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Blog Insight & Commentary

How & When to Talk About Salary Requirements

How to make an uncomfortable conversation...not so uncomfortable

Stephanie Olsen
Contributor

Two women shaking hands

Let’s talk money. It’s a subject that’s surprisingly uncomfortable to discuss openly, especially when you’re asking how much someone makes. But salary discussions are obviously necessary when you’re applying for a job.

So what do you say when a recruiter asks you about your salary requirements? And can you get a potential employer to disclose their salary range first? When in the conversation should you discuss salary, and how do you determine what your salary requirements should be?

We’ve done a little digging, and here’s what the experts say.

Talking about salary requirements

In her video, career success coach Jennifer Tardy looks at what you should do when an interviewer asks your desired salary. She starts with what not to say.

No matter how much you want the job, never say you’ll work for anything⁠—you come off as desperate. But almost equally as bad is saying you’ll only accept a certain amount—this proves that you’re already closed to negotiations. Instead, Tardy recommends giving a salary range. Tell the employer you’ve done some research and you know that people in the industry doing this role typically earn between $65,000 and $75,000 (or whatever the case may be). 

Make your low end of the spread least 10 to 20 percent more than your current salary, so it’s something you’d actually consider accepting. Also make the spread at least $10,000; that’s small enough to allow the employer to choose the top end, but that choice can still be meaningful to you.

Read more: What Is a Good Salary for Your Job?

Recruiter Adam Seabrook, co-founder of job posting platform BetterTeam, agrees and adds that using the phrase “market rate” during the interview can be helpful. It makes the “I want a salary of” statement less personal, moving the conversation to where it should be in the first place: on a non-confrontational business footing.

Seabrook also says to use leverage in your favor. “As you start getting offers coming in from other roles, share that information with the company you want to work for. A competitor about to steal a great candidate is the best lever in the world to get you the right salary,” he writes.

Another thing to remember is that employers expect counteroffers. Productivity consultant Lynn Taylor says applicants who avoid negotiating lose money and valuable experience. "You'd be well served in your career to become comfortable with the process. You get one chance to accept a final compensation package at your company, so be prepared to make a persuasive argument." 

Interview coach Margaret Buj concurs. “Employers hardly ever make their best offer first, and candidates who negotiate their salary generally earn more than those who don’t,” she writes.

Read more: How to Negotiate Your Salary (For Career Newbies & Industry Vets)

In case they ask about your current salary—you should know the law in your area

In some U.S. cities and states, it’s illegal for employers to ask what your current salary is. If you’re in New York City, New Orleans, Oregon, Delaware, or Massachusetts, for example, you may be protected. There are laws that also prohibit employers who are aware of an applicant’s salary history from relying on that history to determine that applicant’s compensation. See the salary history ban map here to check if legislation has been passed in your jurisdiction.

If you are protected by law, but asked about your current salary or salary history anyway, you can remind the interviewer that while the question isn’t legal, you’re happy to discuss a salary range that is acceptable to you.

And if you’re in a city where that question is still legal, remember there is no reason for a prospective employer to know what you’re currently making, other than to base their offer on it and possibly offer you a similar salary, which may be well below market rate. This is especially true if you’re a woman and even more so if you’re a woman of color—because statistically you’re already earning less than what you should be making.

This move away from salary history seems to be why recruiters and interviewers are asking your desired salary, the effect of which should be more equitable pay.

When is it time to talk about salary requirements?

The best case scenario is that you know the salary range before going in for an interview; however, you’re certainly within your rights to open the compensation discussion once an offer has been made.

And remember it’s business. If a recruiter tries to dissuade you from asking about compensation, stay firm. As psychotherapist Amy Morin puts it: “Asking about money early on doesn’t mean you aren’t intrinsically motivated. It just means you know your worth and you respect your time.”

Still, there are best tactics. The team at staffing and consulting services provider Robert Half advises that you start with questions regarding benefits and other areas of compensation before discussing salary.

And don’t forget to pre-negotiate. Leadership coach Lisa Gates there are “needs and wants” in addition to compensation and benefits. They can be anything: a private office, an assistant, flex time, the option to work from home, unlimited PTO, transportation reimbursement. Instead of presenting these as deal-breaking demands, Gates says to use first-round interviews as opportunities to explore these options.

Ask open-ended questions. She gives an example question for a private office and assistant: “Given my role in the delivery of our first year goals of X and Y, how difficult might it be for me to advocate for space, or for that matter, an assistant?”

Once you have come to an agreement with your new employer, it’s important to document everything. Have the salary, benefits, and perks together with the job description with your responsibilities documented and signed.

Negotiating Salary
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