Responding to Salary Questions

You may have seen an ad for a job with the notation, “Please send resume and salary requirements” or “Please send resume and salary history.” And you may have wondered . . . how in the world do I respond to that inquiry without shooting myself in the foot?

I used to help clients answer salary questions and prepare salary histories all the time. I rarely do so anymore, because I believe providing salary information prior to an interview is likely to do more harm than good, and it virtually eliminates any negotiation leverage once an offer has been made.

Let’s say you’re making $100,000 a year and the job for which you’re applying pays $75,000. You may be willing to come down somewhat in salary, especially for the right opportunity, and if they meet you they may like you enough to negotiate a bit. But you’ll never get that chance if they see your current salary. “Too expensive for us,” they’ll say, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a polite letter about being “overqualified.”

Or you may be making $75,000 a year, while the position for which you’re applying may be in the ballpark of $100,000. Do you get where I’m going with this? If you tell them what you make, they may decide you’re making too little and they don’t want to give you that much of a raise. Either they’ll lower the salary to fit you (something you would prefer to avoid), or they’ll give your resume the heave-ho and move on to a “more qualified” candidate. Either way, you lose. In addition, a lot of people have a problem with divulging sensitive salary information to a person they have never met.

An alternative is to respond to the question about salary, but to postpone giving an answer. You might say in a cover letter, “In response to your question about salary requirements, I am flexible with regard to salary, depending on the challenges and opportunities that the job offers. I would be happy to discuss this with you in greater detail once we have established a mutual interest.” Translation: Make me an offer, then we’ll talk.

There is, of course, some risk in not answering the dreaded salary question. There are employers who will not consider a candidate who doesn’t comply when asked to put the numbers on the table prior to the interview. In truth, however, there are risks either way. Too much information about salary too soon can sorely limit your opportunities. So weigh the options before you choose how you’re going to respond to a question about salary history or salary expectations.

There is an exception to all of this: When dealing with recruiters, put your cards on the table with regard to salary. Remember that most recruiters are paid on commission, so it is in their best interest to get you the highest salary possible.

To narrow down what salary is reasonable in your field of employment and geographic level, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for median salary information on hundreds of occupations.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2011, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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