How To Answer Questions About Salary History and Requirements
- Most salary questions that arise early are screening questions to make sure your salary fits with the company’s range. Negotiation comes when you have a formal offer.
- Be sure you have researched the range for a person with your skills and experience in the marketplace based upon the city you want to work in, so you have a realistic idea of what constitutes a reasonable offer.
- Ask if there is a salary range for the position. State your comfort with that range: "I'm sure we can negotiate a mutually agreeable salary within that range once I am offered a position."
- Try "without knowing more about this position and the benefits package, it’s hard to know what salary I would expect, but my research suggests that the salary range for entry-level [….]s in this area is between X and Y."
- Salary history questions are sometimes unavoidable. If an employer asks directly on an application, leaving the space blank could disqualify you.
Salary and Benefits Information Resources
- Selected Salary Websites
- The Riley Guide: Section on Salary Guides and Guidance
- NerdWallet: Cost of Living Calculator
- Successful Job Offer Negotiation - Evaluating your benefits package
Is Salary Negotiation Really Necessary?
Whether it is appropriate to negotiate salary for a given job depends on a number of factors: the size and culture of the organization, how well the candidate fits the employer’s needs, and how difficult the position is to fill.
In the corporate sector, some companies expect potential employees to negotiate for salary and benefits and may be able to improve their offer. Others will not have the flexibility to negotiate, especially for entry-level positions. Be prepared for either situation.
In non-profit organizations, salaries and benefits are usually more modest, and the employer may not be able to improve on the original offer. It is always appropriate to ask politely if there is flexibility in the offer.
Know Your Worth
A successful salary negotiation depends on your being well informed about salary ranges for your target jobs.
- Use websites that list jobs in your field as well as employer sites to research salary ranges.
- Talk to friends, professors and people working in your field to learn about current salaries.
- Check industry and professional association websites for salary surveys; go to The Center for Association Leadership, then click on Community/Directories and Guides/Gateway to Associations.
- Visit salary websites
Understand Your Priorities
Go into an interview knowing your requirements in advance: what is your ideal salary and what is the minimum you will accept? If the final offer is lower than you expected, you may be able to request other benefits, for example:
- Flexible hours
- Early performance review, perhaps at the 6 month mark, for possible early raise
- Training or tuition reimbursement
Timing Is Important
During the first interview, your job is to sell yourself to the employer, emphasizing your interest in the organization and your specific qualifications for the position. At this point, your goal is to get an offer. Do not ask about salary, vacation, or other benefits during the interview, even when the interviewer asks if you have any questions.
Likewise, if the employer asks you about salary, it’s best to postpone the discussion. By naming a salary so soon, you could disqualify yourself by asking for too much or shortchange yourself by asking for too little.
Instead, try to find out the intended range for the position. Or you could say something like “I would be happy to discuss my salary requirements once I know more about the position requirements and the benefits package.”
If the interviewer insists on your providing a figure, offer the range you discovered in your research and ask “is that in your ballpark?” to see where the employer stands. Or try a general statement like “I am very interested
in this position and I’m sure we could come to agreement on a salary within your range.”
Considering the Offer
Never accept an offer on the spot. It’s expected that you would take a day or more to think over all aspects of the job, including the salary and benefits. Most employers will respect your desire not to rush into this important decision. If you haven’t received detailed information on the benefits package, now is the time to request it. If you have not received a written offer, ask for one at this time, as well.
Always express enthusiasm first when you receive an offer. If the salary is low, this is the time to ask if there is room to negotiate. You may end up in a salary discussion at that moment or in a future call; the employer may need to consult with others before having an answer for you. If there is no flexibility in the offer, it’s still worthwhile to take some time to make your decision.
During your salary negotiation, focus on presenting a rational case for your requests. Avoid reacting emotionally. Be professional, direct, and non-confrontational. Your financial needs or wants are irrelevant to an employer; what matters is your ability to make a case for why your skills and experience make you worth a higher salary. This should not be an adversarial process; remember, you are speaking to people you hope to work with. The ability to
listen well and express yourself clearly in a negotiation will make you more attractive as a job candidate.
No offer is really final until you have received it in writing. Be sure to request written documentation of the terms of the offer, especially if you have negotiated anything out of the ordinary.