In the heat of an interview process, candidates are often asked about compensation and are almost always unprepared for this very direct question! Here’s how to answer it with grace.
Imagine that you’re far along in the interview process and feel confident that your conversation is leading to a job offer. Just as you prepare yourself for an offer, the employer asks you about your compensation or, as is more common these days, your “compensation expectations.” If you’re like most candidates, you dread this part of the conversation.
Why is it always so uncomfortable to talk about compensation? Because it’s a negotiation! And negotiating with a potential employer is daunting—you don’t want to negotiate yourself right out of the running!—and most people just aren’t skilled negotiators. The good news is: We’re here to give you the confidence to tackle this conversation with grace and ease. You’ve got this!
Before we get to the tips, let’s further develop the scenario: You’re asked for your compensation expectations. (Most companies genuinely intend to focus on candidate expectations during interviews. They know that meeting employee expectations is the best way to retain their workers, so it’s to their advantage to make your employment package enticing to you.)
You want the job, and want to make the same or more than you do currently; however, you’re unsure about how to answer the question because you may turn the employer off if you ask for too much. You also want to show them that you value your skills/experience by asking for a number that shows your worth. (This is why nobody loves this conversation! It’s fraught!)
Here are some simple ways to
The employer will likely ask you for your compensation expectations, so be prepared. If the employer asks you for your historic compensation, know whether or not it’s appropriate (legal) for them to ask this question. Pay equity laws in many cities and states have certain rules about what employers can ask so DO YOUR HOMEWORK. We’ve compiled a handy list of current pay equity laws so you can get an idea of where your state stands with regard to what employers can/cannot ask you during an interview. By knowing the pay equity laws that apply in your state, you’ll avoid stepping into a trap that could destroy any legitimate hopes of career advancement. Make sure you do your homework about fair salary ranges in your role before the interview … and aim for the high end! (Remember: You likely won’t get what you want unless you ask for it!)
Introduce them to your compensation philosophy
You understand that they have a range of components to construct total compensation—base salary, potential bonus, short- or long-term incentives, benefits, workplace/workday flexibility, potential for increased earnings via overtime, etc. If they’re asking for a base salary figure, tell them that it’s hard to answer this question without understanding their structure. Explain that you are flexible and will consider everything holistically. If the benefits package is robust, if the incentives they’re offering energize you to stay and succeed in the role, maybe you’ll feel good about accepting a lower base salary. Going into a negotiation, you want your future employer to know that you understand the levels of an offer. You want them to know that you know your worth. And you also want them to know that you’re willing to negotiate. You can then give them a range of compensation with comfort and ease, knowing that they understand you are sophisticated in your approach!
Tell them, “For this role, given my skills and experience, I would expect the compensation to be between $(low end) to $(high end).” Once you’ve given your range, stop talking. You’ve answered their question, now the ball’s in their court. If you prefer to keep the conversation going, close the comp discussion by changing the subject: Tell them you’re excited about this opportunity. Tell them why you think you are a great fit for their company.
A sophisticated employer is gathering information in this conversation and likely doesn’t have the ability to make the decision on an offer by themselves. So, after the interview, it’s time for you to be patient and wait for them to make a hiring decision, set up another interview with other team members … or send a bot-gram saying they’ve “gone in another direction.” Either way, you’ve just had great practice asking for what you want and need! And with practice comes even more confidence. If this particular employer can’t meet your expectations, it’s better to move forward and find an employer who will!
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