Career Center Blog

September 25, 2012

Negotiation nuances: talking money before the interview


Cold sweats. Anxiety attacks. Incoherence.

What do these three things have in common? They're all behaviors you might witness the moment you corner a job candidate and ask: "How much money are you looking for in your next assignment?"

In the old days, this question didn't come up much -- at least not in the opening rounds of interviewing. It was generally considered impolite to ask candidates about their compensation needs or salary history before mutual interest had been established and the final-offer stage had been reached.

Fast-forward to the new millennium, however, and there's no escaping it. You'll find that a preponderance of recruiters and employers decide to hit you up for your salary parameters before your gluteus maximus even gets settled in the interview chair!

And yet most job seekers detest the idea of having to get specific about money right off the bat. They fear they'll either shoot themselves in the foot by giving a number that's too high, or throw out a figure that's too low, potentially leaving money on the table.

Unfortunately, in most cases, there's no getting around this hurdle. Employers today have the upper hand in most interviewing scenarios, so they get to call the shots. And if they feel that getting salary data right off the bat will save them hours of time -- and avoid situations in which a person is seeking far more money than the job would conceivably pay -- they're not going to be shy about trying to do that up front.

As a result, I'd advise any serious job hunter to be locked and loaded for this line of questioning. Have a well-rehearsed strategy in place to field the issue in a diplomatic way. What would this sound like, exactly? Try this exchange on for size:

Interviewer: "Gertrude, thanks for coming in today. Before we get too far along, would you mind telling me what your salary expectations would be for this kind of role? How much money are you looking to make?"

Candidate: "You know, Ebenezer, that's a perfectly fair question. While ultimately money is only one part of the equation in terms of what I'm looking for in my next opportunity, I can certainly give you my initial thoughts around it. If I understand the responsibilities of this position correctly, and the caliber of person you're seeking in this role, I'd expect it to pay anywhere in the range of [insert big range], depending on the scope of your benefits package and a few other factors we'd likely discuss down the road. This seems to be the range I'm seeing out there for these types of assignments with other firms around town. Is this fairly close to what you folks had in mind?"

Feel free to put your own spin on this, using whatever language is most comfortable to you. You get the idea: Instead of trying to dodge the question or turn it around, get the interviewer to name his or her number first. This type of response gives the employer an honest assessment of your needs while still leaving you plenty of wiggle room.

What's more, I think it radiates tremendous confidence. You're not only demonstrating that you've done your homework and have a good idea of what your skills are worth, but also that you're not intimidated -- or afraid to give a straight answer to a straight question.

Once you practice this answer a few times, I guarantee you'll feel far more comfortable when the salary question surfaces in your next interview.

Matt Youngquist is the president and founder of Career Horizons, a career counseling and corporate outplacement firm. Email him at

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I have found that it is now common practice for recruiters and employers to ask what an applicant's current salary is. The recruiters are also increasingly aggressive, using language such as, "If we can't have that kind of trust relationship at this early stage, we'd have to question whether it is wise to move forward in this process." While it is easy to respond to questions about salary expectation with the kind of messaging you describe above, it is more difficult to answer this direct question about current salary; there are many reasons why a current salary level is what it is relative to the salary range of of the job being applied for and an applicant is right not to want their value determined by what they made before. An applicant's worth to a new company should be determined independent of what they are currently being paid! Though the company will find out later when the applicant approves a background check, it is not seem the best way to for an applicant to get an advantage in the negotiating position when this question is asked before an offer is made. What do you suggest as a response?


I've seen many job postings where the salary is requested as part of the application. I always assume these are fake jobs. It's a common practice to price jobs by seeing what existing workers are making, by sending out phoney job ads.

Hiring companies and recruiting companies have a fixed budget, whereas employees are very often flexible, and have a wide range.

Chances are, if you've gotten to the interview without mentioning price, this is a real job, and your solution is a good solution.

I'm just warning people to avoid job applications that want your expected salary before they will even look at the application. Those are probably phoney.


The employer has the upper hand in all things job related. They want the best applicant for the least cost. Preferably an applicant who is either in debt for college or has a family to support. this ensures a compliant employee who will not complain when bullied. One way to weed out applicants who may have a willingness to stand up for their personal dignity is to require them to submit to a urine test to be considered for employment.

The only way to have any power in an employer/employee relationship is to organize into a union, yet I read union bashing comments in the newspaper daily. Thank God I'm retired with my social security, veterans pension and pension from my union job because I don't see a willingness to confront unfair and ill treatment in the current generation of workers. Hell they;re grateful to be exploited and able to afford a smartphone and big screen TV to distract them form their anguish and tell them what to do and how to think. I observe people walking down the sidewalk staring at that little phone screen trying their best not to pay attention to their empty lives bereft of meaning.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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