Although most of the questions brought up in a job interview are asked to see if you would work well within the company culture, there are practical questions as well. “What salary are you seeking?” is typically one of those practical interview questions.
A Sensitive Topic Still?
There has long been a pervading idea that discussing salary is somehow crass, as if the primary reason people work is something other than being able to support their families and pay their bills. In previous years, it was considered bad form for a candidate to inquire as to the salary for the position. Thankfully, times are changing.
The amount of money you will be making is obviously important. It is crucial that you assess your needs, and get a handle on the question “What salary are you seeking?” The employer knows that you want a fair salary that will compensate you well for the work you will be doing. However, salary remains a sticky subject for many people.
Please listen to what I’m about to say: employment is a business transaction. You are exchanging your services for payment, just as any company exchanges its goods and services for payment. You should not be shy about discussing what that payment will be.
Guidance on Answering
With that being said, how do you bring up the question of salary, or how do you answer the question “What salary are you seeking?” I am of the opinion that salary should be one of the first topics discussed in the recruiting process, because it is the ONE factor that can immediately eliminate your interest in the position, and vice versa. More and more recruiters are starting to use “What salary are you seeking?” as a screening question, and that is good for all parties involved.
To effectively discuss salary, you need to know your worth. What is a comparable salary range for someone in your industry, at your level, with your background?
Similarly, the hiring company should have done its due diligence and conducted industry benchmarking for salary as well. This doesn’t always happen. All too often, companies rely on lazy recruiting tactics and don’t bother to research salary before talking to candidates. This is part of the reason many of them want to know your salary history. Not only is basing salary on previous earnings bad business, but it is also now illegal in some jurisdictions.
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Talking Salary History and Range
Back to salary. If you are asked what your salary history is, it is in your best interest not to divulge it. The best way to answer that question is to turn it around: “If you let me know what the range is for this position, I can tell you if it meets my expectations.” If they say that they don’t have a range, or “it depends on the candidate” or some other non-answer about salary, consider that an enormous red flag.
It is also perfectly appropriate for you to inquire about the salary range during an initial screening interview. “Could you let me know what the budgeted salary range is for this position?” If they push back and want you to name a number first, give them a range. “I am seeking something with a salary in the range of $X and $Y, and will also consider other benefits that come as part of the compensation package.” You might think that by giving a range, you’re telling the employer the lowest salary you will accept. That’s not entirely true. You’re saying that you have flexibility along a finite continuum, and that you will look at the whole comp package into consideration.
The bottom line here is that it is acceptable, and becoming more expected (on both sides of the desk), to have salary range be an initial discussion point. I would caution anyone to not look only at the base salary being offered, but to consider what other forms of compensation the company might offer. Before accepting any offer, it is incumbent upon you to analyze not only the base salary, but also any variable pay component, cost of medical/dental benefits, and any retirement plans, among other things.
Talking about salary can be tricky in an interview, so frame an answer to “What salary are you seeking?” like this:
I am looking for a salary between $60,000 and $70,000 a year. However, I am flexible, and I would be willing to talk about salary in more detail if offered the position. More than anything, I’m really invested in this line of work and would love to work with this company.
You should use the interview to talk about how qualified you are for the position, and if you are the best person for the job, an employer should be more than willing to give you a fair salary. Best of luck with handling the question “What salary are you seeking?”