By Jon Rosser
When interviewing, most of you have been asked for your current salary. Perhaps your salary history.
How do you answer it? Should you answer it? Should they even be asking?
It’s an important topic: Handle this poorly and you risk leaving money on the table. Nail this conversation and you might just get a better offer.
It’s also controversial: As we discussed in Salary: Help us Help YOU, it is now illegal in multiple states and cities for employers to ask for this information.
Some will suggest that you should never share salary information with an employer. In theory, we get it.
Unfortunately, it’s not practical. Not yet.
For now, too many companies ask this question. It’s not realistic to eliminate all of these companies from your search. This question alone does not make them a bad company. Think about this:
The person asking you the question might not have anything to do with the decision to ask it. But, that person can eliminate you from the process.
So why be difficult? By refusing to share compensation you may be perceived as difficult and/or dishonest. What else aren’t you sharing?
Learn how to have this conversation. It’s OK to politely decline once if that’s what you believe in. But it’s not worth refusing if asked multiple times.
It’s not even the most important question in this conversation.
What salary are you looking for in your next job?
That’s the tougher and riskier question.
The biggest risk with telling a company your current salary: They low ball your offer.
Guess what? You can say no. Ask for more. There’s still a chance to land where you want or close to it. At least you got to the offer stage.
If you start the process by refusing to share information and being difficult about it, you might get ruled out before even having the chance to negotiate an offer.
It comes down to trust. Candidates don’t know if or how a company might use this information.
No company is the same. Offer strategies and reasons for asking for salary information vary.
Many employers have genuine intentions when asking about salary history. They don’t want to waste your time or theirs and fully intend to make a fair offer should the process get that far.
However, there are companies that have and will use that information to justify a lower offer than they otherwise would make.
Sharing specifically what salary you’re looking for, especially early in the process, is the bigger risk. Especially if you don’t know the salary range they have in mind.
If you shoot too high, you might price yourself out and not even get a chance to move forward in the process. If you go too low, not wanting to price yourself out, you might actually leave some money on the table. (Tip: A good recruiter can help with this!)
Let’s role play:
Company: What is your current salary and what are you looking for in your next job?
You: For me, it’s really more about the opportunity and finding the right fit. I would need to learn more about the position, the team and growth opportunities to determine what an acceptable salary would be.”
The vast majority of the time, the interviewer moves on. If not?
Company: Can you at least give me a range so we can make sure we’re not wasting each other’s time?
You: It’s just really tough to know for sure since there is still so much to learn. But I’m making $60k now + 10% bonus. I would probably be looking for something in the $70K to $90k range depending on bonus opportunity, cost of benefits, advancement opportunities, etc. I have another interview next week as well so that could be a factor.
The odds of you jumping from $60k + Bonus to anything over $90k are slim to none. If it were possible, it would mean you are significantly under paid or the company is willing to significantly over pay.
$70k is safe b/c if there’s no bonus, that’s reasonable. If there is bonus, you can adjust requirements accordingly. You’ve provided the appropriate caveats and a reasonable range so you should be able to move on from the conversation.
This isn’t avoiding the question.
It’s impossible at the beginning of the process to know for sure what salary you would accept. But it is reasonable for both sides to want to make sure they’re playing in the same ballpark.
The ideal world where you don’t have to tell companies what you’re making and only tell them what you want to make relies on a big assumption: people know what they are worth.
In our experience, that’s often not the case.
There are websites that provide some of this information. These are OK tools for one data point in your process.
At the end of the day, your value in the market is what companies are willing to pay at a specific point in time.
There are factors outside of your experience that can be considered when a company puts together an offer. How long has the position been open? Is it a back fill or a new position? Are you the first person they’ve met or the 10th?
Avoid providing a specific number for target salary. Offer a reasonable range. Include appropriate caveats in case the company references your conversation later in the process. Don’t be dishonest. Don’t be difficult.
It’s important to prepare for this conversation before an interview. Assume you will get asked about salary and prepare for this question just like you prepare for other interview questions.
In an interview it’s often more important how you communicate your answer, not what the answer actually is. Be confident and concise yet reasonable and pleasant.