Interviewing for a new job can be exciting — every conversation is a chance to say exactly what you want in a new role or company, and to make the case for why you deserve it. But one thing that can trip up even the most enthusiastic candidate is figuring out how to discuss money in job interviews.
It's natural to want to be paid fairly for your work. And yet discussing pay plainly with someone you hope to have a long working relationship with, not to mention with a hiring manager who has way more inside information than you, can feel unnerving, says Andres Lares, managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute.
But there are ways to prepare for the conversation, whether you want to bring it up or wait for HR to do so, to feel more confident and give yourself the most leverage possible. Here's how.
When to bring up salary in a job interview
Experts say you should go into every first interview with your salary expectations in mind. Author and career coach Octavia Goredema recommends checking industry salary reports, using online databases and tapping your network to figure out where you stand in the market.
As for timing, there are a few different schools of thought as to when to bring up salary in a job interview.
More companies are beginning to state their pay upfront, in which case you might discuss salary in first or second rounds. If you're confident in what you want your salary to be, and you have a lot of promising interviews lined up, you might bring it up on the early side to make the most of your time, Goredema says.
But for the most part, wait until the offer stage or as long as possible to discuss concrete numbers, she says. This is when you have the most leverage — you know HR really wants to hire you, and they've already spent time and money vetting you.
It's also crucial to note that women who negotiate are more likely to be penalized in the workplace once they're hired. Women who wait to negotiate pay until later stages of the interview process might avoid some of this bias, says Mabel Abraham, a Columbia Business School professor who studies gender inequities in the workplace. According to her research, hiring managers are less influenced by gender bias when they're looking at one or a handful of applicants, compared with when they're starting off with a large pool.
How to answer "What are your salary expectations?"
Experts generally say to avoid stating your salary expectations first. State a number too low and you could shortchange yourself in the future. State one too high — without additional interviews to back up that number — and HR might move on to another candidate expecting lower pay.
Instead, you can respond to the question by kicking it back to HR, Lares says. Be kind and curious: "I appreciate that compensation is an important aspect to the job, and it has to work for the both of us. Given you're the hiring manager in this role, and you're the expert on what the company can offer, I'd like to hear what you have in mind for the salary range of this position."
If HR pushes for a number
The hiring manager could just as well turn the question back to you and insist you state a number. In this case, have a range ready based on the data you've collected.
Lares says to be clear about your absolute minimum and put that number at the bottom of your range. Your target number should be on the lower end of your range, too, Goredema adds. Identify a high enough ceiling to give yourself room to negotiate upward later on.
How wide should your range be? That'll depend on how much you want the job, how much the pay matters to you and how much leverage you have at that point in the hiring process.
Lares gives this example: If you're aiming for $100,000 and are still figuring out whether you like the job, you might give a range of $95,000 to $115,000. If you really want the job, know you can negotiate other benefits and want to be flexible on base salary to speed up their decision, you might tighten your band to $95,000 to $102,000.
Keep in mind that "the wider the range, the softer it is — it almost seems like you're not saying much," Lares says.
You can always follow up by saying these are your initial expectations based on what you know of the job and company so far, and that you look forward to discussing more concrete numbers as you advance through the hiring process.
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