Handling Salary Conversations

Handling Salary ConversationsDon’t you just hate those conversations?

Most of us dread discussing the topic with current supervisors or potential new employers.



In fact, Massachusetts has just passed a law (effective July 2018) that will make it illegal for Massachusetts companies to ask about applicants’ present or past salaries prior to making a job offer. However, organizations in Massachusetts, and in all the other States, can and will ask about what salary you might expect, or the least that you would accept. Therefore, there is no way to avoid the discussion – so, prepare for it.

In general, it is best to delay salary discussions until an offer is on the table; however, salary requirement questions have become a standard part of the interviewing process. When asked about past salaries or salary requirements, it’s useful to delay the discussion with thoughtful responses.

A few options include:

  • “My requirements are flexible.”
  • “My salary is negotiable.”
  • “I want to learn more about the job scope before discussing salary.”
  • “The salary I made previously isn’t applicable to this position due to the different level of responsibility.”
  • “What is the range you normally pay for this position?”
  • “What do you consider the position to be worth?”

Sometimes these types of responses will help you delay salary discussions until later on in the interviewing process. At other times the interviewer (or the application system) will require a specific figure or range in order to proceed. Provide a reasonable figure or range, if you must. Remember that neither you nor the employer may be bound to that entry. Almost all potential employers will try to get an idea about your salary requirements fairly early in the process, if only to see that what salary they have budgeted for the position may be attractive to you. During the search process employers may find out they have to move the range to get the talent they need.

  • Negotiate the job: A job that is too low level for your skills and experience will pay less. Don’t waste time negotiating the salary; instead try to upgrade the job. Suggest working together with the employer to expand the scope of responsibilities so that you both get more. Know what extra value to can add to the organization.
  • Do Your Homework: Learn current market rates for the job. Use information from,,, or from relevant professional or industry associations. Use your professional and social contacts to ask about representative salary ranges for early career, intermediate career, and senior level professionals in your field. Remember that regional and sector norms can vary widely.

    Consider the whole package. Remember that Salary is just one part of the package. There may be annual or semi-annual review schedules, bonus opportunities, or early promotion opportunities available. Relocation assistance, interim living expenses, healthcare, child/elder care, professional development funds, etc. can also make a huge difference. Create a list of must-haves and nice-but-not-necessary benefits for yourself. Then negotiate each step, starting with base pay. Always let the employer make the first bid so you have a starting point. Stress you enthusiasm and desire to make things work for everyone.
  • Listen to the Offer: When you’re offered a position, it means that you have convinced the hiring team that you are the best candidate. Now it’s the hiring official’s job to convince you to join. This is the time to begin talking about salary.
  • Stay Calm, Persistent, and Resilient: It usually takes multiple meetings and interviews to land a job offer. Make sure each meeting shows progress and that your post-interview communications consistently support the value you will bring to the organization.