When and How to Discuss Salary During an Interview

It happens in almost every job interview. Your potential employer looks you straight in the eye and asks the question that gets you squirming in your seat: “What kind of salary are you looking for?” It takes finesse and negotiating know-how to get the best possible pay and perks. You can learn how to navigate the rocky waters of talking about salary during an interview with the ensuing tips from experts.

  1. Don’t talk about salary too soon
    Salary negotiation is all about timing, says Jack Chapman, a career consultant specializing in salary coaching and the author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute.

    “The time to talk about salary is when they say they want you for the job. Before that, it’s a moot point,’’ Chapman says. It can also hurt your chances of getting the job if you price yourself out of the ballpark. “Don’t give them a chance to eliminate you based on salary,” he says.

    “The biggest blunder made by job applicants is the tendency to jump to the issue of compensation too quickly,” agrees Deb Koen, author of Career Choice, Change and Challenge and vice president of Career Development Services, a nonprofit group based in Rochester, New York.

    Ray Brizendine, the director of the Alexander Group, a national executive recruiting firm, warns that if you ask about salary in the first interview, “It makes you look as though you’re applying for the job because of the money. That [can] seem too mercenary.”

  2. If asked about salary right away, change the subject
    If you don’t want to answer the salary question right away, what should you do? Change the subject, politely. Use statements such as: “I don’t want to box myself in terms of salary right now. If you don’t mind, I’d like to focus on the value I can produce for your company,” or “I’m sure we can come to a salary agreement if I’m the right person for the job. I’d like to see if we agree that I am.”

    This is not hedging. Waiting until the potential employer wants to hire you is a savvy strategic move, Chapman says. “You need to wait until they really want you. Once they’re hot about you, they’ll do what it takes to get you.”

  3. Do your research and prepare to negotiate
    Before you go into the interview, know the going rate for your experience and position. Websites such as Salary.com can give you a good idea of your salary range, says Chapman.

    Once you have an offer, negotiate. According to Chapman, the correct way to begin negotiations is to say “hmm.” Next, he says, “Repeat the figure with a contemplative tone in your voice—like it’s the start of a multinational summit meeting. Count to 30 and think.”

    When you’re done thinking—and this time the interviewer will be the one squirming in his seat—respond with the truth based on what you know you’re worth in the marketplace: “sounds great” or “sounds fair” or “sounds disappointing.”

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