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Lately, I’m finding myself having the same conversation. It has to do with your salary negotiation, and it starts a lot sooner than you’d think.

Typically, your very first interview at a company is with the HR manager. Sometimes, it’s with the hiring manager. Either way, the first discussion is fairly casuel with questions about where you’ve lived, or how many people you’ve managed before. These questions are all easy and routine.

The question that really throws people for a loop in the first interview is this one: “How much do you make?” It can also come in the form of, “How much do you want to make?”

Many people feel obligated to spill the beans. The interviewer is in a position of authority, and they really want to get a job offer.

You can share your salary information if you want to. But, my recommendation is to try to avoid sharing this information if you can. When it comes to negotiation, whoever provides the number first is also the first loser. They give up valuable negotiating power and leverage.

Here are a few things you can say to avoid sharing your salary history in the first meeting:

  1. “The job I’m interviewing for isn’t similar to the job I currently have, so the salaries really don’t translate.”
  2. “I’m not comfortable sharing that information just yet. I’d like to learn more about the role first.”
  3. (My personal favorite) “I understand where you’re coming from. Can you share your salary range with me?”
  4. (If all else fails) “My target range is $X,000  to $X,000.”

The first two work about half of the time. Often though, the recruiter or hiring manager will say something like, “I just don’t want to waste your time.” Or, “I don’t want to waste our time if we’re not even in the same ballpark.” If this happens, it’s a good opportunity to push back and ask for their range. Surprisingly, about 80% of the time, they will divulge their own salary range for you. At that point, you can just confirm whether or not you would like to be in the range given.

If a range is provided, it’s a huge win for you. You can find out what the company has budgeted for the position. And, there’s a chance the range may be significantly higher than your current salary. Played correctly, this approach can sometimes allow you to leapfrog your current pay.

If the interviewer continues to push, provide a range of where you would like to be (rather than where you are today). Be careful on how you word this answer, so that it doesn’t portray inaccurate information about your current salary. But, you can often provide your target range without giving up your current salary information.

Most of the time, these tactics work, but you should know – they don’t always work. Many years ago, I had a recruiter stop the interview and tell me that she would go no further if I wouldn’t divulge my current salary information to her. She was a New Yorker with a strong presence who was used to getting what she wanted. I calmly told her that I understood her position, and that I could respect how she felt, but that I just wasn’t comfortable. As promised, she ended the interview right then. To my surprise, she called back a few days later to say the company would make an exception for me.

Now, definitely don’t look for an exception. What happened in my case was extremely rare. What isn’t so rare however is how it feels when this conversation comes up.

Typically, the question is asked in a rather abrupt way that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the conversation. The person asking is either:

  • Someone who loves asking the salary question. They look at the process as a game, and they love to see you squirm. They take pride in their ability to get this information out of you, and they may be a little offended if they can’t.
  • Someone who hates asking the salary question. Talking about money is a pretty uncomfortable topic. They’re asking because they’re required to do so. It’s part of their job and they want to get it over with as soon as possible.

In either case, it’s an uncomfortable discussion to be a part of. The good news is that this question only takes about 5 minutes of your interview. Just remember that it will be uncomfortable, and there’s little you can do to change that. Just roll with it, and don’t cave under the pressure. Develop your strategy in advance, and listen to your instincts.

After the 5 minutes passes, the interviewer will almost always return to normal. You’ll find yourself talking about the weather again, or your favorite sport. And, you may even be scheduling your next interview. It’s a bit shocking just how uncomfortable this discussion can be, and then how quickly it becomes comfortable again.

These suggestions may feel a bit alien if you’ve never tried them. The good news is, surviving this uncomfortable 5 minute conversation is worth a lot – a lot of money that is! As always, practice makes perfect. You may make mistakes along the way, but after trying this approach a few times, you’ll find yourself sticking the landing.

I hope these tips have helped you. Visit to find more tips to improve your job search.

Happy hunting!

Angela Copeland


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