How to discuss your salary expectations at interview?
What salary are you looking for? This question is asked in most interviews but remains for many candidates, one of the most awkward and challenging questions to deal with at interview. The reason behind this is the fear of losing out – either losing out financially by ‘low balling’ your expectations versus what the company is happy to pay or on the other hand, pricing yourself out of the running because they feel your demands are too high. Clearly, neither side wishes to waste their time if your target salary is way off. As the employment market continues to strengthen and the market becomes more ‘candidate driven’, we are going to see an upward shift in salaries. Negotiating an appropriate salary in a rising market takes thought, consideration and understanding.
So how is the best way to discuss your salary expectations at interview?
- Don’t ask too early – When it comes to discussing salary at interview it is all about ensuring it is done at the appropriate time. From your perspective, asking about it too early can create a perception that you are purely financially motivated and mercenary in approach thereby potentially ruining your chances. For obvious reasons you will be much better placed to ask the question and hopefully agree a higher amount, once you have demonstrated your capability and culture fit and they are interested in you joining their organisation.
- Deflect the question if asked too early – If the question of salary is poised by the client at an inappropriate time i.e. too early in the process, then do not be afraid to deflect the question. There are a number of ways to do this in a professional and courteous way. The first may be to suggest that you really need more information about the job before you can start to discuss salary. Alternatively, you could just try to bounce it back to the interviewer by asking what the budgeted salary is for the position or indeed the salary range they are looking to pay. It makes it difficult for them not to answer your question but you should be aware that some interviewers will still come back and ask you for a figure. A more positive approach could be to suggest that you can come to an agreement on the right compensation if the position represents a good fit for both parties or “perhaps we can revisit this question when we get to that point?”
Another possible way to deflect the question is to respond by stating that salary is not an important factor to you. However, if that is the message you wish to convey then don’t be surprised if, when it comes to negotiating your offer, your bargaining position has been weakened. You may want to position instead that you are flexible with regards to salary because of the attractiveness of the business, the role and future career potential. Which ever of the above tactics you choose it is really important that it is handled in an appropriate way. You may be a fantastic candidate with all the right skills and experience but mishandling the question at this early stage could well jeopardise your chances.
Just to be clear though, you cannot deflect the question completely it is just a case of establishing the most appropriate time to have that discussion. Failure to discuss it at all could lead to them guessing what they believe you are looking for!
- Clarification – depending on how you identified the opportunity in the first place hopefully you will have some awareness of the salary parameters. If the role was advertised the salary bandings may have been outlined in the ad or if you were called by a recruiter then they should have indicated the bandings to you. If you have not been made aware, if asked for your salary expectations you have a good opportunity to push back and seek clarification from them before asking for some time to reflect.
- Research the market – Prior to attending the interview it is worth researching your sector to try and best understand the market rate for the role you have applied for. Although every role will be specific in terms of responsibilities you should still be able to get a feel for a salary range or benchmark for the type of role. This can be used as a way of discussing your salary expectations based on what you understand the market rate to be rather than being pushed to provide a specific figure. There are a number of websites such as Glassdoor.com which may help with this.
- Think it through – this may be a surprising comment to make but candidates often make changes to their salary expectations once they have really thought it through. In reality there are many factors and variables that will affect this figure and they should be taken into account. Make sure you have dedicated time to think about how that particular role, working patterns, office location etc. etc. would impact you and where the salary would really need to be in order for you to make a move. It will land poorly with the client if you provide guidance of one figure only to increase it by 15% at the end of the process. This is likely to be interpreted as brinkmanship and may erode the good will you have built up through the process.
- Use a recruiter – clearly one of the major benefits of using a recruiter to secure a new position is the part they play in negotiations. With a strong relationship and a good understanding of the client they should be best placed to push the salary without jeopardising your application. It is generally in their interest (within reason) to negotiate you a higher salary and so, positioning this in the right way at the right time, they will be focused on trying to deliver an offer that is acceptable to both parties. Many of the comments above apply to you dealing with the consultant but it is important that you are fully open and honest with them to ensure they can negotiate effectively on your behalf.
- It’s actually about the package – one of the major reasons in my opinion that salary is difficult to talk about is that actually it is all about the package. If the package for the prospective role is better than your current package on every level in terms of pension contributions, holidays etc. etc. then you might consider a modest salary increase because overall you will be better off. To be able to accurately weigh up your salary expectations it is really important to know the detail of not only your current package but also the package for the role you have applied for. Considerations should be made to the following factors and their importance to you – all of them will have a bearing on your desired basic salary. Pension – level of company contributions, car – does it include private mileage? Healthcare – single or family? holiday days, car or car allowance. When considering the offer they will offer base it on the information you have provided them with. So when they ask you for your current salary information, be as detailed as possible eg. list your basic salary, car (what this is worth), pension (%contributions), and benefits. Crucially include bonus potential and ideally tell them what you earned in bonus in the last qualifying period. It also makes it clear that all these things are important to you.
- Negotiating – when it comes to the actually negotiation your salary, like any negotiation it will fundamentally be about how much they want you to join, how many other candidates they have to choose from and of course, from your perspective, how much do you want the job? Towards the end or at the end of the recruitment process when you are asked the specific question it is clear that you need to have a considered and rational view about why you should be paid a particular figure. It is important that this is not delivered in an aggressive or defensive manner but a calm and reasoned way. The rationale is very important and should be backed up by key points, whether that is to reflect the difference in packages, a greater commuting distance or the market rate. Explaining that you need more money to pay for your kid’s education is probably not going to wash. You should be realistic and look for a respectful increase on what you are currently being paid.
As a candidate, your negotiating power increases the later it is done in the process, assuming of course, that the client is interested in hiring you. However, the balance to this could be that if you are worlds apart in your views around what you are worth, then this may lead to ill feeling and a waste of time for everybody.
It has to be said that much of the advice provided above could be looking at this question from an overly cynical perspective. After all, you would hope that most organizations would be paying a fair market rate for the skills and experience you would bring to the role and won’t be going into these discussions hoping to get someone “on the cheap”. However, let’s be realistic. In these days of austerity and cost control, if a line manager believes that they can secure you for a few thousand less, then in reality they are likely to do so. This isn’t without its risks of course. Paying you much below market rate would be risking your potential tenure in the role. It is important that if you give the minimum figure you would look at, be sure that you really mean it! Don’t assume that an employer will want to be generous – rest assured they will take you at face value. Think about your absolute minimum. Then think about how you would feel if they offered you that figure. If you are left feeling disappointed, with a bitter taste in your mouth and a knot in your stomach, chances are you have sold yourself short!!! Your minimum figure should be one that you will be happy to accept.
Whilst my comments above will hopefully give you some ideas about how to handle the salary question unfortunately there is no single approach that will be right for every situation. Depending on the timing of the questions and the circumstances for both you and the client, you may need to handle the situation in a different way. Hopefully the advice above will assist you and ensure you are better equipped when asked the inevitable question.