When to Talk Salary

My dad always said nothing good comes from talking about sex, politics, religion or money in mixed company. Just arguments. Especially these days.

The interview process is like a dance. There is a certain choreography that helps both sides understand if it is worth moving to the next stage. Talking about money too early disrupts the choreography and gives the other side a reason to say no. So it is important to pick the right moment to discuss salary. But when exactly is that moment? Here are three times when it is to your advantage:

  1. When you know they love you. Then the hiring manager is more likely to work with your salary needs.
  2. When a recruiter asks. The recruiter will ask very early in the process. You must answer the question right away or be eliminated from consideration. So answer the question.
  3. When you absolutely cannot avoid responding.

Any other time is a judgment call. Here are some guidelines.

  • Don’t volunteer salary. Make this a cardinal rule.
  • Hold off until the last minute so you don’t provide a reason for hiring manager to exclude you for being too high or too low.
  • Be coy until you are confident that an offer is next. Good brush-offs can include:
    • I am sure I am in the range.
    • My salary needs are competitive for this field.
  • Turn the question back at them. “What is the salary range for this position?” and leave it be. You can gather information if they answer and avoid being eliminated.
  • Try not to get nailed down to a specific number. If you have to answer the question, try not to give your last salary unless you absolutely have to. Give a salary range competitive for the position but a little higher than what you were making before. For example, if you were a staff accountant making $40,000 and you know the range for this position is $30,000 to $50,000, you should answer “I am looking for a position paying competitively between $40,000 and $50,000.”

Remember, your salary is your business. Don’t get aced out by being too high or too low. Watch the choreography. Reveal only as much as you need to get to the next step, always working to get the hiring manager to love you so salary becomes less important.