Do your research, know the market, and consider these tips when discussing salary during an interview.
If you have been diligent in your job search, you've prepared a professional resume, carefully researched your target companies, and pursued jobs of interest in your field. After possibly several interviews, there inevitably comes a time to discuss salary. Hopefully, you will already know the salary range, or the company will disclose it, but be prepared for this to be unknown to you. If this is the case, you can expect to either be asked, “What is your salary requirement for this job?” or “What were you making at your last job?”
Being asked your salary requirement is a much easier question to navigate. You can do your research ahead of time to determine a fair range for the position and industry, and take into account your years of experience (or not) in this role, as well as a change in commute, and other intangibles that are represented by the new position. Then, you can fairly answer, “Well, I've done some research, and based on my experience, a fair range for this job seems X to Y.”
At that point, it's a good idea to stop talking and hear what the interviewer has to say. At the very least, you will know if you are in the right ballpark or not and start to plan accordingly.
On the other hand, you may be asked what you're currently making or if you are unemployed, what you made at your last job. This is a much tougher question to answer. Essentially, companies ask this question to screen candidates out. If you previously made far more than what is currently being offered, the employer may assume you won't be happy in the role for long if you accept it. Alternatively, if you made much less in the past, the employer may think you aren't qualified for the role. Anyone who has ever changed careers or has been underpaid can immediately discern why it may not be in your best interest to answer the “what were you paid?” question.
Admittedly, it can be very difficult to avoid answering a direct question, especially when you really want the job. While your previous salary is nobody's business but your own, this fact won't stop employers from asking the question. In fact, some will go so far as to request tax returns to support your claims. If you are sure you want to work for a company that is asking this question, your options are to: a) tell them, b) tell them with a caveat, or c) decline to tell them. If you are reasonably confident that your previous salary is within the current range and you are comfortable at that salary, your easiest bet is to disclose this information.
If you think you made much more at your previous job than the current, you can explain this candidly. For example, if you were an executive in your former profession, but are changing careers, you can say “I'm not sure my previous salary is relevant, considering I'm changing careers. It was X, and I'm aware that I am entering a new field. Salary is not my primary motivation in seeking this role.”
The tough spot can be if you know you were underpaid in your last profession. This can happen depending on the industry, type of business, or the company. Here are a few different ways you can respond.
“It's hard to compare that, because X was a non-profit and we weren't compensated the same as for-profits. I think the value of my position in a for-profit company was X.”
“In that situation, the company wasn't in a position to pay fair market value for my skillset, so we negotiated several other components in addition to my wage.”
“Part of the impetus for my seeking a new role was the company's inability to provide competitive compensation for this position. From my research, a fair range for this position is X”.
If the company is determined to find out what you made, you can decide whether or not you want to proceed with the hiring process.
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