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Monday, October 17, 2011 |

The ‘S’ Word

Nope, it’s not the one you’re thinking.

The word I’m talking about is salary. Once upon a time in Entry-Level Land, you’d have a job interview, maybe a second- and a third-round interview, you’d wow the interviewers, and they’d decide to offer you the job. The money talk usually occurred after the employer had already decided you were the candidate for the job. The hiring manager would let you know the salary, you’d probably negotiate, and you’d accept or decline the offer depending on the results of that negotiation.

But with the economy and the job market still on shaky ground, the salary discussion is now happening earlier in the interview process. And I’m talking way earlier.

When I first started interviewing for jobs, I was almost always asked about my salary expectations at first-round interviews—sometimes even earlier, like during phone screenings. The first time this happened, I wasn’t at all prepared to respond. This made for a pretty awkward moment during the interview, and probably was the reason I didn’t get much further in the interview process for that job.

I, along with other job seekers out there, needed to adapt to this new trend. I made an appointment with a career counselor to learn some strategies for handling those early salary questions. The counselor gave me some great options worth sharing:

  • Tap human resources. A few days before your interview, call the human resources department at the company you’re interviewing with. You don’t have to identify yourself—just say you’re interested in the position and would like to know how much is budgeted for the salary. If they can give you that information, you’ll have an idea of how to answer the salary question going into your interview.
  • Answer with a question. When an interviewer asks what your salary expectations are, turn it around and ask if they can tell you what they are thinking about offering for the position. If they’re able to tell you, let them know if the figure lines up with what you were hoping to make.
  • Research average salaries. Before your interview, use websites such as and to see what others are earning in similar positions to the one you’re interviewing for. You can fine-tune your search by location, education, experience level, and more. This is a great way to have a ballpark figure when you go into the interview.Use the information you find to prepare an acceptable salary range you can give the interviewer. In the interview, say something like, “I’ve researched salary ranges for similar positions that require my level of experience and education, and I’ve found that most salaries fall between about $40,000 to $50,000. Is that consistent with what you’re thinking about for this position?” If the interviewer says it is, you’re on the right track! And if the interviewer says it isn’t, you have an opportunity to let them know that you’re willing to negotiate.

I’ve personally found that last option to be the most effective. Having a salary range in mind shows the interviewer that you came prepared, which is a great quality in a prospective employee.

Do you know of any other strategies for responding to the salary question?

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