Talk About Money At Interviews Without Talking Yourself Out Of The Job


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Monday, February 5, 2024
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Very few people like to talk about money. The subject of wages and earnings and “what do you make” can get people’s backs up real quick. There are all kinds of anxiety and issues of self-worth tied to what we make. A fraught subject in even the most casual of social situations, it can be particularly difficult to bring up when it matters most: during a job interview. There’s no better time to talk about money when a job is on the line, so follow along as we offer some tips on how to approach this touchy subject the right way.

Know What to Ask for

Before you do the interview, you should do some research. Find out what the average salary range is for your position in your field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good starting place. If you’re a member of a professional association, they may also have references and contacts in your field who can give you an accurate idea of what you should expect to make.

This is a great time to utilize your network. Talk to people in your field to get an idea of what they’re making. Sometimes people can be reluctant to dismiss what they earn so it helps to frame the question “what do you think I should ask for” versus directly asking what they earn. 

If you know people who work at the company you’re interviewing for, it doesn’t hurt to get some intel from them. Ask them about salary but also ask questions about company culture and what qualities they look for in people. They might also give you a sense ahead of time of what things could be hard sells, so you can be ready to adjust your approach when asking about/for certain things.

Have a Walk-Away Number

When you’ve got an idea of what the market is offering and what your future employer could offer you, make sure you go into the interview with two numbers in mind. The first is your dream salary, the best you could realistically ask for. You probably won’t get it but it won’t hurt to try. The second is your walk-away number. This is the point of no return in salary negotiations - the offer that’s too low for you to accept. It can be hard to turn down a job offer, especially if you need work. But committing to a bad job offer does you a disservice because it takes you off the market and away from better opportunities. It’s also an omen of things to come: a workplace that doesn’t value your labor at the start of that relationship won’t get better down the road.

One thing to keep in mind: don’t take a low offer personally. The company may have a tight budget. They may simply be unable to offer you more. Don’t take the low offer as a judgment on you or your qualifications. Be respectful when you decline the offer. You never know: that hiring manager may switch companies and cross paths with you somewhere else.

Something to factor into your walk-away: if the job offers you invaluable training and experience that can lead to a better position in the future, it could be worth taking a lower salary if it builds up your skills. But before you compromise and take a low offer for the sake of your professional development, make sure you crunch the numbers of your living expenses and be sure that what they’re offering you will cover it. No skill development or “investing in your future” is worth not being able to pay your rent.

"Another thing to consider is the company itself," said Gina Pinch, Rio Salado Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration. "Is this a company you want to work for long-term? If so - taking a lower position (or a lower salary) to get in the door might meet your long-term goals."

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

One of the main reasons why doing your due diligence and researching the pay range for your position is important is that it empowers you to ask for a salary that’s fair. If asked to offer a preferred salary figure, err on the side of aiming higher than lower. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a little more than what you think you’d get—you just might get it. It’s much easier to negotiate down from a high ask than in the other direction. If you are too modest in what you ask for, you’re taking away all your negotiating power.

If you’re worried that asking for too much money will take you out of the running, don’t be too concerned about that. That really only becomes a factor if you ask for an absurdly high number. If you ask for a salary that’s within the usual industry range, it shows that you’ve done your homework and understand your place in that spectrum of professional roles.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s crucial to maintain a confident air in interviews, especially when talk turns to money. You don’t want to be stammering or tongue tied when talking about salary. Practice ahead of time what you want to say. If there’s a specific number you want to ask for, practice the ask. Get comfortable saying it. If you hesitate or falter during the interview, it may seem like you haven’t given this enough thought.

It’s also good to think ahead about what your selling points are. What skills and accomplishments do you have that would paint you in the best light in the interview? What’s something you want a future employer to know that you can’t put on a resume? Establishing before the salary portion of the interview what you bring to the table helps make the case for why you’re worth what you’re asking for. Again, much like money talk, it helps to sound like you thought things through when you’re talking up your finer qualities. This is not a good time to improvise: go in with a plan of action.

If They Don’t Want Talk Money, Start Walking

There are a lot of potential red flags in job interviews but one of the biggest is a reluctance to talk about money. If they seem irritated or uncomfortable when the subject of compensation is brought up, watch out. If they make it seem like it’s gauche to talk about this, it’s going to be a bad fit. Another thing to watch out for is when employers say things like “we want people who are here for more than just the money.” Ideally, this is true: we all want to work with people who are passionate and invested in what they do. But let’s be adults about this: we all have bills to pay. We need to eat. If someone is interviewing for a job, it’s because money IS a concern. Someone who frames that basic survival need as “not good enough” for working there is someone you should be skeptical of.

Another thing to watch out for is “exploding offers.” These are job offers made with a “we need an answer now” ticking clock. If you get an offer under pressure or are given a very tight deadline (“this offer expires by Friday”), be careful. An employer that respects you isn’t going to try and rush you into accepting a position. Someone who is trying to pay you less than you’re worth and sign you to a bad deal, on the other hand, will be more than happy to push you to say yes now.

Who Starts the Conversation?

In most interviews, the money talk happens toward the end. It’s usually a good sign if the interviewer initiates this conversation without you prompting them. If they don’t, that’s what the “do you have any questions” section is for. Don’t immediately dive into asking about salary. Ask more about what the position entails, the company culture, and overall expectations. You want to display your interest in the position and also (subtly) show off all the research you’ve done on your employer.

You should be careful asking about money if you know there’s going to be a series of interviews for the position. If you know they’re probably going to have you come in two to three times to interview for this position, the first interview is going to be a “getting to know you/setting expectations” conversation. In this case, don’t bring up salary unless they do.

“If you don’t know if there will be second interviews, you could start by asking what the next step will be,” said Pinch. “If preferred candidates are moved to a second interview, that information will be shared with you.”

When the subject is broached, if you’re lucky they’ll give you a quote. In many cases, though, they’ll ask what you think you should get. This can be a potential minefield: as we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to undercut yourself here. One way to reframe this is to ask them what they’re able to offer. You can also try asking what the average starting salary is for this position. If they won’t divulge that information, offer your dream number. Start high and see how far they’ll climb up to meet you.

Should I Include Salary History on My Resume?

The short answer: NO. Do not put your current/past salaries on your resume unless the employer you’re applying to specifically asks for them. If they ask for a salary history, check with your state’s labor office: some states have passed wage laws over the last few years that specifically bar employers from asking about salary history. There are also wage transparency laws in certain states that require employers to be forthright about the salaries they offer, so knowing that up-front is also important.

If there’s no law forbidding their salary history request, you’ll need to put something down (few things will get you disqualified faster from an interview than not following directions). You don’t have to put your exact by-the-dollar salary on there. It’s considered acceptable to put a range there. Putting a range (“I made $40,000-$50,000”) on there gives you some wiggle room at the negotiating table. Whether you put a range or a set figure down, be honest. Inflating your salary to a too-high-number won’t help your chances. Your employer has a much better sense of what the average salaries in your field are, so the last thing you want to do is give them the impression that you’re lying about your salary.


Article by Austin Brietta