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by Kaitlin McManus | December 04, 2018


Women Shaking Hands

I hate talking about money. My parents had a very strict “we don’t talk about money” rule—not just at the table or at parties, but ever. Discussions about taxes or partisan fiscal policies make my palms sweat. I don’t even know how to barter at street stands—I just overpay what they ask me to. And that’s why in the final steps of an interview process, I clam up like the tide’s coming in. Because that’s when the hiring manager puts in his or her “let’s get down to business” face and asks how much money I think I should be making. “I don’t know,” or “whatever’s standard,” don’t cut it as answers, so here’s some advice on approaching this awkward conversation.

Know the Market

There are a thousand different ways to learn the going salary for the job you’re applying to—and not just at this one particular company, but for anyone with that title in your area. So do a little research, and go into your final interviews prepared with a target number. Start off with the multitude of online tools out there for a baseline, but don’t forget to ask your coworkers and network. The people who know the industry best are those who work in it. Just make sure that you know the person and that your questions aren’t unwelcome. The key to confidence when talking about your desired salary is knowing exactly what you want going in, rather than making something up on the fly.

Get in the Right Mindset

Let me reiterate: you should under no circumstances talk about salary in an interview unless the interviewer brings it up. That said, it will absolutely come up at some point. Your salary is important to both you and your employer—albeit you probably have a little more skin in the game. Money may not be a polite topic, but if a hiring manager wants to know your desired salary, you need to tell them in specific terms—so listen to your “get pumped” playlist on your way to the interview, and face this head-on. You’re not overstepping your bounds or seeming ungrateful—you’re taking hold of your finances. Just make sure you’re coming off confident rather than aggressive. It’s a simple question that merits a polite answer—not a rumble with the Jets.

Take a Risk

Here’s a little secret: if you’re talking seriously about salary in later rounds of interviews, the company wants you. I know—it’s a good feeling. So when they ask what your desired salary is, take a leap of faith. Ask for more than you think you deserve. If the going rate for the position is $70 thousand, ask for $80 thousand. What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll pass me over for the next person on their list, Kaitlin—duh. No, they won’t. Remember, at this point in the interview, nothing’s formal or in writing. If they are genuinely considering you for this position (and broaching the salary topic is a pretty good sign), they’re much more likely to come back with a counteroffer than to immediately pass you over for someone who will work cheaper. You can even soften the blow if you need to by framing it as a question: Does $80 thousand sound reasonable? You’ll never know what you can get unless you ask for it—just make sure not to ask for anything too ludicrous. You did all that research on a fair salary for your position, so use it.

State Your Case

Why should you make more money? Because you’re great, that’s why. So tell the hiring manager why they should invest in you: reiterate your experience, your education, whatever it is you’ve got going for you. When I went through this process, I made a big deal out of my Master’s because, frankly, there aren’t a ton of people my age with an advanced degree. I was also confident that I’d adequately proven my skills and leaned into that when explaining my desired salary range. Whatever it is on your resumé that made that hiring manager stop, take a closer look, and decide that he or she wanted to talk to you, remind them that it’s also what makes you worth the extra payroll.

Know When to Back Off

Alright tiger, you gave it your best shot. They know what you want, because you told them in polite, professional, specific terms. Ideally, you get a job offer at some point (although I’ve gotten more than a few on the spot, so watch out for that!), including your projected salary. Regardless of the manner in which you receive your job offer—in person, on the phone, or through email—you are entitled to some time to think it over. Even if there seems to be pressure to accept immediately, I advise you don’t. Thank the hiring manager, express your excitement for the opportunity, and promise to get back to them by a specific date. Consider the pros and cons and, if you feel you need to, ask the hiring manager to discuss the salary that he or she offered you. Even at the formal offer stage, you’re allowed—and often expected—to negotiate salary, benefits, bonuses, etc. The good thing is, at this point, you’ve also got some time built in rather than having to come up with an answer on the spot.