Interview Tips: Sizing Up Salary Discussions

Salary questions and negotiations can be touchy areas when it comes to jobs. You do not want to give off the wrong impression, but you also do not want to waste your time or sell yourself short. The level of salary transparency varies for each organization so knowing how to navigate the salary discussions will help bring you to a satisfying salary outcome.

1. When to talk about salary. It is best to wait until the prospective employer brings up the subject of salary. If by the time they turn it over to you to ask questions the topic has not been brought up, then go ahead and open up the subject by asking for an idea of what the compensation target is for this role. Most companies do not want to waste your time or theirs if the salary requirements for each party are not in the same ballpark, but be cognizant that they may not want to discuss it at that time. If this is the case, pull back and let them bring it up when they are ready. 

2. Salary Assessment. Although the true negotiation process does not begin until you have been made an offer, the orchestration of it begins from the moment salary discussions begin. It is important to have a solid idea of what you believe to be a fair and accurate salary, as well as your minimum limit. This assessment should include requirements of the prospective role (increased/decreased responsibility), commute distance and other monetary offerings (i.e. bonus). Although you can look at external salary range surveys for a given position, do not put too much weight on this. Salary ranges and individual company pay practices vary a great deal between companies, even within the same city. The prospective company most likely has conducted its own market surveys and made its salary decisions for a specific reason. Once you have a good idea of your salary expectations, you are in a better position to negotiate when an offer is made. 

3. The art of negotiation. The ideal situation is that you are offered more than you were expecting and you live happily ever after. If that is not the case, you should never settle without determining whether the company is open for negotiation. By the time the offer comes around, the prospective employer should have asked enough questions that they have a good idea of what your salary expectations are. They will know if they are coming in lower than anticipated and expect for some negotiation from your end. If this is the case, provide them with an honest assessment of what you feel would be a more ideal salary offer and why. Do not come across as insulted or dissatisfied. If you are really feeling that way, then you might want to reassess the position altogether—you do not want to start a new role already unhappy. If they are really interested in having you join their organization, they will look for ways to be flexible or provide you with reasons as to why they cannot meet your salary needs at that time. In the end, the decision is up to you. Be sure to really take into account what is the best decision for you in the long run.

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