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July 21, 2014 at 1:00 AM

How to answer the inevitable salary question

You’re sitting in a job interview and everything has been going great. You’re feeling really good about how you’ve responded to all the questions so far. Then, the hiring manager asks, “How much do you currently make?” or “What salary do you expect?” Your heart races and you begin to sweat. How should you answer?

As a recent mentee discovered, the salary question can be a difficult topic to discuss if you haven’t already thought through potential responses. James felt he had been close to being hired during several job interviews, but then two hiring managers asked what he was making in his current position. He told the truth, and in both cases was told it was more than what the position would pay.

“What’s the best way to respond to the question of how much are you making?” James asked me. “I let both hiring managers know I’m flexible with salary, but it seemed like once they heard what I’m currently making, they kind of switched off and didn’t consider me a viable candidate anymore.”

Here are some tips to prepare for the salary question and discussion during job interviews:

1. Arm yourself with salary information. Before you go to the job interview, spend time conducting research to find out average salaries and salary ranges for similar jobs in your area and industry. Try NWjobs’ Salary Wizard, salary.com, payscale.com, indeed.com, careeronestop.org, glassdoor.com and jobsearchintelligence.com.

2. Be prepared to provide a salary range. You could provide the salary range you’ve researched, as in, “Based on my research, similar positions in this area and industry are currently paying between $X and $Y. Is this also the range for this position?”

3. Determine how much you’d like to make. Avoid sharing an exact number, because it can place you above or below the salary for the position. Instead, provide a range you’d like to make. “Because I’m changing industries, I’m not expecting to exactly match my previous salary, but, I’d like my pay to be in the range of …”

4. Think of ways to sidestep the question. Avoid giving out information by providing answers such as: “If I’m the candidate you’d prefer for the position, I’m sure we’ll be able to reach agreement on the salary, as I’m willing to be flexible. What is the budgeted salary range?”

As James found out, sometimes honesty isn’t always the best policy. Instead of sharing what you currently make, try to get the hiring manager or HR representative to share the salary range for the position. If that doesn’t work, provide a pay range of what you’d like to make.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career change, communication, interviewing, job search

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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