The all-important “What’s your current and desired salary?” questions that are typically asked in a job interview can be challenging to address especially if you haven’t spent any time preparing your thoughts for how you would respond to these questions. I view these salary questions as a poker game where the goal of one party is to get the other party to lay down their cards first. The key to knowing how to address these questions is proper research and preparation.
It’s important to understand that the primary goal for the employer is to simply find out if you’re within their target salary range. Likewise, the primary goal for the candidate is to find out if the compensation for the job is within his or her salary range.
So why all the fuss with the current and desired salary question, if the primary goal is to find out if both parties are on the same playing field? Unfortunately, some (not all!) employers have ulterior motives. They want you to state your salary information first so they can determine how low of an offer they can get you at. In short, they want to lowball you so they can save a few bucks.
Another negative thing that can happen is that employers often use the salary question as a “knockout question”. If your current salary is outside of their target range, this can instantly disqualify you before you even have a chance to learn more about the opportunity to determine if you’re open to their compensation package.
As a candidate, you should always strive to have the employer lay down their cards first and the best way to do this by beating the employer to the salary question. Of course this isn’t always possible and you certainly will want to exercise some caution as asking this question too early in the interviewing process can give the impression that you care more about the salary versus the company and job opportunity – a huge turn off to interviewers.
Here are tips to prepare for the current and desired salary question and how to go about addressing these questions:
- Know your worth and arm yourself with as much salary information as possible. You’ll need to conduct research to find out what the average salaries and salary ranges are for similar jobs that you’re applying for and always factor in industry and geography as well. You can find plenty of good salary calculators online via a quick search on the term “salary calculator”.
- Try to avoid providing a specific number for current and desired salary. Instead, tell the interviewer that before you can discuss salary, you need to learn more about the position and job requirements to ensure the role is a good fit and something you’re interested in seriously exploring. Similar to buying a car or house, you’re not going to share what you’re willing to pay for the car or house until you spend time researching both. Use this analogy if you receive any pushback.
- If you find yourself in a position where you’re being pressured into discussing salary, start by discussing salary ranges versus hard numbers. For example, you could tell the employer that you’ve spent a lot of time researching similar types of positions within their industry and have found that a position like this typically pays between $X and $Y. Then ask the employer to confirm if this salary range is within their ballpark.
Alternatively, you can also state a range for desired salary, but if you go with this approach, make sure you state that salary is flexible and negotiable as you’re the type of candidate that values all components of an offer package, not just the salary. Then ask the employer to confirm whether or not you’re in their salary range as well as what other incentives they provide as part of the overall compensation package.
- If you decide to divulge your current and desired salary try to get something in return, in particular more information about the salary range and other compensation variables/incentives. When you give them your current salary, you should provide a desired salary range as well (not a hard number but a range). If you don’t feel that the opportunity is worth exploring or if the employer is attempting to low ball you, you can always pass on it and walk away.
- If the employer insists that you divulge your current salary, and you’ve exhausted all options for trying to get them to divulge the salary range first, this is where you’ll need to make a judgment call. If you are highly interested in the job and feel that the company offers room for growth, then you may want to go ahead and give them the information that they’re asking for. Know that some employers, especially large corporations, oftentimes require your current and desired salary or they simply won’t allow you to move forward in the interviewing process.
- If working with a reputable search firm, know that it’s okay to divulge your current and desired salary information. Our motivating factors are to help our candidates obtain the most attractive offer possible and to close the search in efforts to create a win/win/win scenario for all parties involved.