Talk Salary Without Saying Too Much

By: Jack Chapman

How to best handle salary-information requests when talking with a potential employer.

These days, salary-negotiation skills are not just a way to get more money; they're critical as you fight for an interview in a competitive job market.

My first rule of salary negotiations is to avoid providing any specific salary information until the employer offers the job. Why? Talking about salary too early may lead the interviewer to decide that:

  • You're a low-priced candidate—so low they think you can't do their job, resulting in no interview.
  • Your salary is too high so there's no reason to start the interview process.
  • You are in the salary ballpark, but now it's hard to negotiate for significantly more.

In other words, talking salary can be tricky. Here are three ways organizations try to harvest your salary information and how you can best handle them.

Tactic: Application demands your salary history. Many job applications have boxes for you to fill in your previous salaries, and job ads sometimes request a salary history. Often, these ads threaten that you will not be considered if you fail to comply.

Solution: Don't give them the information, but be professional and polite. Leave the salary boxes on the application blank, but put an asterisk with a phrase like, "Would be glad to discuss in an interview." If you are responding to an ad, write in your cover letter, "I am making a competitive salary for [insert position title] of a [size] organization, and I'd be happy to discuss salary in an interview." This move does carry the risk that you'll be screened out, but if the fit is good, odds are high they'll interview you.

Tactic: Telephone screenings. Employers screen candidates by phone before agreeing to a face-to-face interview. During the screening, the employer will abruptly ask about past or current salary requirements.

Solution: As in a face-to-face interview, your strategy is to convince the interviewer that salary will not be an issue. You might respond, "I'd like to fit into your salary structure, if you think I'm the best candidate. Can we talk about the job?" Another variation: "Could you give me the range you have in mind? I'll tell you if we're in the right ballpark."

Tactic: Website requires salary disclosure. Some organizations' websites now present a screen that demands a candidate's desired salary range. Without supplying that information, applicants cannot advance to the next screen and complete the application.

Solution: Give a salary range that you feel will not get you screened out, and negotiate for what you're worth later. This carries some danger of boxing you into a low salary, but good negotiations can compensate for any damage done.

And remember not to worry if they do pull numbers out of you. As long as you press for an interview, you'll have time to show them your worth, and you can negotiate a salary from that platform whether or not you have disclosed current earnings.

Jack Chapman is a salary coach and author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute. Email: [email protected]

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