Dealing With Salary Requests Before the Job Offer

You’ve probably dealt with it before: You sit down for a job interview, and the interviewer asks how much you expect to be paid.

At those moments, you should resist the urge to say, “A million-billion dollars.”

All joking aside, a potential employer asking you for a salary number ahead of a job offer can create significant problems. If you state a figure that’s too high, you may sink your chances of landing the job; if you lowball yourself, you might get the offer—while leaving thousands of dollars on the table. Neither option is fantastic, which leaves you with one ideal route: Deflect as much as possible.

If the interviewer asks what you’re being paid currently, you can say that your salary is “industry standard” or “competitive.” If he or she asks for your ideal salary range, you have a handful of possible responses:

  • “If you offer me the job, I have no doubt we can arrive at a number that’s agreeable.”
  • “What sort of range does this job pay?”
  • “I’m sure we can arrive at a salary that’s appropriate for my experience and skills.”

These tactful answers should divert all but the most insistent questioners. But what if you try every possible tactic—asking for a range, hinting at flexibility, suggesting you’re competitively priced—and the company still wants a hard number? That’s where research comes in: Before heading into any job interview, take the time to analyze the position’s industry-standard salary; even better, see if you can find out how much your potential employer has paid the position in the past. But whatever the circumstances, only state a hard figure as an absolute last resort.

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9 Responses to “Dealing With Salary Requests Before the Job Offer”

  1. Frank R.

    Sitting down for a job interview and getting asked for a job offer is far later than most can hope for. Recruiters require your current salary in the first 30 seconds of a call and won’t go further unless you provide it.

    • Michael

      Heck, try filling out an online application, just about every one wants to know what salary you are either currently being paid or what you expect! And that is before the soon to come 30 minute personality test! With questions like, Do you think rules should be followed? If you are creative, do you believe the rules should be flexible? Do you beat your significant other? LOL

    • Matt B.

      Not to mention that Job postings rarely post the salary range. If I knew the salary was going to be so low I wouldn’t have bothered wasting everyone’s time with an interview

  2. Karen S

    How can you give an employer a number if you don’t know what the other benefits are worth? If you’re getting free health insurance, a generous 401k or profit sharing, lunches provided, 3-day weekends, or lots of personal time off when you want it, you’d probably ask for less in the form of cash. If the other benefits are meager, cash talks.
    Right or wrong, my go-to answer is, ” That really depends on what other benefits are offered. I’m sure your compensation package is competitive; Right now, I am more focused on getting the right fit for me and “.
    You’re just SOL if you have to fill in a blank space with a number. Guess?

    • D.Anderson

      I agree and have done the same. For anyone to ask for a number during the interview (or before) is premature because salary is only part of the entire compensation package. At that time you have no knowledge of what the company’s other benefits are which puts you in an unfair position. The same holds true if you are offered the job on-the-spot, which happened to me once. My potential new manager told me what my new salary would be without any other benefit information. The salary was 10K more than I was currently making, so I was thrilled. Then I asked what would I be paying for family medical coverage. The answer was 12K per year. Suddenly I was not so enthusiastic about the job offer. However, I was shocked to hear my potential manager then follow-up with, “Does that matter?” I turned down the offer.

      Also, never put a number in those hand-written application forms some companies make you fill out when you interview. Two reasons: (1) See above; (2) those forms can get passed around to your potential new peers, which happened to me as well. You don’t want your new co-workers knowing what you currently make and then assuming you’ll be making more with this job. Too much office friction could occur as a result. Managers should never float those forms around but sometimes it happens, so beware!

    • Tech-wienie

      Karen, I like your answer. I am currently looking for a new position. I usually reply by saying “I’m flexible,” but next time I’ll add what you suggested. I have had the experience of people demanding a number anyway, but as everyone knows, if you name a number too high they won’t consider you, too low and you’ll make the bottom rung of the pay scale, probably never to catch up to your peers. Regarding the online job applications (which is almost all job applications these days), if they won’t let you leave it blank (usually the case) or put in words (such as “flexible”), I put the number “1” just so the application will go through. I have no idea how the person or bot reading the application will handle this reply.

  3. over employed

    I tell them what I’m currently making and say that I’m negotiable on that based on benefits and ability for advancement. If it’s a really interesting job i may even state that I’m willing to do the job for some lower figure. I don’t want to waste my time interviewing for a position that doesn’t pay enough for me to enjoy my current standard of living. If I leave money on the table that just means there is more room for increases during the yearly review. Of course everyone wants to get paid the most they can for the job they do, but everyone should have a figure they will be willing to do the job for. I wouldn’t hire a plumber that asked me what I’d be willing to pay for the job.

  4. I agree, they shouldn’t be asking that. I went into an interview once and all they cared about was all my previous salaries. The worst interview I have ever had still. I won’t even bother with companies that ask me that up front no matter how good things are if that’s all they care about. Many want that no matter what, I say screw them. I rather keep looking. That just really bothered me because it’s bad enough trying to find work, making it more uncomfortable doesn’t help things. Not to mention I thought this was a really good company, at least it sounded like a good place to work from their website information. But at least it was a good life experience for me.