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Asking about candidate salary expectations during the interview: A good idea or a bad one?

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR PayScale’s salary negotiation guide is targeted to job seekers, but I think many of the articles offer excellent insight for employers, too.

PayScale’s salary negotiation guide is targeted to job seekers, but I think many of the articles offer excellent insight for employers, too.

For example, I got a real kick out of out of “The (Surprising) Best Answer to the Question ‘What’s Your Salary Range?” by Penelope Trunk, because I’d already lumped this question with “What’s your greatest strength/biggest weakness?” under Please, No More.

While I get that employers don’t want to spend time on candidates with salary expectations far beyond the company’s desire/willingness to pay, I’ve always viewed the query as problematic for job seekers and employers.

Job seekers shy away from answering the question candidly for fear of either pricing themselves out of an opportunity or, just as bad, lowballing themselves into an opportunity, and I’ve consistently maintained that if an employer knows the value of the position to his or her organization, asking the candidate is besides the point.

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So what does Trunk recommend? She says the right answer to the question is almost always some form of “I’m not telling you.”

Honestly, I don’t think that’s bad advice, and again, it’s a huge clue to employers how much job seekers dislike and distrust this inquiry. Don’t be surprised when candidates dodge answering it, and (if they’re taking Trunk’s advice) respond with things like:

“What is your salary range?”

“Could we focus on the duties and responsibilities of the job first?”

“If this is the right job, I’m looking for a wage within market, which I’m sure your offering is.”

My absolute least-favorite query along this line is “How much did you make at your last job?”

Why, why, why?

As Trunk points out, a candidate’s last job may bear little resemblance to the current opportunity. Trunk’s point is especially true when someone has been underemployed or when someone is looking to get off the managerial track and assume a job with less responsibility and less stress.

If you’re hell bent on asking this question, however, take heart in Trunk’s assertion that being persistent can wear the candidate down. (Although why you’d want to wear down someone you’re considering for a job is a mystery to me.)

And I’m going to stand by my earlier position that the question is gratuitous, because hiring managers always have budgets, so enough with the games already. Make your offer and move on.

But you say, “Our rate has no room for negotiation, and I don’t want to spend time fielding requests for more money. If I know what the candidate expects, I can side-step all that.”

Yes, and you can also side-step all that by advertising your range and declaring it non-negotiable. Just saying.

The experts at PayScale are fond of stating there’s a level of transparency that’s right for every organization, and I agree. If revealing pay ranges during the interview process is outside the comfort zone of your leaders, well … okay.

Just remember, however, job seekers are preparing themselves to combat your question with questions of their own.

Related Reading:

Read This Before Advertising Pay Ranges

When Hiring Heats Up, So Should Compensation Offerings

Focus on Job Descriptions


Crystal Spraggins
Read more from Crystal

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