Getting the Upper Hand in Salary Discussions

Getting the Upper Hand in Salary Discussions

stack of money on a desk
Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: When discussing salary during a job interview, how do I avoid giving a specific dollar amount before my potential employer does? I don't want to seem difficult, but I prefer and prefer not to lock myself into a lower salary range than the company had intended.

A: The key to a successful salary discussion is good preparation prior to starting the interview. If you know the salary range before you begin talking, you won't have to worry about who asks the compensation question first.

To feel comfortable confronting this issue, it's important to find out exactly what you're worth from an employer's perspective. Researching your likely salary range  will provide valuable information for setting some realistic income expectations. Many professional organizations have salary surveys  for their memebers. Business or trade publications and websites often feature payscales for specific industries or careers. As a part of their service, executive search pros must know what candidates with given skill sets can command. A little networking will also get you some "on the money" answers.  Once you've ascertained what the market will bear and compared it to your current compensation, calculating an appropriate salary range shouldn't be too hard.

It's also perfectly logical to ask a potential employer for the job description and compensation of the position you're pursuing. Neither of us wants to waste time on an interview unlikely to produce a good skill and salary match.  While employers obviously don't want to discuss their individual employees' compensation packages, they are often willing to talk about overall salary ranges. 

If they divulge a range to you, you can count on its authenticity. Employers rarely make offers above or below their stated range. It's bad for morale.

Having already determined your likely compensation, you can converse about more pleasant issues during your interview such as how you'll benefit the company and your potential for long term growth. Even if your interviewer pops the salary question first, you won't be worried, because you already have your answer in mind.

taunee besson

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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Salary & Benefits