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Let’s Talk Salary

How to respond to the inevitable question about salary

salarySalary discussions may be the trickiest part of the job search process. One of the reasons talking salary causes anxiety for both sides is because neither employers nor candidates want to tip their hand. But since nobody works for free the topic is unavoidable.

Many career professionals advise candidates to avoid talking about salary for as long as possible. On the other hand, most employers want to know a candidate’s salary requirements as soon as possible. It’s not unusual for candidates to be asked about salary as early as the initial screening call.

Why do recruiters ask for your salary requirements?

First they want to see if your salary requirements are in the range for this position. Each job has a predetermined salary range which was established by the hiring manager and HR. Recruiters know that salaries at the higher end of the spectrum will go to the most desirable candidates and salaries at the lower end will go to those with less skills and/or experience.

Basically, recruiters want to know if you are affordable or not. While there may be some flexibility or “wiggle room” in the salary range, often there is not. Recruiters generally know if an employer will be willing to go higher if the “perfect” candidate, or proverbial “purple squirrel” in recruiter speak, comes along.

So finding out salary requirements is a quick way to weed potential candidates out. Even if there is a little wiggle room there’s only so far most employers are ready to go. No matter how awesome you may be if the top of the salary range is $125K it’s highly unlikely they are going to pay you $175K. Although some candidates don’t want to believe this.

Second, your salary range may signal the recruiter that you are underqualified for the position. If the salary range is $75K to $100K and you say you would like to make $50K it makes the recruiter wonder if you are not experienced enough. While you may be underpaid you also may be exaggerating your qualifications.

What do you do when a recruiter asks you about salary?

If you want to be considered for the positon you need to have an answer.  You can begin by asking what the range is for the position and they may tell you. They may not. Should the recruiter give you the salary range you can say either that’s within your range or, if pressed, you can pick a number that falls somewhere in the spectrum.

Just remember that the highest salary in that range will go to a candidate who meets most if not all of the requirements. This may mean having experience in a particular industry or working in a similar situation. For example, if you’re a creative director whose primary experience is with print you probably won’t be commanding a top salary at an advertising agency that specializes in digital.

If the recruiter won’t share the salary range, the ball is in your court. To keep things open respond by giving the recruiter a salary range. Most employers will see the lower end of your salary range as your bottom line. So make sure that is a number you can live with.

Not all recruiters will ask your current salary. But, if they do be honest with them. Many companies ask for W-2’s as part of the pre-hiring background check. If an employer discovers that you lied during the interview process your offer may be rescinded. What you can do however is add “this doesn’t include my benefits” when providing your current salary.

How to you decide on a salary range?

Research, research, research. The best way to be ready for the inevitable salary question is to prepare in advance. There is plenty of information readily available.

One of the easiest ways to find out salary information is online. There are websites that offer solid salary information. Start with these:




Bureau of Labor and Statistics (Wage Data by Area and Occupation)

Occupational Outlook Handbook (Earnings)

After conducting some online research you can get additional information by talking to people either familiar with or working in your target position. Start with your friends and family. Next ask for introductions to anyone they know who might be helpful. Don’t forget your college or university alumni association which can be an immense resource.

Remember that compensation is more than just salary. Compensation includes numerous benefits including: healthcare, vacation, tuition reimbursement, flexible schedules, summer Fridays, etc. Don’t discount the value of a corporate cafeteria with reduced pricing on healthy meals or the option to work remotely even if it’s only one day a week.

There will always be some anxiety when the topic of salary comes up. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid it during the job search process. Preparing before you begin looking for a new opportunity will make it easier to answer when the recruiter asks, “What salary are you looking for?”


About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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