary. That way, jobseekers like me can decide at first glance whether or not to even bother applying in the first place. So if these people who don’t state a salary annoy you so much…you know what the solution is (that, or find another line of work that’s not so annoying).

  4. Miriam Salpeter
    Miriam Salpeter says:

    Lisa –
    As an HR professional without a lot of time on your hands, why wouldn’t you state the range you have in mind for the position? If salary is the key factor, you could state your range when you invite the candidate for an interview and you’ll know that everyone is on the same page.

    If you don’t state your expectations, it seems to me that you are playing games with the applicant. (Obviously you have a budget for the job, right?) Hopefully, your applicants have the option to find an employer who is willing to treat them with respect.

  5. Michael Cortes
    Michael Cortes says:

    Miriam- excellent reply. I challenge all you HR professionals to respond to Miriam’s challenge. As I have read the comments, the overwhelming theme seems to be HR pros don’t want to waste time with candidates that won’t state a number.

    I had wondered why it falls upon the candidate to go first. It seems that integrity is at stake, and if a number is important to “you”, then you should be the first to give that number. Such as the HR pros. If it it so vital, give the candidate the range and then ask for a number.

    If a candidate is willing to wait for the number, it is obviously not so pressing. It is obvious that the candidate know they cannot get a job offer without a salary offer. They can wait.

    It has been known that a candidate will show up with the same attitude as the HR Pros, not wanting to waste time, therefore wanting to know the range up front. If it is the candidates litmus test, then they should be willing to give their salary requirements first, then ask the range.

    As for salary history, crapola. Never has it been honorable or honest to ask the salary range. It is simply an attempt to lowball as much as possible. While trying to get the best price is traditional tactics, and probably not dishonest in and of itself… please don’t try to portray it as anything else. The job history and previous duties are the indication of what the candidate is capable of and worth… not the previous salary.

  6. Finance Monk
    Finance Monk says:

    I agree with the questions Miriam and Michael Cortes just posed. If it’s such a big deal for an HR rep, they should just state the salary range themselves. In my experience though, I’ve always been told the range without much fuss (though I usually parry the first ‘what are you expecting as a salary’ question.)

    It’s amusing that most of the disagreements are from professional recruiters.

    That said, Pam, I like your candor. Do you work with placing financial analysts? If Penelope doesn’t mind, can you post a way for potential recruits to contact you?

  7. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I’ll give a range if asked and remind the candidate of the various benefits offered. But, the range I’ll share won’t go to the top of my budget – would you provide that knowing that candidates are going to always come back at the top of the range based on advice from blogs like this one? And, if a candidate does state their expectation at the top of the range, without taking into consideration their experience (and equity within my org – which of course they can’t know about) than they’ve quoted themselves out of the job. It’s much more helpful to me for the candidate to share their TRUE expectation so that I can determine if they are a good fit.

  8. Josh
    Josh says:

    I had an interview 6 months ago with an older Texan guy. He asked about my salary expectations and I sort of pussy-footed around it like you’re describing. Heh, he got very blunt and said “cut the new age whoo-eey and tell me what you want to make” to which I responded lightning fast “75k sir” and he said “if we decide to offer you the job it’ll probably be at least 80”. I got the job and he was right.
    I think interviewers are wising up to people playing this game. I’m sure some people could have dealt with it better than I but if you really want a job (and I did, I didn’t need the job, but I really wanted to work at this place) as an interviewee you don’t want to look like an arrogant prick.

  9. B
    B says:

    I would be curious to know if you have used this exact approach and how much luck you have found…

    I would say the first answer is adequate because why would you give a salary based off a position you know nothing about?

    also I am at a point wher I get recruiters calling me so if they want me and I am not looking I ask them to give me the salary range before I talk about anything else… or I don’t move forward.

  10. Liz Handlin
    Liz Handlin says:

    This technique may work at senior levels but junior level employees all the way up to mid-management might just annoy the hiring manager by playing this game. The tactics you describe may also be more effective in start-ups/entrepreneurial environments than in large companies.

    In many companies the salary for a job isn’t that flexible and in some cases, it is fixed with almost no room for negotiation. If I were the recruiter or hiring manager and someone played this game with me it would annoy me…as a hiring manger in large companies (Deliotte, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago) I always wanted to offer new employees as much as I possibly could and by the time we reached the salary discussion I would have already lobbied with my superiors to offer as much as I could to attract the new hire.

    If you want to negotiate sometimes its not the salary that you should be negotiating because of aforementioned reasons. If the salary isn’t negotiable try to get a larger signing bonus, more perks, more time off, or a company car. Many times hiring managers can offer more flexibility on those sorts of things than they can on the salary.

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

    I once received an insulting salary offer from a company. They added that, “The economy is really bad right now and we’re scooping people up at great rates!” When I balked at their offer (which was so far off from what I would even consider that I tried not to laugh), they decided to send me to the COO. The COO tried to tell me it was a competitive offer. Then he said, “Well, that should be enough for anyone to live on.” I knew right then and there that I did not want to work for that company. I knew they would never tell a man that $40k a year was enough to live on in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And, further to that, they obviously were focused on lowballing, not paying for value. They were pretty shocked when I walked away and wouldn’t even consider their next offer, which was considerably higher.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This seems like great advice for any private company but I work for a public institution where salary ranges for positions are set, published and the person interviewing can easily access your current salary. Because everything is transparent ,or so it seems, I’m not sure how to handle salary negotiations. I just interviewed for a position and they offered me the job. Then we talked salary. This was the second time I was asked what salary would make me happy. I already knew what the established range for the position was and managed to avoid giving a number the first time around but the second time around I ended up feeling pressured to give a number so I gave what I thought was fair based on comparisons with people having the same type of responsibilities. But now I’m feeling like I shot myself in the foot. Should I have not given a number? What is the best way to handle these negotiations when most information is transparent?

    • a-nonny.
      a-nonny. says:

      Anonymous,

      Penelope’s recommendations are geared for situations where information is hidden from both parties, and there’s a race to gain information advantage. This has to be modified for specific situations like yours. (As you see from the diversity of comments – a lot of variation in what works and why!)

      You entered your salary negotiation with an information advantage that most of the others in this thread don’t have: knowing the salary range for the job.

      When things are already pretty transparent, you’re still well served by delaying the conversation until you understand the job (which you did).

      The only other thing I might suggest (which you may have tried): when the time comes for someone to name a number within the range, say something like this:

      “Based on what you know regarding the needs of the job [and organizations goals, etc] and what I bring to the table, what salary do you think is fair?” Whether you think their number is low or not, ask them to explain it. Then be prepared to explain what you want and why.

      If they push you to answer your own question first, mention that it’s not your goal to make anyone uncomfortable with your questions. Then simply ask them why they don’t feel comfortable answering your honest question. (Watch your tone: you’re asking the other person to trust you and engage in a candid conversation. If you sound pushy or condescending or anything other than trustworthy and honest, you’re done.)

      And better than anyone else on this thread, *you* will know if such an approach may work for you and your organization next time – or if you’re better off doing what you did last time.

      As noted elsewhere in this thread: successful salary negotiations aren’t competitive situations where one party gets to win at the other’s expense, The End. You’ll need some amount of (mutual) candor and trust to get anything done once you work there. What you say, when you say it, and how you say it are all going to be part of establishing that. The same applies across the table. They work within their own constraints and must earn your trust within those constraints.

      Observe your environment, weigh what will fly in it, and decide how you want to proceed.

      Good luck!

  13. Andra
    Andra says:

    As an interviewer…. I don’t feel obnoxious or annoying when I keep asking the question. I just feel sad that people don’t understand why this is a necessary discussion. When you reach the point where you need to know that person’s expectations, it means you are interested in them, and not in “dancing”.

  14. Kosta Kontos
    Kosta Kontos says:

    I’m not so sure I agree with this point: “The person who gives the first number sets the starting point. But if that's you, you lose.” – I feel it depends on how well prepared you are, and how well you know yourself and your market.

    For example, having job offers (in writing) from other companies on hand is a useful way to justify your worth. This tactic certainly simplifies the whole process. No having to beat around the bush.

    Using the above technique is especially useful when it is time to negotiate a raise. On the flipside, if your request for a raise is turned down, you should be willing to resign for them alleged greener pastures.

    I guess it comes down to your personality type. Not everyone enjoys the negotiating game.

    When you’re the best in your field at what you do, you write your own paycheck. Until you reach that point, work for as little as possible in jobs where you gain the most experience (assuming you’re young enough to enjoy the short-term loss leader that is).

  15. Gray
    Gray says:

    How does one respond when, as part of the application process, the company requires a pay stub from your current/previous position? I’ve run into this awkward position a couple of times. Certainly takes away any bargaining power one may have.

  16. Baceman
    Baceman says:

    If they request a paystub or W-2, I’m not intrested. I have options, thank God.

    That’s my business and it’s only theirs if an offer is on the table. Of course, you never should lie about your compensation. I think that’s equally unethical.

  17. Hal
    Hal says:

    I’m in a highly-specialized field so my experiences might not be relevant to this discussion, but I have never had much trouble with the salary question. There are very few people doing the work I do, we all know how much each-other make, and we know what the market demands.

    What shocks me is how often interviewers will try to BS me by saying that their too-low offer is “what the market is offering.” It happened a few weeks ago when a company tried to lowball me by $40,000. In these cases I always walk. If a company can’t be honest I don’t want to work with them.

    I don’t think there is anything to be gained from being stingy with salaries. In my experience, employers who look to minimize salaries are miserable places to work. I’d much rather work with a company that doesn’t mind paying for talent and is more interested in growing a business than a company that is obsessed with cutting costs.

  18. chris
    chris says:

    this once again raises a question I’ve had — are there Agents that act on behalf of employees; like sports/entertainment agents? if anyone has heard of such a thing, I’d be very interested to hear how it works.

  19. Marc
    Marc says:

    Pen is right in all cases, professional recruiters be damned. However the role of the hiring manager has been overlooked.

    In my nearly 20 years in middle exec to C-level positions I have staffed plenty of positions and have negotiated my own comp package in close to a dozen.

    Except for entry-level positions, the hiring manager has an annual compensation budget that he must stay within *unless* a special situation (say the chance to recruit a known rainmaker) gives him reason to ask his superiors for an exception. The decision loop for that exception always runs from the hiring manager through his superior chain and then to accounting. HR plays only an administrative role.

    I have known of cases where HR had to consider a special situation hire. In every case the recruiter submitted a case that essentially said ‘I know this person is very valuable but we’re bound by our salary range, so please endorse my rejection.’

    My practice, and my advice, are to: A)Make it your goal to discuss your financial negotiating position only with the hiring manager, while; B)Using Pen’s advice to extract the employer’s position from them.

    You are negotiating a business deal just like any other. And you and the hiring manager are the principal, whereas HR are mere agents. You serve your best interests by knowing their ultimate goals without them knowing yours. And as a principal, you negotiate only with other principals.

  20. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I strongly disagree with Marc’s comment. As an HR professional working in a large, corporate environment, it’s insulting to read someone name me as a “mere agent” that “plays only an administrative role.” In my organization, HR does all salary negotiations, the Hiring Manager has no discretion to hire outside of the set ranges. Yes, Hiring Managers have a budget but imagine what would happen to internal equity if Hiring Managers could offer people whatever they wanted!

    Hey, if Hiring Managers want to take on the entire recruitment process (draft advertisements, screen resumes, do telephone interviews, schedule in person interviews, call references, administer background checks, call declined candidates, negotiate salary within the organizations salary grades, write offer letters, plan and schedule orientations and training, follow-up on progress after hire) I’d be happy to let them – it’s certainly not my favorite part of my job.

    I look at the Hiring Manager and I as a team – we work together using our specialized skills to find the right fit – I use my recruitment and HR knowledge to ensure a fair and equitable process and internal equity in regards to salary; they use their Management skills and functional knowledge to determine if the candidate has the skills and experience to do the job and is a good fit for their team.

    • kit
      kit says:

      Listen Lisa, you are n o b o d y, period. You are cost center contributing – nothing. “HR” was invented back in the 90s with internet boom. Enron and alike wanted massive hirings, fake projects, failing projects, to confuse stakeholders, to create fatamorgana of “growth”. You see, with successful hiring you do not need massive hiring. One successful resource can replace literally 10 of the resources selected by HR (usually uneducated resources, with qualifiers like “or equivalent” etc. Why equivalent?? Why not exact education background for the job?? Shoe salesman as – Oracle developer?! Preacher as IT strategist?! History teacher as – Director of IT infrastructure. etc. etc. – all the result of HR “work”)
      How about that for productivity? Expansion? What expansion? Stocks are where they were 12 years ago, i.e. no new business value was created (thise gdp percentages cover population growth). The result was Enron after Enron, after Fanie Mae, after Nortel, after Lehman, after … They created “massive hiring” dogma, they created “HR” movement. ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY. HR is the culprit of the 2000-2010 decade of busts, and the worst is yet to come!

  21. Janine
    Janine says:

    Our employer does not allow us to ask about salaries during a job interview. If someone does, they get criticised and told that their question is inappropriate.

  22. Pam
    Pam says:

    Marc,

    Not a good approach. At most companies it’s hr/the recruiter you’ll be negotiating salary with. The hiring manager and hr person are on the same team, hr is not out to thwart you, the goal is to get you on board, if you’re the candidate the hiring manager wants. At a very small company with no hr department you might negotiate directly with hiring mgr, but other than that it’s hr you need to go through. Don’t underestimate the influence of hr either…if you are arrogant and condescending to us, the hiring manager will know about it…and they do value our opinion, especially when they are trying to make a decision between several candidates.

  23. Marcia Robinson
    Marcia Robinson says:

    Many great points already made. In a nutshell?

    1. Understand that “pay equity” issues are real for the employer – so they do have parameters. Salary survey information is valuable to establish a baseline.

    2. Superstars and Mavericks can do a lot of things, but in my experience, their requests get turned down quite a bit too.

    3. Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). In other words know where you will walk away and what your options are if your needs are not met with this offer.

    At what offer level do the alternatives (look elsewhere, stay where you are etc) look more attractive?

  24. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    I am a Quality Assurance Manager and I am looking for work at the moment (mainly in start-ups) if I get asked this question early on in the interview process I tend to say, “Can you give me more information about the job such as how many people I will be managing so I can give you an answer proportionate to the responsibilities?”

    This kind of answer is neither evasive nor does it seem that you don’t want to answer particularly because the range of salaries for QA are subject to the specific job description and this sort of information usually gives an idea of where in the salary charts this job falls.

    Does this work for anyone else?

  25. Robert in SF
    Robert in SF says:

    @ Jonathan:

    Jon, that sounds like a great response to me. I am also a QA Manager looking for work. Are you in biotech? In the San Francisco Bay Area? If so, then you have already heard chapter and verse of the Radford Salary Survey…the secret tome of salaries and position descriptions. That thing is the bible to HR in biotech out here. Most companies will say that they will pay according to Radford (which includes a *broad* range), but your answer shows the influence you have over the placements within the range provided.

    I don’y (yet) manage people since I tend to focus on the compliance side of QA rather than product review…so I can’t use the “how many people”, “what kind of resource pool” questions.

    But I like your specific answer…I will have to think about what makes each job I interview for challenging and unique, and use that as my metric. Thanks for the inspiration!

  26. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Danny, Penelope did not give bad advice. She gave advice that doesn’t suit you as a recruiter. It’s actually GOOD advice for candidates.

    Within a salary differential of $5k-$15k, your commission does not really change that much. Your interest is in placing a candidate, one that will be a ‘good fit’ (ie. they’ll stay long enough for it not to backfire on the recruiter), sure but your interest is not in getting the absolute maximum salary out of the employer. Only the candidate has the candidate’s interests truly at heart.

    People have spoken about time wastage and there is an easy solution to that. The employer should advertise the salary range. If the salary range is in the job ad or disclosed to the recruiter or the candidate at interview stage, then there is no time wastage. Time wastage only occurs when BOTH the employer and the candidate are not willing to talk salary first. In my opinion, it’s the company that should be more open about their plans and expectations, not the candidate.

  27. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    @ Robert in SF:

    Rob, don’t worry mate we aren’t competing for the same jobs (kidding); I am based in Israel and work in the hi-tech (mainly web) field.

    All these comments on time wastage are true; the number of ridiculous interviews I have gone on as a result of headhunters not listening to my requirements e.g. absolutely, utterly no outsourcing jobs … I would rather have root canal treatment.

  28. JoeG
    JoeG says:

    Caitlin,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Very well stated. It’s been my experience that a “sucker is born every minute.” My advice to candidates is that you always need to do your due diligence and be as well informed as possible. Recruiters (external & internal) are not out for your best interests. I’ve found most of them to be unethical and absolute liars. It’s all a game. Good luck to everyone and take care of yourselves.

  29. alan
    alan says:

    this was the most stupid advice I’ve ever seen… The employee ask you for an information and you refuse to give, you will look like a freak.

    my advice is to first impress the interviewer, and when he asks for a salary range, simply give a very high salary, the interviewer will obviously say this is much higher than what they expected, which was (and now he says his possible salary, and probably the top limit, so he will not feel so bad for decreasing your expected value). From that, you just have try to convince him that you deserve your proposed salary. The worst thing that can happen is you start working with the top salary possible from their original range.

  30. Gloria
    Gloria says:

    I wasn’t always able to be the second one to say a number and I suppose that if I was experienced I would have oped better in the situation. I am self employed now and look at the whole monetary negotiations a little different.

  31. Dale
    Dale says:

    In sport, 90% of excellent execution comes from knowing in advance what you are going to do given a particular situation. The same can be said for going into this situation. Be prepared for what is going to come, and have the intestinal fortitude to do what you planned in practice sessions.

    Nice post!

  32. nosmo
    nosmo says:

    How would you deal with this requirement from a online ad
    “Please include a cover letter, including salary requirement, with resume”

    A well known manufacturing company – mid level tech position

    Unless I guess the magic number, my resume gets sent to the circular file unread!
    They don’t seem to want to provide “state of the art” compensation to enable employees to be “challenged to go beyond the confines of ordinary thinking, search for creative solutions and turn those solutions into reality”

    Yet the HR page trumpets: “XXXXXX places a high value on the talent of its Team Members and believes in rewarding them for their efforts. ”
    They just reward those who play their game

    I am considering this position, due to my present state of unemployment.

    It is a lower level position but it is out of the city, which in my area translates to an easy $5000 savings just for parking and fuel. So I would look at any position that has hassle free access outside of the gridlock as handing me an additional $5k hidden bonus over their offer just in personal convenience. Conversely, I would not consider a job in the heart of the gridlocked city for less a minimum $10K increase for the same or less responsibility.

    So Do I just tell them that my salary requirements are negotiable depending on the rest of the compensation? Or say ” My salary requirements are commensurate with the industry norm for this position”

    Thanks,

    Nosmo

  33. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Penelope,

    What would you suggest for someone who is changing careers to a lesser-paying field? If someone is earning $200+ in finance and moving to an HR position (understanding she will take a cut), is the previous salary essentially irrelevant? Should you tell the recruiter your last salary to show what you have been worth?Career moves like this have become a trend.

    Lisa

    * * * * * *

    The previous salary is irrelevant becuase it is a reflection of your worth in the finance industry. You need to find out your worth in the HR industry. It’s apples and oranges.

    –Penelope

  34. Scott
    Scott says:

    Ugh!!!

    If you have a salary with you which are dissatisfied — IT IS YOUR FAULT. The HR person didn’t screw you. The hiring manager didn’t screw you. The company didn’t screw you. You set or agreed to a market value for your services that, upon research, seems misaligned.

    If you are finding this out after the fact, you failed to do the research you should have done when you began your search. If the market conditions that led to your acceptance of the terms you were offered have changed, you simply have not responded to those market conditions and asked for a raise. In either case — look in the mirror.

    I get a little frustrated when I hear comments from people suggesting that “HR People think they are kings” or “the hiring manager was mean.” I have been an HR Manager. I have been an Operations Manager. I have been a headhunter. I have been overpaid. I have been underpaid. You know who “fixed it” when it was fixed? Yours truly. You know who was at fault when it didn’t work? That’d be me too.

    Do your research. Know your market (both industry and region) and confidently answer the question when the recruiter/hiring manager/hr person asks it. Dragging it out is coy and, frankly, you could very well be wasting your time as well any of the people with your potential future employer who can’t hire you if you cost too much. But if you’re respectful and have done your research, you just might get directed to another department where your skills, experience and salary requirements can be better accomodated.

    The poster who noted that some companies have differeing philosophies on variable compensation made a good point. If you want to hedge your bet you can say, “I currently earn $xxx, with a fairly predictable x% bonus. Can you help me understand your philosophy on base pay vs. variable comp so I can give you a more intelligent answer on exactly what my salary requirements would be if you were to offer me this role?”

    Lastly — don’t lie. I know there is a school of thought that says you should inflate your current comp. It’s increasingly common to require salary verification with job offer and most companies will terminate you if you falsify an application. As third party reference checking increases in popularity, look for this trend to continue.

  35. Craig S. Kiessling
    Craig S. Kiessling says:

    I just the folks here saying “this dancing”, “this game-playing”, etc…

    Okay…How about we play fair…And interviewers, etc. tell us exactly what the budgeted salary range for the position is, so we can…Either say “Sorry, it’s not a good fit”, “Yes, I am in the ceiling of that range”, “that works for me” or something…

    If we are at the point of talking money – it means we are interested in the people, the company, the industry, and the position.

    If we are willing to be flexible enough to say – YOU set the range…And we will still give you our best…WHY on earth would it make sense to force us to shoot us in the foot either on the up or downside?

  36. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the advice on negotiating a salary. I am a student attending UW-Milwaukee and will be graduating soon. Knowing the importance of having the employer or interviewer give the interviewee a salary range first is an important point to remember. Also, telling them you need a day to think about their offer, and then counter offering with a higher amount later is great advice.

  37. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    I guess this really depends upon where you are in your career and your life. I am of the opinion that if I have thoroughly researched the position, I have an excellent idea of what it should pay. I believe that if they are asking for your salary requirements, they are likely attempting to low-ball you anyway.

    In this situation, I know what it is I am looking for in terms of salary and wouldn’t want to work for less anyway. I would be tempted to give them MY requirements and see if they can meet it. I wouldn’t last six months working for less than my range anyway.

    Of course, this is oversimplification from someone whose been self employed for quite some time now. The negotiation strategies mentioned by Penelope are the best strategies to implement for the masses, my personality is just such that I lack the patience for the “dance”.

  38. Greg
    Greg says:

    Here’s a really good answer:

    $80,000 a year, although I would go down to $75,000 a year if there was something very interesting about the job that would give me the opportunity to learn something new. If the position turns out to be particularly valuable in terms of doing new things and learning new things, I might go as low as $70,000, but not a penny below that.

    The idea of not saying a number can be baloney.

    I once asked someone who made 50% more than I how he did it. We both had the same job skills. I was actually a little better.

    He said that when he emailed a resume, his very brief email included the amount he was looking for. If you say you’re an $80,000 a year person, that’s how they think of you.

    Just take your current salary / hourly rate, add 20% or 40%, and there you have it.

    People HATE buying a car, because the guy won’t quote a price. Why be a jerk?

    Tell them how much you cost. Give them a little range, so they can feel they have negotiated you down a little from your top rate.

  39. Gib
    Gib says:

    Some good comments and rejoinders!

    The thing I'd have to say to everyone countering Penelope's advice is – €“ have you ever tried it? I'd ask the HR and recruiters that, too, rather than speak to the hiring side.

    I’ve been placed three in the last 10 years through recruiters. Twice I didn't get them to name a number first, and both times I could have received better compensation.

    And remember, your starting salary affects your raises forever.

    The third time, when recruiters called me I gave them multiple numbers for my current compensation. I'd start with the literal number and then translate that into an adjusted gross pay, taking into consideration the differences in work hours, overtime eligibility, vacation pay, personal days, and all other days off.

    I told recruiters I wouldn't consider leaving for a net loss of compensation.

    I think having this kind of spreadsheet handy, where you can see how your hourly value fluctuates based on vacation pay and overtime eligibility and parameters, gives you a lot of information to squelch bad offers. Also, if you have that interview where they've basically courted you but you don't know any of the details, you can explain compensation parameters for you.

    For my current job, I called recruiters and asked them what skills they would need to see for the salary ranges I wanted to be considered for. I rewrote my resume and took on projects that demonstrated competence for the most in-demand skills.

    I interviewed several rounds and when the recruiter said they were writing an offer, but it would be lower than the $10k range we had agreed I wanted to be submitted for.

    I told him he’d wasted everyone’s time because I would not even hear an offer from him less than that, and if the other compensation factors weren’t tempting, even my salary floor wouldn’t be enough.

    All of this is to say, that with recruiters, you should follow Penelope’s advice and STILL get them to name the number first. Do what I did — find the pay ranges and positions they have on offer and market yourself for those positions.

    For people dealing with online submissions, there are still phones. You can call HR for a company or a recruiter and say, "Hi, I'm curious if this is a junior or senior position. I don't want to bother submitting if the pay range isn't appropriate for my skills and experience." Use Salary.com and other sites to appraise the range and factors that affect annual salary.

    I even did this as a completely inexperienced college kid registering at temp agencies. I called and told them I had great skills and didn’t want to waste time if they didn’t have clients able to pay for my skills.

    Everyone likes to say “depending on experience,” but it’s key to find out what the experience required before you even send them a resume.

    Sometimes you'll find out they have more than one job. Or you'll find out that they might want to place someone junior for less money but could pay more for someone with your experience.

    Get them to name the number and the requirements and total compensation.

    Penelope’s point to get them to name the price first holds true here, especially for recruiters.

    I've tried her advice. It works. I wish I'd had someone articulate it ten years ago!

  40. Joe
    Joe says:

    Well, I suppose trying not to speak first of salary… maybe that would work in some cases, but – .

    In my situation, I'm usually looking for some kind of fair increase compared with my current/previous job. For people in a specific industry, we all pretty much know, more or less, the ranges of most jobs in the local area.

    So I would normally say, "My current salary is X".

    If they can't beat my current salary, I'd hear about it quick.

    If they can, I'd hear about that too.

    I've had no problems saying my current salary.

    I guess the attempt at getting the prospective employer to make an offer first is to see if you can get something more than a normal increase. That might be possible, and then again, it might not.

    Often I've been asked "What's you current salary?" rather than "What's your salary range?".

    I have heard of places that say, "OK. Bring in your current pay stub" before they make an offer. If you've verbally inflated your salary, you'd be stuck.

    So, for me, I stick to my reality. If they expected to pay a lot more than I am currently earning, and I come – €˜cheap', then it means they would not find it difficult to increase my salary next time raises come along.

    –Joe

  41. Vince
    Vince says:

    I don’t think the problem comes from being the first one to give a number. The problem comes from not clearly communicating your worth.

    Obviously, salary is a big part of the job-hunting experience. If it’s that important to you, you should be on the phone with the HR department before you even send in a resume. I’ve done this myself, especially with government/educational employers who list a salary classification. A five or ten minute call with the result of finding out the salary is too low saves me the time of spending an hour or more preparing a targeted resume, saves the company the effort of reading that resume, and can save us both the time of conducting an interview.

    If you’re asked what you’re currently making, I’d suggest answering with your current salary and then indicating that you’re experience makes you worth more.

    You should already have an idea what kind of salary to expect before you even send in your resume so that when you’re asked a salary range, you can give an intelligent answer.

    Most important, however, is to know what your options are. Do you NEED the job? If so, why jeopardize the job by potentially alienating the interviewer? If you don’t need the job, then be honest about what you expect when you’re asked, and decide ahead of time whether you’re willing to make a counter offer if you’re not satisfied.

  42. Dakota
    Dakota says:

    I applied for a job working with a non profit. I have had some experience, but only graduated 2 years ago so I am fairly new or entry level. The non profit wrote back after I sent my application in asking for my salary requirements. I am struggling on my response because I do not want it to be too little, but also don’t want to ask too much. Any advice?

  43. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    From my experience the size of the salary has less or nothing with one’s technical or professional level. It all comes with the ability to negotiate and knowing your price.

  44. Brian
    Brian says:

    This sparks some thoughts I’ve got to get out and organize before they dissipate. Much is made of salary negotiations, but bottom line is that for most jobs there will be more or less an industry standard range for that position. If you haven’t managed to figure out what it is until you are actually in that industry, you will eventually. If you are paid significantly higher than that, you become a mark on your employers balance sheet they cringe at if they even hired you in the first place. If you are paid significantly lower than that, you will be highly dissatisfied when you inevitably find out and lose motivation if not consider leaving. This isn’t good for the company either. If the job is to be any kind of long term prospect it’s in both the interest of you and the company to agree on a salary that is competitive by industry standards.

    I’m generally not fond of adversarial “hardball” style negotiation. You’re looking for partners not adversaries. If this is the way you approach it, you’re still doing little better than a guessing game anyway. Ideally, you do a little “price shopping” research beforehand by looking at salary surveys and talking to people in the know. You aren’t really giving up much by stating a salary range at the upper end of what your research has revealed as the standard range. Maybe you’ll get extremely lucky and find a company that doesn’t have a clue and would be willing to pay way more, but I wouldn’t count on it.

  45. Joanne Tomarchio
    Joanne Tomarchio says:

    Employers who ask for “a salary requirement” are not dealing in good faith. What employee in their right mind would negotiate against themselves? This new practice is just a way for employers to circumvent the acceptable tents of “an offer for performance.” Perhaps employers are not aware that they are laying the seeds for serious employee backlash who will respond by foregoing the Protestant Work Ethic if they feel they were undercut based on their educational background and experience.

  46. Steve Nguyen
    Steve Nguyen says:

    I’m not too sure about this advice. What if you’ve done your research and have a very good idea about how much the job should pay? In that case, there could be a case for just stating something in that ballpark. If that dollar amount would make you more than happy, why not just go for it? If the employer comes back with something less, then you negotiate towards your number. Otherwise, the possibility of leaving money on the table doesn’t seem so bad if the money makes you happy anyway — Plus, you wouldn’t have to go through the stress of negotiation. Yes, it could be stressful for some people.

  47. Joanne Tomarchio
    Joanne Tomarchio says:

    There is no other way to “call” the “what is your salary requirement” except to say it’s the 21st Century way for
    employers to undercut employees. Let’s be realistic here and admit that the tried and true method of advertising a job opening worked for decades and always included a job description/requirement and a salary amount which allowed a perspective applicant the choice to apply or not to apply based on that information. It sort of resembles a “contract” wherein an offer is made for a performance with a dollar amount or “consideration.” Government agencies are not permitted to “omit” a salary as it is considered “bad faith.”
    Unless employees truly understand that they are being forced to negotiate against themselves they will unwittingly be placing themselves in a situation to be
    exploited.

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