The Number$ Game

By Daina Di Veto

Interviewing for a job is full of pitfalls, moments where a wrong answer can knock you out of contention. One of the most treacherous topics to navigate is the one about your required or desired salary.  It can trip up the savviest candidate unless you’ve prepared yourself for it.  Answer with a number that is too low and you look like you don’t know your own worth, or worse, that you aren’t worth as much as the person interviewing you thought you were.  Answer with a number that is too high and you look unrealistic, over-confident, or out of touch.  Try to be coy and you look evasive.  So what to do?

If you are working with a recruiter, this topic should be easier to navigate.  You’ll already have talked about your ideal job and desired income.  Any recruiter worth his or her salt should not be referring you to roles outside of your range, unless it is done with full disclosure on both sides.  Before the interview, you’ll have reviewed the employer’s desired salary range and the income level you could expect to be offered based on your current salary and experience level.  If you are already near the top of the range, ask what the recruiter thinks is the maximum the employer might consider before slamming the door.

If you aren’t working with a recruiter, find out as much as you can via contacts who have experience in the company or the industry.

You should go into every interview with three numbers in your mind:  your dream income; your comfortable income; and your minimum income for that particular role.  You might adjust those numbers a little depending on what you learn in the interview, but they’re a starting point.

If you are asked your desired income, first try to feel them out.  There are a couple of good options… “I’m really excited about this role, and would be interested in hearing what you think my skills are worth” or “I understand the range is $ABC to $XYZ, which works for me.”  If your interviewer persists, you’ll need to be more specific.  I’d advise “Well, I’m currently earning $VWX including bonus, and I’d like this to be a progressive move”.

In many cases, this will satisfy the employer, but there will be times where they want more specifics.  In that case, base your response on your three numbers.  If you truly think you are an amazing candidate for the job, you can start with your dream-job number “The role is really appealing and I believe I’d have a big impact.  I’d be looking for $XYZ”.  If you want the job quite a bit and believe you are as qualified as the next guy, go with your middle number.  If you think it is a long shot but you really want the job, then give them your minimum.  It’s a good idea to show flexibility by mentioning qualifiers such as the opportunities for career growth, the benefits package, and the cost of living.

Some additional tips:

Don’t ever fudge your current income.   Many employers ask for W2s or confirm your income during the reference checking process.

Don’t be afraid to go below the range if it would still be a good career move for you.

Don’t say you need more than the employer’s range unless it truly is your minimum.

Don’t chuckle knowingly and say, “No one wants to go backwards, do they?”  For all you know, the person you are talking to has done just that.  Either it worked out well and you look stupid for ruling it out, or it worked out poorly and you are hitting a sore point.  Neither situation is going to help you get a job offer.

And don’t forget, the Number$ Game is played not to win, but to bring about the best for everyone.