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The Dreaded Money Question! September 30, 2020

Nothing can strike fear in the hearts of job seekers as much as the dreaded salary question.  There are plenty of reasons to hate this question –

  • You don’t want to sell yourself short.
  • You are afraid of being rejected because you pick a number that’s too high
  • You simply don’t know what the going salary range is for the role you’re interviewing for

Money is deeply personal for everyone. Whether you think you have enough, or you think you’ll never have enough, you’re probably right. It’s not in the scope of this post to address those deeper issues but I can help you get a handle on how to answer this challenging interview question.  

Every company has a budget. Yes, even that big massive corporate monolith where you think you’ll only be a cog in the wheel! Businesses must meet the bottom line to continue to do their work in the world. That is non-negotiable and unless they are interviewing you for a position in the C-Suite, you don’t get a say in how that budget is set up.

Companies hire people because they can either make them money or save them money. Although there are many human factors in the hiring process, the bottom line is going to be a big part of the hiring decision. To recap, businesses have budgets and they need to stick to them or go out of business.

Now I know you have a budget you need to stick to so that you can continue to care for yourself and your family. Asking what salary you expect for a job is your opportunity to determine if your value aligns with the value of the company doing the hiring. It is NOT PERSONAL. Too often candidates think that salary negotiation is about their worth as human beings. It isn’t.

Do companies have “wiggle room” within their budgets for salary? Maybe. Most people who have negotiated for a pint of tomatoes at the farmer’s market understand the basic concept of give and take. If a business puts more into your salary than they planned, they will have to take that money from somewhere else. (So don’t complain about the crummy coffee in the break room.)

Do you have wiggle room in your salary request? There should be. Get clear on what value you bring to an organization and what you need from your new role. Much of this process is about determining what are necessities in your new job and what are nice to have. It’s your job to understand your necessities and then convey them to the hiring authority.

Okay, you’re clear on your value and what your pie in the sky salary goal is as well as your non-negotiable bottom line – but is there a way to know if you’re in alignment with the hiring authority’s budget? YES.

While it may seem like a company picks a random number and tries to get you to the bottom of the barrel, there is a relatively easy way to determine if your salary expectations are in alignment with the company:

  • Do some research about the cost of living in the geographic area where you’re interviewing and research the average salary for the position.
  • Review your experience. For example, If you’ve done the job for a year, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive the top of the current salary range for the role.
  • List other non-salary expectations from bonuses to benefits so you’re clear on your goal.

Now when the recruiter asks, “What salary range are you looking for?” you have the tools to answer with confidence. Here’s a good template for you to use:

“I’ve done some research on comparative roles and salaries in this region/industry and someone with my level of experience earns between $75,000 and $90,000. I would love to discuss the opportunity if it fits in that range.”

Then stop talking.

In some states it’s illegal for a recruiter to ask you what you’re currently earning, so you don’t need to disclose that information. You simply need to know what your value and expectations are for this new role. When you stop talking that’s the cue for the recruiter to let you know if you are or are not in the ballpark for a specific role.

A good recruiter will let you know how you fit with their expectations. If you’re high or in range, feel free to let them know if you have flexibility or if this is your bottom line. Make this an open discussion, a great recruiter wants to ensure you have a win-win when it comes to finding a new job.  

In the end, understanding your financial needs is your job. If a job cannot pay you in a range that keeps you whole, it’s not the right role for you. If you have done your homework and request a salary range that is reasonable, you will find a company with a budget that can hire you provided your skills match.

What questions do you have about the dreaded money question? We’d love to answer them!

Written by: PEGGIE ARVIDSON, Executive Recruiter

Peggie Arvidson started recruiting in junior high school when she convinced her classmates to join her in creating a ski club. Since then, she’s held many positions from sales to recruiting to non-profit leadership and quality assurance.  Her focus in her life and career is helping people to find their right work for the right pay because she believes that when people are happy at work, they are secure in life, and happy people change the world for the better.

Peggie has moved more than 30 times across 5 states and three time zones, and is not a military brat. She can usually be found walking around Williamsburg, tasting new foods, and searching out hidden beauty whenever she’s not at work.


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