Tough Interview Question Series – Chapter 3

The dreaded salary discussion

Unless you are independently wealthy and work because you just love it and you’re a good person, then you will likely need to talk about salary at some point in the interview process.  This is the subject that trips up even the most experienced professionals.  Let’s talk about how to talk about salary….

Question:  What are your salary requirements?

The most important thing to remember here is to answer briefly and with purpose.  Tripping over this question will raise questions in the interviewer’s mind.  So prepare, rehearse and nail it – every time.

  1. If you are paid at market today. If you are currently compensated at the local market level and are interviewing for reasons other than salary primarily, then your response is, “I am looking for a base salary of 65-70k.” The interviewer is probably familiar with the market as well, so this short answer will probably suffice.  Don’t volunteer additional information – just answer the question that was asked.
  2. If you are undercompensated today. There are many professionals who took lower salaries during the recession just to make ends meet.  Now that we’re well into the recovery it’s time to try and make forward progress.  Again, you should know what market is for your role and level of experience, so do your homework.  The answer is exactly the same – “I am looking for a base salary of 65-70k.”   You just need to clear your head of the little voice who keeps telling you that you have to justify the answer.
  3. If you are making a career change. Making a career change is actually possible now that the unemployment rate is down and employers are needing to get creative about finding talent.  You may need to take a bit of a hit on your salary if you will need additional training, education or ramp-up time to become competent in a new career direction, so take this into consideration.  Once you’ve decided what you believe you should be paid, your response will be, “I am looking for a base salary of 65-70k.”

The theme here is that you should do your homework in advance, decide what your range is and then ask for it.  Simple, short, to the point.  Got it?

Question: What is your current compensation?

Now we’ll talk about how to finesse any gaps between what you make today and what you want to make tomorrow.

  1. If you are paid at market today. This is the easiest situation to address.  Again, brief and with purpose.  “My base salary today is 60k and I have a bonus opportunity of 10% annually. “  Stick to the facts – and then shut up.  Don’t over answer or you’ll dilute the believability of your statement.
  2. If you are undercompensated today. If you are in a position where you know what the market is for your skills/experience and you are confident that you are underpaid then you should state this.  “My current salary is 60k with a bonus opportunity of 10%.  I realize that I am well below market for my skills and experience.”  See how we stopped with “I know I’m underpaid?”  If the interviewer wants to explore this further then she will ask a follow-up question.  It’s also possible that she also knows you’re undercompensated and is not going to argue the point.  Move along……
  3. If you are making a career change. Making a career change may mean taking a step back in salary – but the question here is “What is your current compensation?”  Answer this question only like this, “My current salary is 60k with an opportunity for a bonus of 10% annually.”

The point I’m illustrating is that you need to craft a simple answer to a simple question.  Prepare to elaborate with details only if asked.  Stick to the facts – don’t try and finesse this question as it almost always sounds phony.  Your best course of action is honesty.

We’ll take a break on this series for the holidays.  Back in January with a brand new chapter!  In the meantime – let me know if you have any particular questions you want me to write a chapter about.

For more information on getting hired – and for a current list of job opportunities – visit us here.

About the Author:

Kimberly Lucas is the Founder and Chief People Connector at Goldstone Partners, Inc., a Colorado-based search and talent advisory firm specializing in recruitment strategy and engaged search for privately-held companies. As a seasoned entrepreneur and career coach, Kimberly is committed to helping founders build strong, profitable companies that stand the test of time. As a Certified StrengthsFinder coach she works with individuals and teams to help them achieve their stated objectives. Kimberly is an active mentor for MBA students at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, serves on the board of the Rockies Venture Club, is a founding member of RVC Women and facilitates a Thinking Partner Mastermind group.