In an interview you will be asked two questions about compensation. If you do not handle them correctly it will be the end of the interview process or cost you a lot of money.
The first question is about earnings history. “What are you earning or what did you earn in your most recent job”?The second question is about your required compensation. “What do you need “? “What are you looking for”?
I have seen lots of bad advice on LinkedIn and other sites about these questions. I will not review the bad advice but will cover the correct answers to both questions. The first question about earnings history must be answered honestly and accurately. Since it can easily be verified there is no point in trying to dodge the question so tell the truth. There are no circumstances that justify anything else.
The harder question that everybody frets over is what are you looking for? I have heard many suggestions for this one but based on my extensive experience preparing many hundreds of people for interviews and debriefing as many employers there is only one correct answer. One thing you never want to do is give a fixed number. Any number high or low will hurt you. Let’s look at what giving a number will do.
If the number is to high your interview process will end. The opportunity may have been so great that you might have considered it for less but in the beginning of the process it is too early to tell and the number you give assures you will never find out. Giving a number cost you the job. What if you decide to play it safe and give a low number? Suppose you say you would like 60K. If the employer was prepared to go to 65K you just lost 5K because like everybody else he wants to save money and if he thinks he can get you for 60K that is exactly what he will offer. Giving a low number cost you money and giving a high number cost you the job.
So if you can’t give a number what do you do? You give the following answer; my reason for being here is to evaluate the opportunity just as you are evaluating my fit for your organization. If the opportunity is everything I want and I satisfy all your needs I’m sure the money will not be an issue. In most cases that will be the end of it. Some interviewers may push you by saying something like, I know you are primarily interested in the opportunity but really, what are your salary expectations? In this case turn the question around on the interviewer with something like, You know my background, skills and experience as well as your needs and pay range; what compensation do you feel would be appropriate? They will not give you an answer because like you they know and have been trained that the first person who gives a number in a negotiation (that is what this is) loses. So far you are playing the game very well and winning but in rare cases you might get pushed even further. If the interviewer simply will not let it alone (maybe 10% of the time) give a range as a last resort. Do not do this earlier or unless you have no choice. Make the range 5% below your lowest acceptable and 15% above and always qualify this answer with “depending on the quality of the opportunity”.
You have actually given them nothing but you left them thinking they got an answer (win-win) and you have left yourself with plenty of wiggle room. That is exactly how this phase of the salary negotiations should end.
These guidelines apply any time you are asked the question including the application and if a posting ask you to include the information in your cover letter or on your resume. Just because they ask the question does not mean you are required to answer. If a paper or electronic application ask for a salary commitment write TBD or OPEN. If the electronic application will not process or submit without a numerical value use all zeros. Contrary to urban myth no candidate has ever been rejected because they would not give a firm commitment. Every employer knows that it is their responsibility to come up with a number and make a fair offer. They are simply attempting to get you to make their job easier and cut down the risk of embarrassment by getting a turn down.
This is some of the soundest advice I have given in 30 years of preparing candidates at all levels for interviews. It has NEVER backfired. Please trust and follow it to the letter. I would be happy to answer your questions on the subject.