How to Handle the Salary Question in an Interview

You can prepare for just about any interview question, but there’s one that’s always a bit difficult to answer — the previous salary question.

Recruiters will often ask about your previous salary to gauge how much they should offer you in your new role. This is great news — unless you have accepted a low-ball offer in the past. It’s normal to do so, especially when getting your first job, but it could come into play down the line.

And one low salary shouldn’t subject you to a lifetime of inequality.

That’s why some places, including NYC and Philadelphia, have barred this question from the interview room — woohoo! No longer can the former-salary question affect the amount of money you’ll get working in these cities.

Not everyone is lucky enough to call the Big Apple or the City of Brotherly Love their home. If you don’t, be prepared to field the salary question.

Here are five tips for answering it with ease — and getting the paycheck you deserve.

1. Avoid the Question Early on

It’s not often that an interviewer will drop the salary question right off the bat. But, just in case, you should be ready to sidestep it if it comes too early in the interview.

To do this, ask about the job itself and your qualifications. If it becomes too much of a pressing topic, say you’d prefer to talk about how you’re a good fit for the job before you discuss the specifics.

2. Know Your Worth

Even if you’ve accepted low offers in the past, go into your interview knowing how much you deserve in your role. There are many ways to prepare to negotiate your salary — knowing the cost of living in your area and raising your rate for any additional certifications you have could be serious bargaining chips when it’s time to field the salary question.

Do some research into what the average salary is for someone in your position. This is especially crucial if you’ve taken low offers in the past. Knowing what you should be making will help you decide whether the discussed salary is a fair one.

3. Come up With a Range

When the interviewer asks you how much you expect to make — or even how much you’ve made in the past — having a range will help you avoid giving a specific number.

The research you do into a fair salary will likely introduce you to a range of figures you can use to your advantage. By presenting your findings and asking something like, “Does your salary budget account for this range?” you put the ball back into your potential employer’s court.

If you want to make things even easier on yourself, you can ask the question yourself. A simple, “What’s the salary range?” isn’t an invasive or presumptive question for someone who has been called in for an interview, and knowing what they’re willing to pay will help you decide if the job is right for you.

4. Cut Nervous Chatter

It’s natural to want to fill breaks in conversation with, well, more conversation. In an interview, though, this tactic might lead you to say something off the cuff that you don’t actually mean.

That’s why it’s important to practice being tight-lipped, especially when it’s time to discuss your salary requirements. Let the interviewer fill the gaps in conversation with figures and explanations — resist the urge to fill it with your own compromises.

5. Prep for a Counteroffer

Once you have gotten into salary negotiations, expect your potential employer to come back with a counteroffer. It might be your instinct to immediately accept — but you have the right to negotiate.

Again, a counteroffer will require some research and confidence. Consider the benefits that come with your position that would potentially fatten the deal, and take your time — sometimes the right decision becomes clear after you’ve slept on an offer.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who knows what is right and fair for you. If a salary isn’t fair, don’t take it — it could signify an unfair series of events to come.

Have you been asked this question before? How did you negotiate?

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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