San Diego Union Tribune

The Salary Question: What to Say and When to Say It

Employers have commonly requested salary histories from job applicants as part of the hiring process. It is always one of the hardest questions to answer during the interview process. You don’t want your answer to price you out of the market, but you also don’t want to leave any money on the table. This practice of employers asking will soon become illegal in the state of California. The goal is to balance out the gender wage gap. Historically females have been paid lower wages, and any new wage would therefore be based on a lower starting point.

So now how do you bring up the expected salary?

Prospective employers can now provide a pay scale for your consideration. You can also provide your salary history voluntarily, without prompting. But remember, the employer may use it to determine the salary for you. So, more than ever, I want to talk about how to give real answers and feel confident about it.

The very first step: Don’t be caught unprepared. Do your homework before you walk in the door for your interview. Bounce figures off of other people in your field. Check with professional organizations in your industry, talk with recruiters and other people in your field. Research salary web sites such as,,, and more. They are often ball park numbers and not as accurate as talking to your network of people in the industry in your geographic location. Know that geography also makes a huge difference. The exact same job will pay much more in Palo Alto than in El Cajon. By doing your homework, you should have a fairly good idea of the typical salary range for someone with your level of experience in the kind of position you’re seeking within your job market. Be sure to go into the discussion with reasonable salary requests and if you feel you deserve the top rates then have the ammunition to back it up.

How to figure out what you want. It’s important to ask for just a little more than you expect to be offered-usually 10-15% above what you really want to make. If it is an hourly wage, then calculate exactly how much you need to make per hour to know your bottom rate. No reason to put the effort into a position that will not pay you your minimum rate. Too often, people come up with their desired salary by thinking about what they’d like to earn, rather than looking at hard data about their market value. This will make you come across as naive to employers.

Is the rate annual? It is essential that you come in even more prepared. Now the rate is very subjective depending on your education, experience, your potential and attitude. You need to convince the decision maker you are the absolute best person for this job and they can’t live without you…and at the pay rate you want. Most initial offers are 10 percent to 15 percent below the maximum they are willing to pay. Negotiations have begun. Do some research on negotiation skills, know what you are worth, ask for more and be willing to back down if they hold firm, and keep the door open.

Practice your answer out loud. Your resume and cover letter have piqued the interest of the potential employer. You might think you know how you’re going to answer the question in the interview, but many choke up when it comes to actually talking about money. Know what wording you’re going to use and practice, so when you’re doing it for real, you feel comfortable and it sounds natural.

Six-month review? If you agree to the posted pay scale rate, and it is less than you feel you are worth, ask for another review in six months. “Are you open to discussing my compensation again after I have been on the job for six months and proved my value?” If they say yes, then jump on it and prove your value. If they say no, then think hard about the opportunity and your willingness to wait a year for a salary review. If acceptable, go for it and know that you tried your best with another opportunity in a year.