One of the ironic rules of etiquette when it comes to the interview process is the discussion of the salary requirements.

It’s a question I actually DREAD being confronted with.  We all want to know what the salary is for any given prospect, but we’re not “supposed” to ask, deeming it as improper until the later stages of an interview, the 3rd meeting or thereabouts.  So I find it bold when a recruiter or employer asks ME, what are my salary requirements, or what salary am I seeking?

It’s a tricky question.  If you aim too high, you’re out before you even exit the starting gate. (Even if it’s a reasonable salary and you’re worth every penny!)   Aim too low and you do yourself a disservice, perhaps even risking your ability to comfortably make a living just to get a job.  Middle of the road “negotiable”?  While that verbiage used to be a fair and proper response, now it’s considered vague and no longer appreciated.

So, how do you address the salary issue?  I wish I had a “one size fits all” answer.  Truth be told, I’m never good at answering it myself during an interview.  It’s a question that makes me uncomfortable to this day. My “seasoned” advice?

Every interview and company should be gauged differently, not only assessing the company or business you are applying to, but what your worth and your goals are when applying.  Also, most job descriptions will list the hourly rate or annual salary range, which is helpful as a starting point.  If the rate or range listed isn’t comfortable for you, it may be best to not apply.

I adhere to the “rule” of not bringing up salary during the initial interview or two.  I wait until an offer is on the table if I can. Learn about the position and the company before you determine the pay scale or if you’re even interested in pursuing it further.  Don’t let salary be the end-all, be-all, unless you’re only concerned about just the paycheck at the end of the day and don’t fret about your quality of work life.  Obviously, cosmopolitan, global firms are going to be able to afford a higher pay scale vs. small businesses and individual owners.  Deal-breakers?  They shouldn’t be.

  • Say what you’re worth.  If you low-ball yourself and take the job, you will possibly become disgruntled with your employer early on and be unhappy for settling.
  • Know what the “going rates” are for your salary in your state/city and community.  Do your research with other ads.  A lot of job postings will list an average salary they are willing to pay. Use that information as a springboard to determine your “asking” rate.
  • Review the job description and required standard hours.  Some positions are a few detailed pages long and require long hours and overtime.  Others are brief and a few sentences and don’t have huge descriptions for the role.  Figure your salary based on the expectations and skill set demands of the role.
  • Don’t discuss possible bonuses or raises.  That’s out of line and premature.  It’s also not a fair expectation to place on a firm.  You have to prove yourself and your “worth” to them first.  Don’t factor this in to your salary negotiations unless the interviewer brings it up.  (Your stellar performance will not go unnoticed by any employer worth their weight, but it’s their call, not yours.)

Backstory:  I once temped briefly at a very large company, was offered a permanent job with the firm, but accepted it at a lesser salary in order to get my foot in the door.  Hopeful once I proved myself  in a few months I would be given a raise (which I wasn’t) and under the false pretense I would get a Christmas bonus to offset my meager salary (which I didn’t),  I only ended up being resentful at my employer, angry at myself for settling, and back in the job search market six months later.  A wise lesson learned.

Red Flags:  I find hiring managers that come right out and state the salary, even in the first email or two (prior to a phone interview) have a clear goal in mind:  they need to fill a vacancy QUICKLY and like to get it out of the way. They don’t waste any further valuable time in the hiring process that’s already been wasted on poorly-selected candidates where salary negotiations had become an issue.

Things to Consider:  Other than salary, determine what else is worthwhile to you:  growth, a talented and personable team, daycare services in-house, overtime, an understanding boss you feel you can work well with?   Will the position make you excited about coming to work every day?  Close to home?  Easy commute?  What other benefits are offered?  Other than the usual 401K plan, health, pension plan, etc., some companies offer generous vacation time, personal time and sick days. Consider other atypical benefits.  My friend has a job that allows her to work from home 3 days a week so she could take care of her children.  That’s a perk.   Free trips, transit reimbursement, casual dress, pets at work, gift cards, tickets to events, snacks, you name it!  All could be considered as part of your “salary”.

Complimentary Close:  It is a step forward that most job descriptions and postings have been listing the hourly rate and salary range for a given position.  The salary range is a great start for negotiating and is usually based on experience level.  Going forward, it would be nice to see salary discussions become a standard in the initial interview, rather than skirting the issue or playing a guessing game.  Even knowing the salary range is preferable vs. the “salary commensurate based upon experience” line.