Job Interview Question
How much money did / do you make?Here’s a question guaranteed to make you uncomfortable in the job interview process. It’s one of the big hot-potato questions. No one wants to say a number first. But you don’t have to feel pressured or stressed. There are some great ways to handle this question.
In general, for all salary issues that crop up before you have an offer in your hand, your first goal should be to deflect. Try to avoid talking about money for as long as you possibly can. (That’s why you never, ever bring up money questions yourself.) You want them to fall in love with you before you start talking about commitment. Your bargaining position will be much stronger when they decide they want you to work for them. It will be easier to negotiate salary and ask for what you want.
If you can’t deflect, there are a couple of ways you can go:
(1) You can go ahead and tell them how much you make because it’s not relevant to this job.
(2) You can refuse to tell them how much you make because it’s not relevant to this job.
In both cases, the reason it’s not relevant is that it’s probably a pretty good bet that this job has different (probably greater) responsibilities than your last one. So it’s easy to make the case that what you made in your last job doesn’t matter so much, because this job is different.
In my personal opinion, it’s not a big deal to tell them how much you made in your last job. In my experience as a recruiter, most companies have a salary range for the position and they won’t make an offer outside of that range. They’re asking the question because they just want to make sure they can afford you.
This is where doing your homework will pay off for you, too. Your research will tell you what a reasonable pay range is for that position, in that part of the country. You can easily find out what they should be offering you for this job. If they do try to lowball you, you’ll know it and can negotiate…after you have the offer in your hand.
If you feel strongly about not revealing what you make (and many people do), you can absolutely say, “My previous position doesn’t really relate to this one, so I’m not comfortable discussing my past salary. But I really want to answer any questions about my skills or qualifications to see if we can agree that I’m the right person for the job, and I’m sure that if we do, we’ll be able to come to an agreement on compensation, too. I’m really excited about the possibility of working here.”
Or you could turn it around on them: “What is the salary range you’re offering for this position?” When they tell you, say “I’m completely comfortable with that range. If I’m offered a salary within that range, I won’t turn the offer down because of the money.”
But please remember that every situation, every interview is different. A negotiation is a dance, not a step-by-step formula. You’ve got to take the temperature of your own situation and see what you think you can manage doing. But the more you research ahead of time, the better off you’ll be.
(Check out my podcast on How to Negotiate Salary.)
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