How to Answer the Tricky Salary Question in a Job Interview

money and salary

It’s important to be honest when it comes to salary talks. | iStock.com

Job interviews are difficult enough without attempting to answer a question about your desired salary. Many interviewers won’t ask this question during the first interview. But some will, so you need to be prepared.

Alex Twersky, co-founder at Resume Deli, told Monster it’s important to be honest when it comes to salary talks. Don’t say you’ll take less than what you really want, only to be dissatisfied and then complain about it later. Say what you want.

“Be upfront with your interviewer,” Twersky said. “A firm that is seeking to hire the best person for the job needs to understand what you are all about. In any kind of relationship scenario, if expectations do not measure up, both sides end up regretting the better opportunities that passed them by. So it’s better to state what you need salary-wise and let the chips fall where they may.”

It’s a tricky question to answer because you don’t want to underestimate your worth, but you also might want to avoid being taken out of the running if you request too much. Once you get to the negotiation part of the interview process, there are several ways you can attempt to negotiate a higher salary. However, in order to get to that point, you might need to answer the question first. Your answer may depend on where you are in the interview process, but you should be ready to answer in any situation.

You have to consider the context …

Consider the context

banking and people concept

Consider giving a salary range. | iStock.com/dolgachov

If you see a question about salary on an actual application, you might need to answer it. You can go ahead and leave the spot blank if it isn’t required. But if it is, consider these options from CareerRealism. You can answer $0, a desired salary based on your market research, or a range (which is probably the best option if the form allows you to enter it).

If you are asked about your salary during an interview, then you will have to answer the question. You want to avoid undervaluing your worth, but you also don’t want to ask for an unreasonable amount. Some companies will have a set salary they are going to offer. If the interviewer tells you this ahead of time or during your first interview, then you should respect that number. If you are uncomfortable with the amount, then you might need to look for a different job.

Of course, there’s always a chance they are simply checking to see how little you would work for. But if a hiring professional is working with a set salary offer that you can’t accept, you will waste their time, as well as your own, if you string them along.

Try to avoid …

Avoid the salary question if possible

andy warhol painting

Ask about the benefits package, and take that into consideration. | Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

You can try to move away from the question by asking for more specifics of the job requirements. You could also ask about the benefits package, and take that into consideration when it comes to your desired salary. It also might help to give a range because that way the interviewer will know whether they can afford to hire you, but you won’t be locked into a specific number you might regret later.

You can also try to turn the question around by asking the interviewer whether they have a range in mind. They might answer you outright, or they might bring the question back to you. According to PayScale, you shouldn’t give the first number. And the answer to a salary question is almost always to avoid answering it if possible. You can also respond by saying you are looking for a good fit and that you are confident their pay is comparable to the rest of the market.

It’s also important you complete research about the market for your field. Sites, such as Salary.com and Glassdoor, can be a great way to help you determine your current worth. Knowing how much your skills and education are worth can also be a strong negotiating tool.

How to answer it if necessary

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If you can turn the question around and avoid answering it, usually your best bet is to try to do so. | George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

In the end, you might have to answer the salary question or risk seeming difficult to work with. However, if you can turn the question around and avoid answering it, usually your best bet is to try to do so. The exception is if you really will only accept a job for a specific salary, you might as well tell the interviewer.

At some point you will have to answer the salary question, but if you can avoid answering until you are further through the interview process (ideally at the end after the company gives you an offer) you will probably be in a better place for negotiating the salary you want because you will be sure the company wants you.

Ask again after you’re hired

candidate in a job interview

Once you’ve proven yourself it might be easier to demonstrate why you should be making a higher salary. | iStock.com

Depending on how much you want the job, you might have to accept what the company can offer and then try again after you’re hired. Once you’ve proven yourself it might be easier to demonstrate why you should be making a higher salary. After your probation is complete and it’s time for your first performance review, do some research to see what an employee in a similar position in your city with a similar educational background and experience would earn.

Also, gather information that demonstrates some the accomplishments that prove you’re an asset to the company. During your review, present your case as to why you feel you deserve a raise.

Additional reporting by Sienna Beard.

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