How to Handle the Salary Question During Job Interviews

Instead of divulging your earnings history, focus on your skills and expectations.

(Image credit: ©JamesFoster2014)

We spoke with Rosemary Haefner (pictured above), an employment expert and chief human resources officer at job-hunting website Career Builder. Here are excerpts from our interview.

Massachusetts, New York City and Philadelphia have prohibited employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. Why? These laws are trying to even the playing field. Asking candidates to disclose their previous salary has the potential to pigeonhole them. If you start your career earning less than your peers, it’s virtually impossible to catch up. For experienced workers, there’s the concern that the company may hire someone more junior rather than pay a premium for your expertise.

Should you still be ready to answer the salary question? Although other places may pass similar legislation, it’s likely to remain a common topic. So you should be ready with two or three bullet points about your expectations and what matters most to you.

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How should you prepare for the conversation? It takes practice, but you can state your para­meters without sounding inflexible. There’s a lot of fluidity in compensation, but most organizations pay within a range for a specific position. Sites where people share their salary can help you identify those numbers, but working your personal network is more valuable. Ask people with a similar background about their experience at a similar point in their career or what their company’s range is for someone whose role is similar to the one you applied for. For your salary to be as high as possible in that range, you need to articulate what you bring to the table. Also think in terms of the whole compensation package, including incentives and benefits. For example, if you value flexible hours or paid time off, you can share that and suggest that a competitive program might encourage you to be more flexible on your salary.

What else is changing in the job search and interview process? Worlds are colliding. Employers are trying various ways to communicate with job seekers and applicants. Some are using text messages to schedule interviews. Others are using social media platforms to find applicants. If you are savvy about your social media use and mindful of privacy settings, social media can be a shortcut to your next career opportunity.

Kaitlin Pitsker
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Pitsker joined Kiplinger in the summer of 2012. Previously, she interned at the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and with Chronogram magazine in Kingston, N.Y. She holds a BS in magazine journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.