We've all been there. Sitting in an interview that's gone really well, and then the interviewer says:
"And what salary are you looking for?"
We freeze, uncertain at what the right answer to give is. Do we go high and get an amazing salary, or do we go low so that they don't think we're too expensive and won't want to hire me?
Show me the money
According to Monster's 2020 State of the Candidate survey of 1,000 full-time and part-time employees in the United States, 73% of respondents said salary is the most important factor when considering a job offer, with 58% of candidates saying they have turned down an offer because the salary was too low.
And when it comes to the top reason that employees stated as that which caused their last job search? They wanted a higher salary (40%).
The art of negotiation
If this question makes an appearance in the interview, then you're entering into a negotiation whether you like it or not.
A well-known cognitive bias in negotiation and in other contexts, the anchoring bias describes the common tendency to give too much weight to the first number put forth in a discussion and then inadequately adjust from that starting point, or the “anchor.”
Research on the anchoring bias has shown that negotiators may be able to gain an edge by making the first offer and anchoring the discussion in their favor. The decision of whether to make the first offer generally should be based on two factors: your knowledge of the range of options that should be acceptable to both sides—and your assessment of the other side’s knowledge of the range of options.
Basically, the more you know about what salary is suitable then the better your chances of negotiation success if you get in first and place the 'anchor'.
How can you handle the question?
So when the question arises, are you in a position to lead the negotiation, or to react to it? There are a few different approaches to take depending on what you know.
Know what you want and stick to it
If you're moving role in order to get an increase in salary then you already know what salary band you'll be happy to move for, and if that's what you're willing to move for, and the role sounds right, then don't be afraid to put yourself out there.
You might end up pricing yourself out of the role, but if they can't afford you then you can't afford to move for less money. You might end up leaving some money on the table by undercutting what they might have offered, however, if you're happy with what you'll get paid, what does it matter. You're getting paid what you wanted in a role you want.
What to say: "In my current position, I'm only in a position to move roles for a salary that is in the region of XXXXX-YYYYY, which is suitable for someone with my experience in a role of this type."
Delay until you know more
If you can push the conversation about salary until the end of the interview then the longer you will have to demonstrate your professional value to the interviewer before any salary negotiation begins.
What to say: "I’m looking for a competitive package that takes into account the scope of the role, so I’d like to know a little more about the job requirements first.”
Turn the question around
The ideal situation is to get the interviewer to give you the range before you have to say what you want.
What to say: "I would expect a salary that’s consistent with current employees at the same level, so I’d love to hear how the organization pays people with my experience.”
For employers ...
I'm a firm believer that employers should advertise the salary for the role up front, so that everyone knows where they stand.
If you don't, then you'll get people applying who you can't afford, and others who aren't likely to have the level of experience you require.
If you're up front about it, then this whole negotiation dance in the interview goes away.