Answering the Money Question

by Ryan Mann
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Many times, interviewers will ask candidates about their targeted or desired salary. And this is a moment of truth of sorts for the candidate. I’ve had candidates answer the question effectively, and I’ve had candidates answer the question poorly.

Jim and Stephen faced this question in an onsite interview. Both felt that they were put on the spot because neither had prepared an answer. Not wanting to remove himself from the running, Jim answered with a salary that was actually lower than he really wanted. Later on, at the offer negotiation stage, the company felt that Jim was dishonest – or at least inconsistent – with his initial answer. Stephen gave an aggressive answer, thinking that this was a good time to start negotiating with a high initial request, even though he would accept at a lower rate of pay. The high request given in the interview turned the company off, and they elected not to move forward.

On the other hand, when Kerry was asked about salary history and targeted salary in an interview, she refused to answer. This did not come across as transparent or honest with the company, who felt that they would now be “shooting in the dark” in any attempt to move forward with her.

Do you see why answering the money question is tricky? If you assume the interviewers want to hear a low number, you might be dishonest in what you tell them. If you start negotiating too early, you might say a number too high and turn them off. If you refuse to answer entirely, you may come across as hard to work with. What’s a candidate to do?! Here are some things to keep in mind when answering that question.

It’s OK to acknowledge your general range that you are targeting. “I’m looking in the mid-80s…” This way, you are being honest. It’s best to acknowledge that you are negotiable. “…But I’m sincerely negotiable for the right role, with the right growth potential, company culture, and benefits package.” You never want to close a door prematurely, and acknowledging that you are negotiable keeps the door open. (To know what your range should be, click here.)

However, the best piece of advice is to focus on the match, not the money. “But my main goal today is not to talk about money, but to decide if we are a good match for each other. I’m confident that if I’m a good match for you and you are a good match for me, we will come to a win-win agreement somewhere around that range.”

Answering this question in this manner acknowledges that money is an issue, gives your future employer a general, not specific, range to keep in mind, and shows that you are about more than money.

Lastly, the best advice of all…Practice your answer! Uncomfortable questions are the place where we can trip up, so have a plan for what you will say and practice answering the money question!

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