How to discuss salary requirements with recruiters

By Lavin D'Souza
As part of Lavin D'Souza’s interview series, we find out how to navigate the often embarrassing topic of compensation when starting a new job role

It can be a moment that causes panic. You spent weeks going through job listings (excluding most of them), selecting a few that fit your experience, adapting and editing your cover letter, to finally get your piece out to a hiring manager. Just a few minutes into the "introductory conversation" (which is really just a screening phone call) you get nailed to the wall with the question:  "What is your salary expectation?" 

It is a treacherous place: you have to find a diplomatic answer that keeps you in the race without shooting yourself in the foot with a low number. As a job seeker, it pays to be prepared with a smart answer that will keep you in the running for the position while also securing as many others as possible. 

How to research what a job pays

First of all, as annoying and backward as it may be, you need to research the market and salary ranges for your position. Employers want to see that you have done your homework and are usually aware of how much the position will pay. Check out reputable sources, such as The Office for National Statistics for earnings and working hours, Gov.uk for national minimum wage and national living wage rates, Glassdoor UK for salaries and compensation and Check-a-salary for UK salaries.

How to answer questions about salary requirements 

Armed with this information, it's time to prepare your answer. There are some good practices recommended by career experts.  

Delay the question: If you are just starting the interview process, it is reasonable to say that you need more information before you can provide a salary expectation. For example: "I would like more information about the position and responsibilities so I can provide a more realistic expectation." Keep in mind, however, that you will eventually have to discuss the salary, and there are benefits to being honest about the money at the beginning, so you can rule out any position that doesn't meet your minimum salary requirement. 

Provide a salary range: Instead of providing a specific number; provide a range that you are comfortable with. Make sure your target number is close to the lowest figure you provide, because the employer will likely opt for something at the lower end of your range. Give a range with only a £5,000 to £10,000 gap between the high and low end. 

Flip the script: Many career experts recommend that you flip the script and get your required salary first, to avoid being belittled and leaving money on the table. Before discussing the salary in detail, you should better understand the exact scope of the role and the level of responsibility, as well as what the overall package entails. Try: "Can you share the range for the role and I'll let you know if it's about what I had in mind?” Hopefully, they will engage with your question and won't say “I just need a number.” If they don't play ball, or if you want to try a different way, see below. 

Provide Negotiation Options: Keep in mind that salary is just one piece of the compensation puzzle, let them know you need to know more about the overall package, including benefits, discretionary income, vacation time, and other perks before making a final decision. Say something like: "I'm looking for a position that pays between £75,000 and £80,000 per year, but I'm open to negotiating the salary based on benefits, bonuses, stocks, stock options and other opportunities." 

When it's time to give a number: When you've reached the end of the interview process and it's time to set a number, the starting range or number you provided may be too low. If so, begin your response by expressing your enthusiasm for the position, outlining responsibilities, and what you will bring to the table. For example: “I am so excited about this opportunity. I respect the range already discussed, but having listened to the extent of the responsibilities and considering my (X) years of experience excelling in a similar role, I think £XX is a fair figure. I am confident that my years in (XYZ) have equipped me well to be successful in the role”. 

Top tip: Don't worry that your offer will be withdrawn simply because you are claiming to earn what you’re worth. They have already dedicated resources to researching and interviewing; they will not be disengaged with you simply because you negotiate your salary. This is a common and expected part of the process that we should all participate in.

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