We should point out here that every job interview is unique, so it’s really hard to give “one size fits all” advice for interviewing. You need to be able to read the room and adjust your strategy on the fly. There is a basic etiquette that’s expected in any interview, and some general rules that can be applied broadly, but you should always be ready to make adjustments to fit the specific situation you find yourself in (this is why we’re so adamant about preparation.)
With that in mind, here are some pointers for talking about salary in a job interview.
When should you talk about salary?
Timing is critical when negotiating your salary. Asking too early might raise a red flag for an employer, but waiting until it’s too late might signal that you’re a weak negotiator. Hitting that balance just right is the key to a successful ask.
Don’t talk about salary if you got an interview through a staffing agency.
If your job interview was set up through a contract agency, do not talk about salary in the interview at all. Salary will be negotiated between your agency and the potential employer. Your point of contact for salary is your agency. Attempting to go around the agency and negotiate a salary in a job interview is seen as a display of bad faith.
Wait until the second interview to talk about salary.
A lot of the interviewers we talk to recommend not bringing up salary at all in a first interview. When you’re asked to come back for a second interview, this is generally when things like salary would be discussed. That doesn’t mean you can never ask about it in a first interview, but you should also keep in mind that you’re taking a risk by doing so. Sometimes, taking risks can lead to great rewards; other times, it can shoot your chances of getting hired in the foot. Proceed with caution.
Consider how much leverage you have before getting into salary negotiations.
As a general rule, the more leverage you have, the better your position to ask about salary. If you’re one of 100 candidates for a super-competitive entry-level job, you don’t have a lot of leverage. If you’re applying for a position that needs to be filled immediately, and you know the company has been struggling to find applicants, you can be confident that you have some room for negotiation.
Follow the interviewer’s lead and watch for an opening.
Keep in mind that asking about salary is a power move. If the atmosphere of the interview is very causal and friendly, asking about salary might seem inappropriate unless you can seamlessly segue into it. On the other hand, if the interview feels very much like a professional negotiation, you’re in a good place to negotiate a salary with confidence.
It’s important to let the interviewer lead. You don’t want to circumvent the interviewer’s expectations and dive into salary talks prematurely. However, you should be watchful of an opening to do so. The right time to talk about salary is when the time is right. This statement is frustratingly vague and circular, but it also holds true. Look for your opening, and when the opportunity arises, go for the ask.
How should you talk about salary?
Hopefully at this point you have a good idea of when to talk about salary. Now let’s explore some pointers about how to tactfully approach the topic.
Do your research.
You should know the general salary range for the position you’re interviewing for beforehand. Do some research. Know that websites like Payscale are valuable resources, but their figures are often inflated (salary estimates are often calculated nationwide, so major business hubs like San Francisco and Seattle will skew those numbers higher). If you can, talk to people in your city who in the industry and ask them what you should expect to make if you get hired to do that particular job.
Shoot for a salary range instead of an exact figure.
We know that vagueness can be frustrating, and when you’re trying to plan your future, clarity is always preferable to uncertainty. However, when it comes to job interviews, you’re going to have to get used to things being up in the air. That’s just the nature of the hiring process.
With that in mind, it’s usually smarter to ask about salary ranges rather than exact figures. “What is the general salary range for this position at this company?” you might ask. An answer to this question can at least give you a ballpark figure to work with. At this step in the process, your goal is to narrow the range of possibilities rather than homing in on a precise number.
Think about salary in terms of value.
If you approach the negotiation with a mindset that you’re playing hardball without demonstrating your value, you’re putting yourself into a bad position from the get-go. Try to think of this from the employer’s perspective. Talk about what you personally can bring to the company that other people can’t. Mention your skills, explain how your past experience will inform your future actions, and elaborate on how your own personal values align with those of the company.
Way too many people overlook this, despite it being the most critical element of the job interview. You need to make a case that you will be adding value to the company before you start talking about numbers. A potential employer is not looking to hire you as a personal favor but as a pathway toward making the company more successful.
To put it succinctly, don’t think about how much you need the job; think about how much the job needs you.
After the interview, it’s important to make sure you get confirmation of the things you discussed. Make sure someone sends you an email with the figures you talked about, otherwise the interviewer might forget what was promised. This isn’t always malicious. People simply forget things sometimes, and interviewers often spend a full eight-hour day talking to potential candidates, making it difficult to recall every detail. That said, you shouldn’t let your potential salary hinge on whether or not your interviewer remembers. Expect that they won’t and get that figure in writing.
There’s a lot to think about when stepping into an interview, and that can seem overwhelming. At the same time, the more information you have before going in, the better the interview will go. We hope we haven’t overwhelmed you with this deluge of information, but we do want to make sure you are well-equipped as possible.
Give yourself lots of time to prepare and accumulate as much information as possible.
If you need more resources, we’ve got several more articles about job interviews. Here’s a list: