It’s best to avoid answering this question, because you will either state a number that is too high, or too low. If you answer this question with a number that is above their range, you may take yourself out of consideration for the job, or if you answer too low, you may leave money on the negotiating table that you could have had. What your compensation should be based on the current market for this position, the company’s internal pay structure, and how badly they want and need you for this position. So, how do you answer this question? You actually have a number of options available to you, including: deflect, defer, toss it back to them, respond with market information, or refuse. We’ll explore each option.
- Toss it back: “I’m sure your perimeters are more fixed than mine – what is the range you’re considering for this position, and I’d be happy to tell you whether that’s within my ballpark?”
- Deflect: “Salary is only one factor in the whole equation, and my salary requirements are somewhat flexible.” (Other factors are: the role, your interest in the mission or product/service, opportunity for professional development, etc.)
- Respond with market information: “From my research, the industry seems to be paying between $X and $Y for a similar position. What is the range you are budgeting for this position?”
- Defer: “I’d be willing to discuss salary considerations when we get further into the process.”
- In some states, including California, it’s illegal to ask for your previous salary. Here are some additional possible responses in case this happens:
- Refuse: “I believe that compensation should be based on market conditions and my experience, not on my previous salary.” or “I don’t believe that my previous salary is relevant, and I don’t discuss that information.” or “It’s my policy not to discuss my previous salary.”