When interviewing for a job, you want to enthusiastically spout off your skills and the value you can bring to the company.
But when should you bring up the “s” word?
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“Wait as long as possible to talk about salary,” said Josh Doody, author of “Fearless Salary Negotiation.”
If you throw out a number first, you risk limiting the offer that might be coming your way.
As a candidate, you have no bargaining power. You haven’t had the chance to show off your skills, ideas and how you would be an asset to the company. The further along you make it through the process without giving salary expectations, the more money you can likely command.
“Everything you say in the interview process either helps or hurts you,” said Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations. “You are most powerful after they are in love with you and after the job offer. You have just proved you are the best candidate, now is the time to try and get everything you can for the job, but not a moment before.”
She even suggested that if a job application requires you to list a salary expectation, write zero.
But avoiding the subject of salary isn’t always easy. Recruiters and hiring managers are trained to get this information out of you.
If the question is asked early in the process, Donovan recommended saying that you don’t know enough about the job yet.
“There is a lot of pressure [to give a number] and most people comply because they want to get to the interview process,” said Doody. “That can be a very expensive mistake.”
He suggested redirecting by saying you aren’t comfortable giving a figure and would rather focus on the value you will add and how you want this to be a big step forward for you in terms of responsibilities and compensation.
Because here’s the thing: You are at a disadvantage when it comes to salary data. Yes, there are resources that can help you find out ranges for the position and location, but the company likely has a lot more data at its disposal to calculate compensation.
“There is no job opening that hasn’t been budgeted,” said Donovan. “It isn’t your job to explain to them what the job is budgeted.”
If you really need to know about pay, Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said you can ask about the pay range for the role. But be prepared for them to come back and ask for your number.
“You are obligated since you are the one who broached the question.”
If you do provide a range early in the process, that shouldn’t stop you from negotiating an offer later, according to Doody. “You just negotiate normally and if they question it, you can say that ‘I was just guessing before, but that was when I had not seen the full offer or the benefits package. Now that I’ve seen those things, I would like to negotiate.’”
Even if you’re being recruited, try to avoid being the first one to ask about salary.
“When you say, ‘how much does it pay?’ it’s like asking on a first date: ‘How many children are we going to have?’ That is how far down the line you have jumped,” said Donovan.
If you are worried that the compensation won’t be in line with your expectations, look for clues in the job description, like title, years of experience, number of people being managed, or skill requirements that could hint at salary.
“If they want to bring you all the way to an offer without saying anything about pay, let them,” said Donovan. “Don’t be concerned about wasting your time. Losing a few hours to interviews is a lot better than working for four years being paid 5% less than you should have been.”
Once you finally get an offer, keep in mind that is the starting point for negotiations. Take a few days to review the offer.
“Typically, it is good for a week,” said Donovan. “It is always good to clarify by saying when you plan to respond to the offer. They will tell you if that is too long.”