Here's how to navigate the often uncomfortable topic of compensation.
By Sarah Showfety
It can be such a deer-in-headlights, panic-inducing moment. You’ve spent weeks scrolling through job listings, (ruling out most of them), selecting a few that fit your background and career path, tailored and tweaked your cover letter ten times, and finally gotten a bite from a hiring manager at a company you’d love to work for. Not five minutes into the nebulously-named “introductory conversation” (which is really just a screening call) they nail you to the wall with, “And what are your salary requirements?”
It’s a tricky spot—we must find a diplomatic reply that keeps us in the running without shooting ourselves in the foot with a low number. As a job seeker, it pays to be prepared with a savvy answer that keeps you in contention for the position while still securing the highest number possible.
How to research what a position pays
First, as annoying and backwards as it is, you must research the market and salary ranges for your position. Companies want to see that you’ve done your homework, and you’re generally aware of what the position will pay. As the HR consulting firm Robert Half recommends: “Check out reputable sources, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for federal data on wages in your industry. Also, review the 2022 Salary Guide From Robert Half to get the average national salary for the position you’re seeking.”
How to answer the salary requirement question
Once armed with this information, it’s time to get your response ready. There are a few best practices recommended by career experts.
Delay the question: If you’re just beginning the interview process, saying you need more information before you can provide a salary expectation is reasonable. For example, “I’d like to learn more about the position and responsibilities so I can provide a more realistic expectation.” Keep in mind, however, you will eventually need to discuss salary, and there are advantages to speaking candidly about money early on—so you can rule out any positions that don’t meet your minimum salary requirement.
Provide a salary range: Rather than giving one specific number, give a range you’re comfortable with. Make sure your target number is close to the bottom figure you provide, because the employer will likely opt for something on the lower end of your range. Provide a range with only a $5,000 to $10,000 gap between the high and low end.
Flip the script: Many career experts recommend flipping the script and getting their salary requirement first, to avoid being low-balled and leaving money on the table. Career Coach Rosie McCarthy shares the following script on her Instagram page: “Before I can discuss salary in detail, I’d need to have a better understanding of the exact role scope and level of responsibility, as well as what the global package entails. Can you share the range for the role and I’ll let you know if it’s about what I had in mind?” Hopefully, they will engage with your inquiry and not say, “I just need a number.” (Speaking from personal experience.) If they won’t play ball, or if you’d like to take a different tack, see below.
Provide negotiation options: Keeping in mind that salary is just one piece of the compensation puzzle, let them know you need to hear more about the overall package, including benefits, discretionary income, vacation and other perks before definitively deciding. Indeed.com provides this example: “I am seeking a position that pays between $75,000 and $80,000 annually, but I am open to negotiating salary depending on benefits, bonuses, equity, stock options and other opportunities.”
When it’s time to give a number: When you’ve reached the end of the interview process and it’s time to settle on a number, you may find the initial range or number you provided is too low. If that’s the case, begin your response by conveying your excitement about the position, summarizing the responsibilities, and what you will bring to the table.
For example: “I’m really excited by this opportunity! I respect the range already discussed, but after hearing the scope of responsibilities and considering my (X) years of experience excelling in a similar role, I think $XX is a fair figure. I’m confident my years doing (XYZ) have equipped me well to succeed in the position.”
Then, and this is important: Don’t worry that they will retract the offer simply because you advocate to earn what you’re worth. They have already dedicated resources to vetting and interviewing; they’re not going to pull the plug simply because you negotiate your salary. (Here’s how.) This is a common and expected part of the process we all should be engaging in.