When They Pop the Question: Handling Salary Negotiations during the Job Interview Process

salary negotiation - a game of chessAaah, the challenge of salary negotiations. Consider this common situation: Your job interview with the management team is going well and suddenly the interviewer “pops the question.”

Now you find yourself veering toward negotiating salary–sooner than you would like. Here’s how to handle it and keep your options open.

First don’t sweat it. Although salary is certainly a delicate topic, for all but the most senior management positions the process is relatively straightforward–if you are prepared.

Here’s the most important career advice to remember if salary comes up early in the conversation: Defer detailed discussions until you have the information you need.

It is common, especially in large organizations, for a company to want to clarify any and all possible obstacles up front. As you can imagine, salary negotiations could potentially be one of those obstacles. Typically there is an established salary range for the position at hand and they want to be sure, before they waste your time or their own, that the salary not be a deal breaker in the end.

Understanding that, it is possible to answer questions in a way that satisfies their concerns while still leaving your options open to some extent. The most important thing to remember is that your priority is to get the offer, not to engage in salary negotiations at this point. As a general rule, defer tying yourself to a precise figure for as long as you can politely do so.

A common mistake candidates make is revealing a number that they will accept. This can be tough, particularly when you’re asked directly for your salary history and what you will accept. Here are salary negotiation tips to help you politely defer the salary negotiations conversation until you have enough information to answer intelligently:

  • Explain that you feel you need to know more about the specific responsibilities before giving a meaningful answer. This might be an appropriate time to ask the interviewer whether there is a salary range or grade attached to the job. If there is and it is in your range, acknowledge that.
  • Answer something like: “As I understand it, the range for this position is between $X and $Y. That seems like an appropriate range.”
  • Consider answering a direct question with a question. “Perhaps you can help me answer that for you in a meaningful way. Can you tell me if there is a range for similar positions in the organization?”
  • If the interviewer continues to press, you may state, “I am earning $X now. Like everyone else, I’d like to improve on that figure, however my key interest is in the position itself.” Although reasonable increases are common, keep in mind that taking a new job does not necessarily make you worth more money.
  • If a headhunter is involved, your recruiter may be able to run interference for you. For instance, the recruiter shares salary information with you, including what the position pays, but you are earning that amount now and would like to do a bit better. Let them know — they might go back to the employer and propose that you be offered an additional ten percent.
  • Keep your end goal in mind – to get the offer.

Above all, be honest in your communications. Anything and everything is subject to verification and you certainly do not want to lose an opportunity.

Once you receive the offer, there are a different set of considerations to think through regarding salary negotiations to be ensure that you’ve truly created a win-win opportunity.

Good Luck!

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