By Dan Simmons
A big question that many job seekers have is when to bring up the issue of compensation during an interview. The short answer is as follows: you should never initiate this question.
The interviewer or hiring manager should be the one to bring up the subject of benefits, salary, and vacation policy or bonuses. If they want to hire you, they’ll tell you all about the reasons to work there. Don’t rush this.
It’s in your self-interest to delay money discussions until the end of the interview process. Hopefully by then, a strong desire to hire you will exist and you’ll have a lot more information. From your perspective, these are ideal conditions in which to discuss money. If your interviewer asks your salary expectations early in the interview, you should respond, “Based upon my skills and your needs, I’m sure that you can make an offer that’s attractive, if I’m the right person for the position.”
If, after this statement, the interviewer still persists, try a somewhat vague response like, “What is most important to me is having a challenging position and being part of the right team. I spoke with the recruiter about my compensation history and was under the impression that they would be handling those discussions on my behalf.”
If the interviewer pursues this again, give them your previous compensation by starting with the highest number: “My W-2 last year was $xx,xxx, of which my base was $xx,xxx and my bonus/overtime was $xx,xxx. My increase the past two years was x% per year, and I’m expecting another increase of the same percent this year.”
There is NO correct way to tell them what you’re expecting for an offer, and there’s about a 1% chance that you’ll name the correct number, so do NOT answer that.
Avoid under-selling yourself, but realize that excessive salary demands are one of the main causes of offers not being extended. Many people feel they should start high and then negotiate. At best, this is an extremely risky strategy in today’s sophisticated environment. Most companies are very limited as to what they will negotiate, unless they’re in a very unusual situation.
Rarely will you be forced to nail down an exact asking price. However, if absolutely pressed, you could state, “I feel my skills would probably bring $$ in today’s market.” This wording implies some flexibility.
As you can see, compensation (the “C word”) is a touchy subject during a job interview. Approaching it correctly will help you to navigate the conversation effectively and ultimately, produce the outcome that you’re seeking.