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. ChrisH
    ChrisH says:

    I’ve used both approaches in the last year. With one company it was a duel to the bitter end, and ultiimately may have influenced their decision to not proceed. The easiest answer is to know your own worth in the marketplace. By that I mean, know what your role pays within your marketplace or area. Most of this is easily discernable by looking at job boardsm, etc., as most HR departments have compensation figures derived from some sort ofsimilar practice. I find similar jobs in my area all the time, and they are always listed in the same price range. Most companies will ask you what you make because they’re not going to give you a 50% raise unless you deserve it.

    If you are confident in your worth through the research that you do and your accomplishments, you will know if you are being lowballed. Ultimately, you have the power to say no whenever you want, so if you don’t like what’s being offered, say no thank you and wait out the right offer. If the company is playing games and really wants you, they will do their level best to meet your demands, and if you are truly a top performer, you’ll get what you want.

    It’s actually a lot more simple than we make it out to be, but the responsiblity is yours to know what you’re worth, first.

  2. Karl Harshman
    Karl Harshman says:

    I feel this article gives theoretical but impractical suggestions. In my experience, if you apply for a job you will be asked immediately to guess the salary. If you avoid the question, you will be told outright that your application will not even be considered without a salary request. I have not yet experienced an employer asking for a salary requirement and then backing down even though I try my hardest to dodge the question tactfully.

  3. Anonymom
    Anonymom says:

    If I were being paid market value for my responsibilities in my existing position, I’d not ever consider looking for a new position. I was upfront regarding my salary when interviewing for an oppertunity recently. They were so impressed with me they wanted to upgrade my job responsibilities to include management. I had twice the required experience for the job, and they didn’t even offer me the upper limit of the original posting– then turned around and told me i couldn’t hope to command 20% more than my existing salary. I told them they could keep their job and their games. I’ll be awefully reluctant to offer any information about my salary in future interviews.

  4. Anonymom
    Anonymom says:

    If I were being paid market value for my responsibilities in my existing position, I’d not ever consider looking for a new position. I was upfront regarding my salary when interviewing for an oppertunity recently, though reluctant to offer this information I absolutely refuse to lie about it. The interview went well and the company was so impressed with me they wanted to upgrade my job responsibilities to include management. I had twice the required experience for the job (9+ years rather than 3-5), and they didn’t even offer me the upper limit of the original posting– they turned around and told me i couldn’t hope to command 20% more than my existing salary. I told them as politely as possible that they could keep their job and their games. Nothing is more frustrating than having your value set by your existing salary rather than your qualifications, which is the very reason I’m in the market now. I’ll be awefully reluctant to offer any information about my salary in future interviews.

  5. Anonymom
    Anonymom says:

    I studied a few pages of comments on this post first. Then, for my next interview I took the time to compose my thoughts and write them down. I developed a few ways to re-direct the topic of salary. I knew when it came to using these in a real conversation I’d simplify but I still needed to see how they sounded on paper:

    “I’m glad you brought this up, ______. The listing for this position wasn’t specific about the salary range and I was hoping this was something you could clarify for me? ”

    “______, I’m looking to work for a company who is willing to offer me financial compensation based on my qualifications rather than my current income. Infact, this is one of the reasons I’m in the market.”

    “Based on market value – and depending on the oppertunity and company I would expect someone with my qualifications to be worth between X and Y at this time. ”

    The pay range for someone with my qualifications within my company is between X and Y (i looked this up on glassdoor.com it was a bigger range than what i felt I should command based on my own qualifications), but I’m not currently making this much which is why I’m seeking an oppertunity with a company who is willing to pay me based on my qualifications rather than my existing income.

    “To me the right job is one that offers a balance between financial compensation and other benefits, I have turned down job offers making more money than I currently do and feel my qualifications rather than my current salary are more relevant to establishing my fit for this position”

    “I would be more than willing to offer professional references if you’d like to verify my employment at (company name).”

    “I do not understand the relevance of my existing pay and its impact to my qualifications for the position at (new company name)”.

  6. Anonymom
    Anonymom says:

    Sorry– anything in tags didn’t show up– I’ll offer an explanation of the above post. (I sincerely apologize for my repeated posts- wish i could delete the ones I messed up so they didn’t gunk up your site)

    “I’m glad you brought this[…] ”


    in theory– it would an oppertunity to be sure your needs align with their limitations for the position. I also think it might catch them off guard by saying you’re happy to discuss this topic, and politely puts the ball in your court. If they redirect the topic now I would take it as an indication they’re playing games.

    “______, I’m looking to work for a company […]who”


    Wasn’t sure if this was a little too harsh but it was a way to indicate i expect to be paid based on my qualifications… my existing salary should be irrelevant– it gives them an oppertunity to prove their company is fair– but it’s also a little bit of a challenge to show you what kind of company they are. I used this in an interview when I explained my reasons for leaving my existing company.

    “Based on market value – […]”


    My goal was to give my range rather than my salary. I might add this to one of my other lines or I may use it if they kept pushing the subject. It was a more subtle way to direct conversation towards what I would be willing to consider as a job offer. I placed the lowest number in this range just above where i really wanted to be at the very least because i’m honest. And the top of the range is exactly the most I felt a person with my skills would reasonably earn in my region. If they came back with the lowest number I might suspect them of being game players but at least that number is something i was willing to accept, and it gave me room to negotiate up to a higher amount based on my qualifications.

    “The pay range for someone with my qualifications within my company is between X and Y (i looked this up on glassdoor.com it was a bigger range than what i felt I should command based on my own qualifications), but I’m not currently making this much which is why I’m seeking an oppertunity with a company who is willing to pay me based on my qualifications rather than my existing income.”


    This is the one I actually used. And it worked. They provided me a precise number (not sure if it’s the mid point or high point) for the type of position I was applying for though this was the first interview. They apologized that their range didn’t run as high as the range I provided but advised within the industry that they felt the salary was competitive– being neither as high nor as low as the competition. I could feel the weight of the conversation immediately shifted in my direction. They wanted to know why I was leaving my company, what I was specifically looking for in another company, what it would take to attract someone like me to the position. I backed this tactic up of course with a solid resume places me firmly in the earning potential of this range.

    “To me the right job is one […]”


    I have infact turned down offers making more money. If i was hard balled into providing my existing salary– i would perceive this as a company who was hard sold on my value being established by my current salary, which I reject like oil to water. I thought about using this line to show them I know I’m worth more than my salary would indicate. I think this comment was a bit more pointed– but at this point I’d be willing to walk away from a company simply because they might take my salary and use it to determine my worth


    If asked for my paystub I would be willing to walk away from an oppertunity because working for a fair company is very important to me. I’d probably start with

    “I would be more than willing to offer professional references if you’d like to verify my employment at (company name).”


    If they pushed again for my pay stub I’d ask something pointed along the lines of:

    “I do not understand the relevance of my existing pay and its impact to my qualifications for the position at (new company name)”.


    at this point if they don’t want me– i don’t care. If they want they can run a background check on me– even a financial history– but i don’t think they’re entitled to my pay stub unless i’m looking to secure a financial loan.

  7. aditya
    aditya says:

    A very helpful and Inspiring article i must say…..Previously i was getting rejected many times in the interviews because i was not able to answer the questions that interviewer attempts to ask from me but now after reading this article I am quite sure that i will be able to crack any interview which i will attempt in near future …. Thanks a ton “penelopetrunk” ….Thanks again.:)

  8. Bernardo
    Bernardo says:

    Damn, that was the greatest article i have ever read! Gonna try this at my next interview, thanks a lot!

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