It’s probably one of the most (if not the most) difficult and awkward subjects to broach during a job interview. And yet it will inevitably come up at some point in every hiring process.
How much do you want to get paid?
For me, this is always a sticky subject during the interview process. I even said during a recent interview, “that’s always a loaded question” (I’ll confess that I use this line often during interviews when the subject of salary comes up). To her credit, the interviewer laughed at that. It ended up making a nice ice-breaker, because she then proceeded to tell me the salary range. I never even had to tell her what I was looking for. It was way above what I was going to ask. If I’m offered this position, I would have absolutely no problem with the salary offer!
When it comes to the topic of salary during a job interview, I’m old school: never, ever, bring up salary unless the prospective employer brings it up first (after which it’s okay to discuss it). That is one ironclad rule of interviewing that I always follow: always let the interviewer be the first one to bring up the subject of salary. I’ve written before that I think selling what you have to offer is the better way for you to conduct an interview.
Here’s why I think salary discussion is difficult: when doing your homework for a prospective employer, you can learn as much as you can about their culture, history, products, customers, environment, and so on. But unless it’s listed somewhere in the job listing, it’s often difficult to get a read on how much a job is willing to offer. If the amount you give them is too high, you might disqualify yourself as a candidate. If it’s too low, they might not think highly of your skill set. Also, especially during these days during the pandemic, if you’re interviewing for a remote or work-at-home job, it’s difficult to get an idea of what to ask based on where you live. Salary tends to be a moving target, and it’s one that’s tough to hit, at least for me.
So how do you approach the topic of salary? I don’t know whether or not this is the ideal way to do it, but this is what I do, and it seems to work for me.
I’ll usually start by discussing what I was making at my last job. In my mind, it establishes a starting point and gives me an idea of where to go from there. In all likelihood, I’ll need to make adjustments.
I also have a minimum that I would consider. (Make sure you have both hourly and annual salary numbers.) If my low number is potentially high for the prospective employer, I make sure to emphasize that I am negotiable. I am not an aggressive person by nature, so I, personally, have difficulty with making a highball offer, even though some people advise that I should do so. I do think you need to have an idea of your minimum. I’ve seen many job listings that I’ve outright rejected because the salaries they listed were well below my minimum (I do say I’m negotiable, but the jobs I reject are ones that go well below my negotiable limits). I’ve also been rejected as a candidate because my asking price (even my minimum) was too high. (To this latter point, if the employer is not willing to make that investment in you, is that place the best fit for you, anyway?)
The prospective employer also factors into my salary negotiation. I would love to work in, say, academia, but those jobs tend to pay less. Some private sector and contractor jobs will go higher. Where I’m applying often factors into my own expectation when it comes to salary.
So this is how I, personally, approach the subject of salary. Is it the best way? I have no idea. Is there a better way? Maybe.
If you have a better way, please feel free to comment below.