Ask Matt: How should I answer the dreaded salary question?

  • Article by: MATT KRUMRIE
  • Updated: December 9, 2013 - 10:01 AM

Dear Matt: When it comes to salary negotiations, I feel I fail every time. What advice do you have on how to answer “what type of salary are you looking for?”

Matt says: Talking about compensation is something the majority of job seekers dread. But most employers expect professionals to negotiate salary and benefits when offered a new position, says Kyle O’Keefe, Regional Vice President of specialized staffing firm Robert Half (RHI.com).

“As the job market improves, professionals have more negotiating power,” says O’Keefe. “But, to keep compensation discussions headed toward a positive outcome, it’s important for job seekers to understand just how much leverage they have.”

Gain that leverage by conducting research to determine your market value. Begin by reviewing sources such as the annual Salary Guide from Robert Half (roberthalf.com/salary-guides) and talking to colleagues and recruiters for their insights on current trends. Then practice your response to the dreaded question: What type of salary are you looking for?

Here are some ways to respond, says Fred E. Coon, author of Ready Aim Hired: Survival Tactics for Job and Career Transition (readyaimhired.com).

When asked at the start of an interview: “I am sure you and I can agree on a fair and equitable salary when the time comes, but right now, I would like to fully understand the responsibilities of the position and what the criteria are for meeting or exceeding company performance expectations.” Or: “In the past I’ve been paid fairly for my efforts and skills I am sure you will do the same. Before we talk about money, why don’t we continue to determine if I’m the right fit for this position and if the company is the right fight for me. Now, could you tell me about …?”

When asked at the end of an interview: “Well, I expect to receive what others of comparable responsibility in this company are being paid. By the way, what is the range for this position? I’ll be happy to tell you if it fits.”

If it does fit, respond with: “Well, that’s what I thought and we should have no problem coming to an agreement in this area.”

If it doesn’t fit, be prepared to show how the company’s investment in you will pay off by providing quantitative examples of your contributions to previous employers, says O’Keefe.

Once you’ve agreed on terms, ask the employer to draw up a letter that outlines the specifics of the offer, such as the salary and any special arrangements that resulted from the negotiations.

Regardless of how the negotiations turn out, remain professional and courteous. You don’t want to walk away with a bad taste in your mouth, and you don’t want the hiring manager to have a negative impression of you.

Contact Matt at jobslink@startribune.com.

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