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Simple Truths About Handling the 5 Toughest Challenges in a Job Interview

Challenge #5: Premature Salary Discussion

Several of my colleagues who are experts in the field of salary negotiation claim that whoever first mentions a salary number—the interviewer or the candidate—is suddenly in the weaker position. In general, this is a fairly accurate assessment. Ideally, the salary topic should not be discussed until a job offer is on the table. You have everything to lose if your response isn't perfectly in tune with what the interviewer has in mind. A common question sprung by many interviewers early in the process is, “What kind of salary are you looking for?”

At this early stage, it is extremely difficult to respond to this question directly and honestly without a high risk of weakening or even torpedoing your candidacy. If you reply with a number that is too low (either because you are too willing to be underpaid, or are worried that asking for too much will price yourself out of the running), you actually devalue your abilities. A lowball reply may even raise suspicion about your motives or cause the interviewer to doubt your understanding of the position. On the other hand, if you reply with a number that the interviewer perceives as too high, you may, in fact, price yourself right out of the market and cause the interviewer to conclude that the organization can't afford you. Either way, you've hurt your chances to get a job offer.

To be fair, some interviewers deliberately introduce the salary question early in the process to instantly determine your level of experience and possibly save everyone time. Some interviewers want to determine early on whether you'll settle for the low end of the scale. Still others are truly “shopping” among candidates, believing they are acting in the best interests of the organization by seeking out the least expensive candidate available. The best scenario for you is when the interviewer or other decision-maker is prepared to pay whatever is necessary to hire the person identified as the best candidate to get the job done.

Because it's difficult to determine the interviewer's motivation when the question is broached prematurely, it's recommended that you gracefully defer a discussion of salary unless and until a job offer is actually extended to you. How can you accomplish this without appearing insubordinate, overly shrewd, or even cagey? Try adapting one of the following statements to your unique situation—perhaps they will spark your own approach to deferring the salary discussion until there's a job offer on the table.

  • • I'd be pleased to consider any reasonable offer. How about if we come back to the salary discussion after we've more fully reviewed the details of the position and what you're really looking for, and after you've had the chance to see the value I can bring to this organization.
  • • Before we talk about compensation, could we discuss more fully your expectations for the position and how my qualifications meet your needs?
  • • I really need some more information on your expectations for the position before I could speak with any certainty about salary.
  • • My top priority is finding the right opportunity and a good fit. Once we determine there's mutual benefit, I would be open to any fair offer.
  • • Compensation involves so many factors besides salary—for example, vacation time, medical benefits, and tuition assistance—that I would need to understand more about your overall compensation strategy and how this position fits. I'm sure if you decide that I'm the best candidate for the position, we could come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

The next chapter addresses salary discussions and negotiations in much greater detail.

No-Nonsense Job Interviews © 2009 , Career Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsSimple Truths About Handling the 5 Toughest Challenges in a Job Interview - Challenge #1: The Incompetent Interviewer, Tips From The Pros, Challenge #2: Illegal Questions