‘How should I answer the ‘salary question?’ Most people looking for a new position or a work opportunity are troubled by this question, and feel they have probably botched it already – that’s why they keep asking ‘how should I answer the salary question?’
I recently participated in a HR panel presentation for a class, “Navigating the Interview Process.” The hottest question of the two hours of Q&A from the group was ‘how should I answer the salary question?’ I suggested, ‘don’t answer it.’ The rest of the panel, all responsible for hiring within their companies, took the opposite opinion: ‘You better answer it, or the party is over with us.’
As a corporate recruiter, that salary question for me was a ‘must-get-an-answer,’ and on the rare occasion that a candidate successfully talked their away past a direct answer, it was a red flag. Sometimes it felt like I was being hoodwinked. Looking back, they wanted to talk about other things, the job, the company, what they had accomplished, how they could help us, the qualities they offered, what qualities fit best in this job, this company. In other words, they kept the conversation on point, and presented themselves with an eye for solutions and next steps rather than answering litmus test questions like ‘how much are you presently making?’ or my favorite, ‘what are your salary requirements?’
Okay, here’s a confession. Did I recommend for further consideration the candidates who talked past the salary question? Only about half the time. I needed to know, and if he or she wouldn’t give me a straight answer, I reasoned that they did not fit our culture of straight answers (I worked with CPA’s in my most recent life). However, if they really wowed me, I recommended them anyway.
In the last year or two, as I have been building a practice of coaching people seeking employment, I have come to believe that the strongest posture regarding the salary question (if you want a position that matches your capacity for contributing) is exactly what those clever candidates who didn’t answer the question directly were doing. They were building a keener interest in their candidacy, and finding out if this company (my company/me) understood their value and their capacity for handling tough questions, to their advantage. That should have impressed me, and sometimes it did – now I see the wisdom of candidates who answer without answering the money question.
I recommend that folks answer it with purposeful vagueness, ‘I’m aware of the range of what a job like this will pay in the marketplace, and I’m comfortable with that range.’ Will it cause you to be ruled out of consideration in some cases? It might. Should that concern you in a down economy where the number of opportunities seems somewhat limited? I don’t think so. Smart companies, growing companies, figure out ways to hire good people, and if you are one of those ‘good people’ you’ll play this question close to the vest, and manage the interview by addressing the hot button issues that will cause them to want to fill the job with you. Talk about the pay after they make you the offer. As was noted in an earlier blog, that’s where your leverage will be.