Salary is one of the subjects we get asked about the most, particularly on our social accounts. While negotiating a salary is a topic that gets plenty of attention, the timing of when to bring it up is less discussed. Or rather, the discussion can leave you with more questions than answers.
Why? Because salary answers are often categorized into “yes” or “no” answers. That’s usually fine, but in today’s ever-evolving job market, some job seekers are finding themselves in situations that require a “maybe” or “sometimes.”
In order to take out some of the mystique of approaching salary during the interview process–before an offer is on the table–we put together these tips:
Should I ever bring up salary first?
Shorthand: No. The reason for this old but still relevant rule is that employers are still wary of job seekers who bring up salary at the wrong time. It can make you seem presumptuous, as if you have the job offer already–and employers do not like arrogant interviewees. Bringing up salary at the wrong time can be akin to going up to a stranger at a bar and saying, “So what time should I pick you up for our date?” It’s too much too soon.
So I can never, ever bring up salary first?
Of course there are exceptions. Perhaps the most obvious and easiest scenario to be in is if you’re changing careers or taking a step back and your current salary range is significantly higher than the industry average (or the range given on the posting). Think a director moving to a mid-level role. If you’re worried that you have priced yourself out of consideration, so to speak, then you might want to say, “If I may be candid, I realize my current salary might concern you, but I assure you I understand the industry range for this role and am looking for a change. Should we get to the offer stage, I’m open to further discussion and want to stress how interested I am in this role.”
Bringing up salary when you know you’re in a position to take less is easier to do–and it’s a challenge most job seekers would love to face. For the rest of us who want to earn more money (not less), we want to know the salary range to ensure we’re not wasting our time in four interviews that lead to an unlivable salary offer. In this case, you’re just inherently at a disadvantage. You certainly can bring up salary first, but understand you’re taking a risk that could turn off the employer and derail your interview process. It’s a gamble each job seeker has to decide for himself or herself.
What if the interviewer brings up salary first?
Answer their salary questions! You can only sit there and play coy for so long before the hiring manager will get frustrated. Don Draper can say, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready to talk about salary.” You cannot.
If you’re asked to give your current salary, don’t lie. Whether or not the interviewer cares about your salary, HR probably does and will do fact checking. So don’t get caught in a lie. It could lead to you getting the offer withdrawn, even after you’ve accepted it. You can also make it clear that you’re satisfied with your current role and only want to change jobs for the right opportunity. Employers know that luring good workers requires some incentive.
Instead of, or in addition to, the current salary question, you might be asked for your desired range. This is where you have the most wiggle room. Give a reasonable but broad range that encompasses the absolute lowest salary you’ll accept all the way up to your wouldn’t-it-be-nice ideal. This way you can negotiate a solid number if an offer is made and you’ve already made it clear where your minimum is.
Having a conversation about salary now that they’ve brought it up, whether it’s the first interview or the third, behooves you both. This way you both know if you’re on the same page or if you’re not going to be a monetary match.
How can I make sure I’m giving a range that won’t ruin my chances?
As with most interview conundrums, the answer is research. Look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, CareerBuilder’s Salary Insights tool, and industry-specific publications. You’re sure to find a variety of salary answers, but they should help you decide on an acceptable range. A range of $5,000-10,000 is reasonable; a range of $50,000 is not.
Don’t forget to read the job posting carefully. Some employers do include the range, which doesn’t mean they’re sticking strictly to that when an offer is made, but at least it gives you a frame of reference to give an acceptable answer.
Why do some employers ask about salary so many different times?
You might notice that some job applications require you to enter your current salary and your desired salary, then in the interview the hiring manager or recruiter asks again, and it might come up again before the offer is made. They’re not trying to catch you in a lie as if your’e taking some sort of personality quiz. The applicant tracking system (or ATS) might use the range to weed out candidates asking for too much; it doesn’t mean that information makes its way to HR. Sometimes the person interviewing you doesn’t receive the full application–just the résumé and cover letter. HR might know your salary requirements, but it doesn’t mean your future boss does. This is also why you shouldn’t lie about current salary–it can be hard to remember your life three or four times. And also, lying is just wrong (according to my mother).
If you have questions about the actual salary negotiation, which can be its own question-riddled process, check out our posts here. And as always, let us know what questions you have in the comments below or on our social accounts.