The rule of thumb when it comes to salary negotiation is to avoid discussing numbers until you’ve received the offer. At this point, the employer has decided they want to work with you over all other candidates. This gives you a tremendous amount of leverage to negotiate base salary as well as extras like benefits, bonuses and vacations days.

But the dreaded “salary requirement question” often comes up early on with HR or even in the initial application form. Even worse you get asked for your “minimum salary requirement,” which is even more stressful. Candidates worry, rightfully so, that a number too high can eliminate them from consideration and a number too low will damage their ability to negotiate.

As an executive recruiter, I manage the salary negotiation process for clients all the time and have found there are four basic approaches that can be used depending on the situation.

Option 1: Decline to Answer
By declining to answer, I don’t mean plead the fifth. Your preferred course of action should always be politely pushing off the conversation for as long as possible, ideally until you receive an offer. Here are a few responses you can use:
• I’m sure we can come to mutually agreeable arrangement if I’m the right person for the job.
• I’m much more interested in finding the ideal job and company culture. I’m certain we can come to an agreement on salary.
• I would expect a salary commensurate with my experience.
• I’d rather focus on learning more about the position and whether I’m a good fit for the company before discussing salary.

Another deflection strategy is flipping the questions back on the hiring manager and asking what they are looking to pay.

Deferring usually works, especially early on in the recruitment process. However, there are companies that won’t consider you without an answer. That leaves you with three other options.

Option 2: Be Conservative
If you want to be absolutely certain not to price yourself out of the job, providing a conservative number is always an option. First, determine what the minimum salary is you would accept and still be satisfied. Then, do extensive research on the company and industry by digging into your network to come up with an educated guess on average pay for the role. Your conservative number would be somewhere between those two numbers. This does limit your ability to negotiate should you get the position but the door is still open to negotiate your overall package including everything from bonuses to working from home.

Option 3: Be Ambitious
Delivering a big number is a risky option best reserved for instances when you’re happy in your current role and it would take a big number to lure you away. Don’t be ridiculous, of course. A number that has no bearing on reality is insulting to your prospective employer. But feel free to toss out a number at the top end of the industry standard. If the company chooses to continue with the recruiting process (they very well may not), then you know they want you badly and you’re in a great negotiating position.

Option 4: Give a Range
The compromise to the above three options, if all efforts to deflect fail and you’re not ready to deliver a number, is to provide a roomy salary range with your conservative number at the bottom end and the ambitious number at the top end. The broadness of the range might raise eyebrows so you’ll want to follow-up with an explanation that resembles something akin to your deflection lines. For example: “My range is broad because salary is only one element I’m considering. Benefits, opportunities for growth and company culture are all also very important to me so I can be flexible on salary depending on the position.”

How to respond to salary requirements is an art not a science but this is a great roadmap for analyzing your options.

How have you handle this tricky situation? Share your insights below.

Brian Block

Absolutely never give a figure of any kind concerning the “How much are you looking for?”
question. Simply state that you are excited about the position at hand, can do the job well and you really want to pursue. Then add, for example ” I am currently making $50,000 (or was making) and for this position I would be receptive to any reasonable offer you care to make me based on my potential with your company.”

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