How do you appropriately answer legally permitted salary-related questions? (Negotiating Series – Part #5)

Judith Cushman All Posts, Negotiating Skills 0 Comments

negotiating skills career transitions compensation advice judith cushman associates HR career consultantsAnswer:  With the new laws in some states that say employers can’t ask for salary information (but you can provide it if you wish) how do you answer the legally permitted salary-related questions they will ask? What information should you be prepared to provide?

My first piece of advice is NEVER volunteer salary information until you know you are a finalist. These new regulations give you the opportunity to provide the right information that accurately reflects the total compensation you receive. However, to do that you must anticipate the questions and have a great deal of information at your fingertips. Share it, as needed, at the appropriate stage in the hiring process.

I have always felt that asking a job seeker what his/her current salary is during a first interview is the wrong question to ask. Very often, the figure is used to judge if the potential candidate should be considered for or eliminated from consideration. That is a shortcut busy recruiters incorrectly use and it is offensive and misleading. Here’s why.

The salary can be a relatively small part of total compensation and is not indicative of the true level of accomplishment of the candidate. Or, the candidate may have gained experience in a low-paying industry or non-profits and is earning well below the range offered. Ruling him/her out due to being underpaid (and therefore lacking suitable experience) is simply a mistake.

Being overpaid is another problem and a candidate may tackle that head on saying s/he is willing to consider appropriate compensation for the role recognizing that his/her current salary is above the range offered.

If a candidate appears qualified and provides a “suitable” salary figure that the interviewer feels is within the range, then she will refer the candidate for the next round of interviews. That figure is most likely a misleading number that will accompany the interview notes about the candidate until the offer stage. It can create problems at a critical time for negotiating terms when the finalist will be compelled to correct the figure(s). This potentially can undermine the hire if the correct numbers are significantly above the hiring manager’s expectation. It certainly has a negative impact on the entire hiring process.

Eliminating the salary question from the interview will challenge company representative to become creative in obtaining approximately the same information before these regulations were instituted. However, it will give the job seeker more latitude to initially provide a comprehensive number that more accurately reflects the total value of his/her current compensation. It also means that a finalist may be more flexible about a salary increase if it is part of a package, with all the additional benefits the finalist is seeking. Extending an offer and adding a comprehensive benefits program, can mean a more lucrative package than a generous salary increase.

If you are in the initial interview when the new version of the salary question is asked, “What is the salary range that you are seeking?” I would immediately redefine this irritating question into a discussion that starts with a statement that there are many components that add up to a total compensation figure which is more accurate. I would be prepared to mention them and also list them in a follow up email with the one total compensation number that can be included in a summary of the meeting that you include in the in the thank you note to share with the interviewer. That is as far as I would go initially.

At the offer stage it would be appropriate to outline in detail what benefits are negotiable and what are not. Putting an informational list together to share in advance of an in-depth discussion will be extremely valuable. It will also be appropriate to provide anticipated awards such as bonus payments and stock awards with a vesting schedule.

Since the hiring process frequently takes several months, plan to provide quarterly updates about your financial picture, possibly including special awards presented to you and other recognition from your current employer. That will make negotiating the offer much easier. Do not wait to be asked.  Here are the key points to remember.

  • Ignore requests for salary. Focus on your total compensation figure
  • Negotiating a compensation package as you consider a new job, is time-consuming. Take the time to do your homework in advance of starting a formal job search.
  • The hiring organization will want to hire you for a fair and reasonable compensation program. However, it is your job to provide all the needed information.
  • The more careful you are and the more you can anticipate what information is needed, the better the outcome.
  • Assume you need to provide details without being asked and stay in regular contact about financial matters.
  • If there is a significant gap in what your total compensation needs are and what the hiring organization can offer, be clear and firm about disengaging from the process. Leave the door open to continuing the conversation if the compensation range changes.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *