Salary is one of the most important factors on both sides of the hiring equation. How much you’ll be getting paid for your efforts is paramount in your mind when you’re interviewing for a new job, and it’s paramount in your prospective employer’s mind, too. Negotiating salary is a delicate dance. You want as much as you can get, but you don’t want to price yourself right out of the running.
And you don’t want to talk money too early in the interview process, but your interviewer might throw some curveball questions your way. Not only that, there are also the new laws restricting what employers can and can’t ask about salary history in some parts of the country. So, how do you wade through the salary negotiation process so you’re getting paid what you deserve, without pricing yourself out of the market?
It’s about being prepared for questions related to salary history and requirements, and savvy negotiation skills to get you the salary you want and deserve.
We’ll guide you on how to handle the salary question in the application and interview process. But remember, you need to take a holistic view of the job. Salary is far from the only thing that warrants serious consideration by the job seeker. You need to assess what really matters to you from the job title to your duties, perks and benefits.
Let’s delve deeper into the topic.
Salary History: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
When you’re interviewing for a job and your prospective employer asks about your salary history, you should know that in many areas of this country, that question is illegal. As of 2019, 17 states and 19 cities nationwide have enacted laws and regulations that prohibit employers from asking applicants about their salary history.
Why does this ban exist? The main reason is to break the cycle of pay inequity. Research continues to show that women and people of color make less than white male workers, even when they have the same skills and job responsibilities. The hope is that when a hiring manager can’t ask about salary, they aren’t predisposed to previous prejudices, and hopefully, focus on the candidate’s qualifications as the main factor in determining a salary should they be hired.
As this movement gains steam, more locations are likely to be added to the don’t-ask salary list in the near future. Even if you interview in a location without current legislation, you may find that you’re no longer asked this question. This is because some HR departments, especially in companies with multiple locations around the country, are opting to implement new company-wide policies rather than create piecemeal rules based on the city or region where each branch is located.
According to a new survey by the executive consulting firm Korn Ferry, “Only 19 percent of organizations say they are well prepared to handle the new laws once they go into effect. Many large organizations are indicating that they are likely to get ahead of the issue by changing their national policies instead of waiting for individual cities and states to pass measures. Nearly half of the executives polled (46 percent) said choosing to comply with the most stringent legislation is the likely mode of adapting to the new legislation, as opposed to complying to each local legislation.”
As a job seeker, you’re probably relieved to know you may not be asked this tough question, but it’s important to be prepared if you are. What if you’re sitting in an interview for your dream job and the person across the desk asks what you made at your last position, despite the law?
Here are a few tips for answering it, without really answering it.
- Point out that this job is unique from other positions, and therefore your past salary isn’t directly representative of what you should be making at this job.
- Go in armed with research about the going rate for your position in your area. Then give them a range that’s as wide as possible, noting it is dependent on various factors (like bonuses and perks).
The Salary Requirement Question
If your interviewer doesn’t ask the salary history question, you might be thrown another curveball early in the process: the salary requirement question. In an ideal job search, you won’t discuss compensation during the interview process. This allows the hiring manager to focus on learning your skills while you focus on conveying your strengths and thoroughly understanding the opportunity. In reality this is not always the case. At some point during the interview process it’s possible that you’ll be asked about salary requirements. This question can stop even seasoned executives cold in their tracks if they’re not prepared.
When you answer salary requirement questions, it’s important to do so in a way that reflects your value and does not reduce your hiring potential. The best way to do this is to frame language positively and do your research so you know how much you’re worth in the marketplace.
Of course you know what you made at your current or last position, but perhaps this new position requires more responsibility that demands a higher salary. Start by researching online on employment websites like
In addition to online research, tap into your professional network. If you’re part of an industry association, reach out to fellow members and ask them what they feel is fair pay for the position. Additionally, job search firms can provide key insights if you decide to work with one.
Once you have evidence, you can confidently convey your salary requirements. Print out what you’ve found and have it on hand. If possible, provide a range so as not to pigeonhole the amount. Remember to frame the conversation positively and always note the value you’re bringing to the company while conveying your enthusiasm for the opportunity.
Tactics for answering the salary requirement question:
Avoid the Subject. Don’t get into the salary discussion before you receive a job offer. When asked about your salary requirements, you can simply say, “My requirements are flexible,” or “My salary is negotiable.” Many interviewers might push you for a response, but you should explain that it’s difficult to talk salary until you know more about the scope and responsibilities involved in the position. If asked about the salary in your previous position, you may make the point that your last job’s compensation isn’t applicable to the one for which you are currently interviewing.
Reverse the Question. If your interviewer continues to press for an answer, don’t take the bait. Turn the question around and respond by asking, “What is the range you normally pay for this position?” or “What do you consider this position to be worth?” You can then simply confirm if their answer is within the range you’re looking for, but be careful not to show your joy or dismay. It’s important to do your research to know what you’re worth in the market before the interview.
Give a Range. This is where the knowledge about what you’re worth steps in. If you aren’t sure where to start, check Glassdoor and PayScale. You can also look at national, regional and local comparisons from professional and trade organization salary surveys.
So what happens when the salary you asked for during the interview process no longer reflects the one you want now that an offer is on the table? There are times when after fully understanding the job requirements and level of responsibility that you feel that amount should be increased. This is a difficult situation but one that can be navigated if done thoughtfully.
First, start positively:
- “I know I will enjoy working for you …”
- “I appreciate you thinking of me for this role …”
- “… and I’ll be able to add the value you’re seeking.”
Then explain how now that you understand more about the job, you feel that a different salary would be more reflective of the value you bring to the various job expectations. Of course, back your comment with evidence that you’ve found in your research. Finish with a positive statement such as, “What can we do to make this work?”
Answering questions about salary requirements can be difficult, but if you know your worth and what the marketplace demands, you can make your case in a positive way so you achieve what you want.
Four-Step Salary Negotiation Method
The majority of American workers say they’re not getting paid as much as they want. That was the unsurprising finding of a recent CareerBuilder survey. Of course, if GetFive had conducted that survey, we would have also asked the 65 percent who said they weren’t making enough if they’d negotiated their salary when they first accepted their jobs.
We’re willing to bet a majority of those disappointed folks would have said they hadn’t, while most of the happy 35 percent probably did. It’s a fundamental truth in life that if you ask for something, your chances of getting what you want are much better than they would be if you don’t ask. So asking for a better salary should be automatic — unless a potential employer is offering far more than the market value and your level of experience should dictate for a job, in which case you should be asking yourself why the employer is so very eager (possibly desperate) to hire someone.
If you feel awkward talking about money and asking for what you want, you’re not alone. And it doesn’t mean you’re inexperienced or naive. Some of the most capable professionals balk at salary negotiations. Their reasons are many and varied, from a fear of rejection, to withdrawal of an employment offer, concerns over appearing greedy or confusion over how to begin the dialogue. Yet the best time to establish the salary you want is from the outset of the job. It’s much harder to negotiate raises than salary.
But here’s the rub. Salary negotiation should come at the end of the interview process, right? But that means you’ve gone through applications, phone interviews, in-person interviews, background checks, the whole nine yards. You can see the finish line! You may be so exhausted by the whole process that you’ll readily accept any offer, wanting to close the deal, already, before your dream job goes to someone else.
But remember, you’re not the only one who has slogged through a lengthy interview process. So has your prospective employer.
The company wants to be done with the hiring process so they can start the onboarding process. They’ve invested a lot of time and money into sifting through applications and candidate profiles. They don’t want to invest any more. They want you, and this puts you in control of the negotiation.
As long as you’re professional and courteous, most companies will welcome a salary negotiation. Even if you end up at the company for 10 years, it’s very likely that this moment is the best time to set standards and negotiate for more. Remember, it’s all about shifting different levers back and forth so both you and the company come to an agreement that is satisfactory.
Negotiating a salary doesn’t have to be intimidating if you break the process into these four steps:
- Negotiate the Job – A job that’s too low level for your skills and experience is going to pay less. If that’s the case, don’t waste time negotiating the salary, try to upgrade the job. Ask the employer to work with you to expand the scope of the job and responsibilities until it’s a better fit for you — and still valuable for the company.
- Stay the Course – It can take multiple meetings and interviews to land a job — especially if it’s high level — and salary may not even come up until well into the discussions. Hang in there. Ensure each meeting shows progress, and that your interview follow-up consistently communicates the value you will bring to the job.
- Listen to the Offer – By the time a hiring manager offers you the position, you’ve (hopefully) done your job of convincing him or her that there’s no better candidate than you. If you’ve successfully sold the company on yourself, the manager will try to sell you on the company, and that creates a natural opening to begin talking about salary.
- Negotiate the Whole Package – When you’re out of work, your first instinct may be to accept whatever is offered without negotiations. But if you settle for a compensation package that doesn’t meet your needs, you won’t be satisfied in the long run and could find yourself looking for another job in the not-too-distant future.
In a word: everything. When you begin negotiations, think of what’s important to you. Ask yourself what you need versus what you want, where you can be flexible, and what’s a deal breaker.
Go in knowing your bottom-line requirements, what you would be willing to trade, and what benefits/perks could help you if you hit a salary snag. Basically, you want to have a clear picture of your own goals as you go into the negotiations.
Apart from salary, other items you can negotiate might include:
- Remote work flexibility
- Relocation package
- Use of a company car
- Association or club memberships
- Company-paid meals
- Reimbursements for education
- Bonus pay
- Incentive compensation (short- and long-term)
- Sign-on bonus
- Matching investment programs
- Profit sharing
- Extra vacation time
- Insurance packages
- 401(k), pensions, or other retirement programs
- Pretax childcare
Don’t Let Signing Bonuses Fool You
Many people are lured in by an attractive signing bonus. Everyone’s getting them, right? Perhaps, but there’s a trade-off, and it usually comes in the form of a lower base salary.
The bottom line? Negotiate a signing bonus to make up for a lost bonus if you leave your current job. Otherwise, try to get money in your base pay instead. In the end, it will probably mean more money for you!
Keep These Negotiation Tactics in Mind:
- Learn the industry’s going rate for the job and what the company pays.
- Know your must-haves, would-like-to-haves, and can-live-withouts.
- Negotiate point by point — base pay first, then those easily palatable to the employer, then the ones that could cause conflict.
- Remember both you and the hiring manager want you to take the job — you are on the same side.
- Let the employer make the first bid so you have a starting point for your counter negotiations.
Finally, throughout your negotiations be reasonable and professional. Remember the finance axiom: Sometimes the bulls win, sometimes the bears win, but the pigs never win.