Salary Negotiation Questions and Answers

Salary negotiation questions and answers

During any salary negotiation, you’re likely to hear the same few questions.

Employers will ask about your salary expectations, your latest salary, and more.

Coming up, we’ll look at all of the most important salary negotiation questions and answers you should practice.

These include interview questions about salary as well as questions you may hear at the final offer stage.

Then, I’ll also share 13 tips and tactics to help you negotiate a fair salary, so make sure you read until the end!

Salary Negotiation Questions & Answers

1. What are your salary expectations?

First, you’re likely to be asked salary expectations questions at some point in the job interview or job negotiation process.

So it’s a good idea to do some basic research into the salary range for your type of role before even beginning an interview process. Otherwise, you might not be sure how to respond.

If you’re at the stage where a company is making you an offer, then you can share a reasonable salary range or tell them that you would be happy to consider an offer they feel is fair, at the market average salary.

For example, you could say:

My salary requirements are flexible, but based on my research, I’ve found that this type of role here in Chicago offers $60,000 to $80,000. With my experience, I’d be hoping for an offer near the higher end of that range.

Or, you could say:

I don’t have an exact number in mind but I’ve done research into the general ranges for the role. I’d be happy to consider an offer that you feel is fair for the job duties and work I’d be performing.

However, if you’re still in the interview process and the hiring manager hasn’t said they’re going to make you an offer yet, the best response is to say:

At this point in my search, I’m focused on finding the best-fitting role for my skills and career. Once I’ve done that, I’m happy to consider an offer that you feel is a fair salary for the role and job duties.

Before the company wants to make you an offer, you have no leverage and nothing to gain by sharing an exact number. Therefore, you should never do so.

Many candidates make the mistake of sharing their exact salary expectations too early, such as when a recruiter asks on a first call. It’s better to hold off, and doing so can significantly increase the final offer you receive.

Read here for our complete guide to answering, “What are your salary expectations?”

2. What did you make at your last job?

Next, you may face salary questions about your most recent or current pay.

In some states, this question is illegal, but it’s still allowed in others.

If you feel you have a high previous salary, you can disclose it and use that as leverage to command a high-salary offer in your next role, too.

For example, you could say:

In my current position, I’m making a base salary of $75,000. So in my job interviews now, I’m looking for at least some type of increase. Otherwise, I don’t think it makes sense to make a move.

However, if you’d prefer not to disclose your past salary, you can certainly decline to do so, saying:

I feel this is private information and would prefer not to disclose. However, I can tell you that the jobs I’m considering now pay between $40,000 and $55,000. Is that in line with the salary range for the position we’re discussing here?

You can also say:

I signed a confidentiality agreement with my last employer, agreeing not to share proprietary or confidential company information. I feel as though the amount they pay their employees falls within that, and I’m not comfortable sharing the exact number. However, in my current search, most of the jobs I’ve been considering pay between $65,000 to $80,000, so if your budget falls somewhere in that range then I think we’re on the same page, and I’d be happy to consider an offer that you feel is fair.

Notice that with all the sample answers to the salary negotiation questions above, you’re providing a broad range rather than a narrow range.

This is a better approach to take as a starting point in your negotiation. You’ll have more leverage and won’t be limiting yourself later. Then, you can find out if the employer has a range or specific salary in mind for the position.

3. What salary range are you targeting?

We talked a bit about salary ranges above, but let’s look at the topic more now, because an employer may directly ask, “What salary range are you looking for?”

You could hear this at any point in the interviewing process, possibly even before you know all of the job requirements.

And you should answer differently depending on whether you’re hearing it as one of their interview questions, or at the end of the process when they want to hire you.

The first thing you should know: Any time you tell an employer a specific range, they’ll likely just hear the bottom number.

They’ll think, “Okay, that bottom number is the minimum that this employee would accept.”

So be careful about sharing a precise, narrow range because you could be costing yourself the ability to earn more money.

If you’re still in the middle of the interviewing process and the hiring manager isn’t ready to issue you a job offer, then you should give a broad but reasonable range.

For example, you’d say:

I don’t have an exact range ironed out yet, but based on my interviews in process, most employers seem to pay between $50,000 and $85,000 for this type of role. Once we’ve determined this is the right job for me and that I’m the right fit for your company, I’m happy to consider an offer you feel is fair.

Remember, avoid giving a narrow, precise range. If you say a number that’s low, it could cost you in the upcoming job offer.

And if you share a number too high, you could scare the employer off, whereas if they had gotten to know you throughout the interview process, they may have become more attached to the idea of bringing you on as a new employee and therefore decided to stretch their budget.

Next, if the employer asks, “What range are you targeting?” at the end of the job interview process after they’ve said they’re making you an offer, then you can give them a number you’re targeting.

There’s still little point in sharing a range, since they’ll just hear the bottom number and think, “That’s the minimum salary we can offer.”

To recap: If you’re asked interview questions about your target salary range, give a broad answer to keep the salary open and negotiate later.

If you’re at the offer stage and they want to hire you, then a good answer would be to share the specific number you want for base pay.

Study the example answers above before moving on. With this salary negotiation question, it’s critical to give the right answer or you could hurt your chances of getting additional money in your job offers.

4. Why do you want that particular number?

After you provide a target number or range, many employers will ask how you came up with that amount.

So be ready to back up your salary requirements and salary expectations with research you’ve done, by mentioning your current salary, or by mentioning other job offers if you have any.

You can choose exactly what angle to take when answering this salary question.

If you don’t want to share your current salary, you can point to research you’ve done online via salary websites like Payscale.com and Salary.com.

If you feel you’re well-paid and it’s a sign of your value to future employers, then do go ahead and share your current salary.

Employers will know that it’s not reasonable to expect job seekers to take a pay cut, so this may motivate them to offer more money and help you avoid a lowball job offer.

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Now that we’ve looked at four common salary negotiation questions and answers, let’s move on to some powerful negotiation tactics to help you get the highest starting salary possible…

13 Salary Negotiation Tips for a New Job

1. Research Salary Ranges Before the Interview

Salary negotiation is the area of the job interview that candidates are least prepared for, based on my experience as a recruiter. And it’s important to be ready ahead of time.

You don’t know when the employer will bring up salary. I’ve seen it happen at the beginning of a first phone interview.

So the negotiation could start within minutes of talking to an employer, even before you’ve spoken to the hiring manager, and you need to know some basic salary ranges for the role you’re discussing.

Benefits of conducting salary research before a salary negotiation:

  1. You’ll know if an offer is fair, below-average, or above-average.
  2. You’ll be able to delay giving an exact number for your desired salary, which is extremely important (I’ll explain why next). You delay this by saying, “I don’t have a specific number in mind and would need to know more about the role first. However, based on my research, this general type of role seems to pay between $X and $Y here in Boston, so if your budget is within that range, then I think it makes sense to keep talking.”

To conduct your salary research, I recommend websites like Payscale, Glassdoor, and Salary.com. 

2. Don’t Share an Exact Desired Salary Until the Company is Making an Offer

Sometimes, the interviewer will ask, “What’s your desired salary?” in a phone interview or other early-stage interview.

It’s not in your best interest to share a specific number yet, and it’s not going to help you get a higher salary.

In the first few interviews, you have no leverage to negotiate with. The employer isn’t even sure they want to hire you yet.

So if you share a number that’s too high, you could scare them off before they’ve had a full chance to see your skills and potential value in the job.

If you share a number that’s too low, they’ll offer that amount later, even though they may have been willing to offer thousands of dollars more for this position/job title.

So I recommend sharing some basic research you’ve done, giving a broad range that you feel most jobs fall under, but then stopping short of saying an exact number you’d accept.

Example answer:

“At this point in my search, I’m focused on finding the role that’s the best fit for my career and I don’t have an exact salary target in mind. However, I’ve done some research into positions with this job title here in the Dallas area, and most roles seem to fall into a salary range of $50,000 to $85,000. I think if this position fits somewhere in that range, then it makes sense to discuss the job in more detail.”

Notice how the range is very broad. That’s how I recommend handling salary negotiations in the first one or two interviews.

Read more: How to answer desired salary questions on job applications and interviews.

3. It’s Okay to Share Your Current Salary (But You Don’t Have To)

Sometimes employers will ask for your current salary, too. If you feel you’re well-paid, it can be to your advantage to share this number. If you’re currently employed and don’t want to waste your time on roles that pay less, it can make sense too.

For example, I once took a phone interview and within the first five minutes, I said, “I have a question. Normally I don’t discuss salary so early but I don’t want to waste your time, either. I’m currently earning $65,000 with a 10% bonus and would be hoping for some type of salary increase in order to make a change. Does that fit within the salary range you’ve budgeted for the position?”

In this case, the recruiter told me, “No,” which saved us both a lot of time. Better yet, she told me that the company did have a higher-level position that fit my salary needs and then we discussed that instead.

However, if you are unemployed and/or feel you weren’t paid very well in the past, it’s fine to decline to share your salary history. In fact, it’s illegal for employers to ask in some US states.

You can say:

“I signed a confidentiality agreement with my last employer and I believe that the amount they chose to pay me falls within that agreement. I’m not able to share past salaries. However, I’m happy to discuss what this job pays and some of the salary research I’ve done into the overall market.”

4. Ask Open-Ended Questions

One of the best tactics to use in your salary negotiations is asking open-ended questions.

Asking open-ended questions is a friendly, non-threatening way to understand the other person’s point of view in a negotiation.

A negotiation isn’t a battle or argument. It should be viewed as a collaborative discussion where both sides are aiming to get what’s fair/reasonable. This is the best way to approach a negotiation to earn a higher salary and start your new job on great terms.

Here are examples of open-ended questions you can ask:

  • “Oh, why is that?”
  • “What type of budget have you set for the position?”
  • “What’s your main concern here?”

Questions such as these can help you gather more info, get past negotiation “roadblocks,” and address the hiring manager’s concerns and limitations without seeming confrontational.

If you don’t understand their point of view, you can’t properly address it. That’s some of the best career advice I can give you… both for negotiations and for acing the job interview.

So new job salary negotiation isn’t just about talking; it’s also about listening.

5. Listen as Much as You Talk

This is one of the most crucial new job salary negotiation tips that I can share. Negotiating salary is not about talking over the other person, trying to persuade or pressure them, or anything like that.

In fact, some of the best negotiators, salespeople, and expert persuaders I’ve met were great listeners first and foremost.

As you prepare to negotiate, commit to listening at least as much as you talk. The tip earlier about asking open-ended questions can help you with that.

The bottom line is: Talking over the other person or trying to “steamroll” them by pushing past their concerns is not going to get you a better salary. You need to truly hear their concerns, try to understand their viewpoint, and have a collaborative discussion.

That all starts with great listening.

6. Ask How Much They’ve Budgeted for the Position

As you get peppered with salary questions in the interview, like, “What’s your desired salary?” and, “What are you currently earning?” it can be helpful to turn the question back at them, too.

After answering one of their questions related to salary, consider asking how much they’ve budgeted for the role.

Or if you provide a range you’re targeting, ask, “Does that fit into what you’ve budgeted for the position, and can you tell me more about the compensation package that’s been set for the role?”

The bottom line is: Every company has a general compensation range or “salary band” for various roles and groups. So if they tell you it’s completely open and there’s no structure in place, they’re either misinformed or lying.

7. Consider Delaying the Conversation if Needed

If you’re midway through the interview process and salary negotiations seem to get stuck, it’s okay to say, “Would it be alright if we discuss the role and my skills in more depth, and then perhaps we can return to discussing the salary for the position after this?”

There’s no harm in asking, and sometimes exploring the role a bit more will then make the discussion of salary range and job offer a bit easier for both sides.

This is yet another tip/tool in your arsenal that you don’t have to use but can utilize if needed.

8. Sell Your Value and Leave Personal Reasons and Emotion Out of the Negotiation

Any time you negotiate salary, whether it’s in a first interview or just before a job offer, you should focus on selling your value and your skills. That’s what the employer is paying for and what your negotiations should be based upon.

It’s best to leave personal reasons out of the negotiation (such as commute length, student loans, car payment, etc.) and it’s also best to take a logical, business-focused approach instead of getting emotional.

I’m not going to tell you that I’ve never seen someone negotiate for more pay in their job search by using personal reasons… because I’ve seen it. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and bad strategies do work occasionally.

But on average, you’ll do much better by selling your skills and value.

The more you can sell your skills and experience and explain how you’ll be able to help them in this role, the better your compensation package and salary will be.

9. Use Your Current Job as Leverage (If You Have One)

If you’re lucky enough to be interviewing while you already have a job, you can use this as leverage in negotiating.

Employers understand that you aren’t going to leave your current job for less pay and that you’re going to be selective and careful in choosing your next opportunity.

So by reminding them that you’re happily employed and simply exploring other options, they may begin negotiating against themselves. What I mean by this is that they’ll feel internal pressure to up their offer, provide a better compensation and bonus package, etc.

You never want to give an ultimatum or sound rude, but you can say phrases like:

“I’m currently earning a base salary of X and would need some type of increase to consider making a move.”

“I’m very happy with my current employer, but I was eager to discuss this role to explore whether it might be a career-advancing opportunity.”

(You could say this in response to an interview question like, “Why did you apply for this position?” or, “Why do you want to work here?”)

Remind the company throughout the hiring process that you’re not unemployed and that it’ll take a great opportunity (and great money) to get you to make a move.

10. Negotiate Other Benefits, Too

When talking to the potential employer about your job offer, don’t forget that you can negotiate more than just starting salary.

You can negotiate bonuses, stocks/equity, vacation time, work-from-home, and much more.

So if you hit a dead-end when negotiating for more money in your base salary, consider turning to other areas of the benefits package to see if there’s further opportunity for negotiation.

I recommend focusing on base salary, first, though. This is typically what you can build on from job to job, and it’s also what determines your bonus in many positions (because employers often structure their bonus as a percentage of base salary). Read this article for more info on base salary vs. bonus and which is better.

And I don’t recommend focusing heavily on negotiating job title, however. For more info on why, I wrote a full article on whether job titles are important.

11. Ask About the Performance Review Schedule

It’s worth asking the company how soon you’ll receive a performance review and potential raise after you accept their offer and start this new job.

While this isn’t as important as maximizing your starting salary and benefits, it’s still a good final piece to consider when negotiating, and a topic worth exploring and asking questions about in the interview.

For example, the hiring manager may tell you that they can’t offer a higher salary, but they’d be willing to do your first performance review in six months rather than a year after you start.

This can always change in the future, though, so it’s not the first area I recommend focusing on in a negotiation. It’s more of a last resort or a way to gain a bit more if you don’t love the basic salary offer.

Also, consider getting this in writing if they do agree to a faster-than-normal performance review. That way, you have proof of what the employer agreed upon.

12. Never Accept an Offer on the Spot

Sometimes the hiring manager will make you an offer during the job interview or before you’re sure whether you want the job. You may have had the chance to negotiate a bit, or not at all.

The most important thing to know here is: You never need to accept a job offer on the spot. And as a former recruiter, I recommend never doing so.

By asking for time to think about the decision and look over the job offer, you’ll avoid having to make a rushed decision and you’ll demonstrate confidence.

This is how the most in-demand candidates handle receiving an offer. They ask for time and then they come back with an answer later.

So I recommend you ask for at least 48 hours to discuss the offer with your family, read the fine print, and then respond and decide if you’ll accept the first offer, decline, or try to negotiate.

You can tell the company:

“Thank you so much for the offer. I’m thrilled and the role seems fantastic. I always weigh important decisions like this with my family. Would it be alright if I take 48 hours to look over the details, talk to my family, and then reconnect with you on Wednesday morning?”

Be wary of any employer who isn’t okay with this. This is 100% normal and accepted in the corporate world and I wouldn’t trust a hiring manager who isn’t willing to give you time to look at an offer in detail and think about such an important decision in the privacy of your own home.

13. Don’t Apologize

Negotiating your salary is completely professional and expected. Depending on the source, somewhere between 60-80% of hiring managers expect it. That means they may even be surprised if you don’t try to negotiate.

So consider it a normal, professional part of the process, and don’t be apologetic about asking for the compensation you’re worth… whether it’s in the interview or after you’ve received an offer and have had time to look it over.

As long as you make logical, business-based arguments, you’ll be fine.

Conclusion

We’ve looked at the top salary negotiation questions and how to respond. You know what to say when you’re asked about your current salary, salary expectations, and more.

You’ve also received some great tips to make your negotiations more successful overall.

The bottom line: Hiring managers are excited when they find a qualified candidate who they want to hire.

They won’t fault you for negotiating or starting a dialogue in response to salary questions as you attempt to work toward a fair offer.

So don’t be fearful when sharing salary expectations or asking for more money, as long as you can back it up with a reason!

But you do need to practice and prepare because the wrong move in a salary negotiation could cost you thousands of dollars, and the respect of your future boss.

 

About the Author Biron Clark

Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.

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