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Simple Truths About Handling Salary Questions in an Interview

What To Say If They Bring It Up First

Depending on the level of the position for which you are interviewing and how savvy the interviewer is, the prospective employer may pop the salary question early in your first interview, or it may not come up until a third or even fourth interview. Regardless of when it happens, most experts on the topic agree that your initial response should be something similar to this:

“Well, I know that your company has a stellar reputation and I'm pretty confident that I have skills and experience that will address your needs in this role, but I'd really like to learn more about this opportunity and have a chance to tell you a bit more about myself before we get into any discussions of salary. Assuming you feel I can bring value to your firm and assuming I feel like this will be a good fit for me, can we agree to table the salary discussion until a later time?”

This will most likely elicit one of two responses from an interviewer. He or she will either respect that answer (and perhaps even be impressed that you are savvy enough not to take the bait by answering the question), or he or she will reiterate the request. In the first instance, the interview will most likely continue and the salary question may well be deferred to a subsequent interview. In the latter case, the interviewer may come back at you and ask, “We really need to understand what kind of salary you're looking for, just so we're not wasting each other's time. So what are you really looking for, salary-wise?” Your response should most likely be your own version of this:

“I understand, and I agree that we shouldn't waste each other's time, especially if we're way off the mark. But may I ask you something? You must have a budgeted figure in mind for this position, or at least some range in mind. Would you tell me what you had in mind for salary, based on the responsibilities of the position and your stated requirements for someone with the relevant skills, education, and experience?”

This may put the interviewer on the defensive or make him or her feel somewhat uncomfortable. But it also puts the interviewer on notice that you're not going to be a pushover on the salary question. This is where the negotiating begins, and a seasoned and savvy interviewer or hiring manager will give you some kind of a range, for example: “We're hoping to place someone in this position for between $45,000 and $55,000.” Whatever the stated range is, even if the lower end of the range is well above your hoped for salary, most interviewing coaches recommend one of the following responses:

“Well the higher end of the range is close to where I was hoping to be.”


“Well, that's not exactly what I was expecting, but let's keep talking. I'm sure once we can decide that I am the right person for this job, we can agree on a salary that's fair and equitable.”

In both cases, you're telling the interviewer that you're interested and that the salary range is reasonably close enough to your expectation to make it worthwhile to continue the discussion. At the same time, you've left yourself some wiggle room to negotiate when the timing is right.

Overall salary negotiations can be terribly complex. The overriding strategy for most job seekers should be to:

  • • Defer salary discussions until the employer has decided to make you an offer.
  • • Be sure to research the salary trends for your target industry, and be aware of the cost of living in all of the areas you may be relocating to.
  • • Establish in your own mind what “magic number” would make it worth making a move.
  • • Remember to factor in the complete benefits package when considering the total value of a job offer.

Appendix C offers many valuable resources, including entire books that are devoted solely to negotiating your salary. Consulting some of these resources will give you a broader perspective on salary questions and how to address them.

Additional topics

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 Salary Questions in an Interview - Avoid The Subject (or, Let's Play Chicken), When To Discuss Salary, Knowing What You're Worth