How to answer “What’s your salary requirement?"​ or "What are you currently earning?"

Let's face it.

These are tough questions to answer.

Pricing yourself out of the market or underselling yourself before you’ve even had the chance to interview, or learn more about a position, doesn't make any sense. 

I’m also a firm believer that your current compensation shouldn't determine your future compensation; the only things than should determine your compensation are:

  • The deliverables of the role.
  • What you can bring to the table.

Conventional advice on how to tackle these questions tell you to deflect and hold your ground. This is fine but it often leaves the other party (the hiring authority) with a sour taste in their mouth, or the inability to move forward with your candidacy. 

I’m here to offer an alternative approach.

The following method - which I've taken directly from my exclusive career-building course and coaching sessions - shows you how to deflect the answer whilst providing an understanding of why, how, and when you can give your answer. It can help you move forward without having to provide your salary requirement before you know more about a role. 

WHAT TO SAY WHEN YOU’RE ASKED “WHAT'S YOUR SALARY REQUIREMENT?"

If you get asked the above during the early stages of a recruit I’d recommend saying: 

“Thanks for asking - it’s obviously an important aspect of the recruit and I’m more than happy to discuss compensation with you when the time is right. For my current role and past positions, my overall compensation was determined by specific deliverables agreed upon by myself and the hiring manager during the later stages of the interview process. 

For example, when I interviewed for my current position, we learned that I had the experience and contacts to grow sales by 20% over the first year, and this ended up being one aspect of how my salary was determined. Whereas another candidate they were interviewing offered to grow sales by 10% for a lower salary. 

How much are you trying to increase sales by?”

(you must ask what they’re trying to achieve)

Yes, this is a lengthy response - and you have to get the tone right - but it does the following: 

  1. It provides an understanding of how you negotiate your salary (based on deliverables).
  2. It provides an understanding of who you will negotiate with (the hiring manager) and assures that you’re looking for mutual agreement.
  3. It gives them an understanding of when you’ll provide your answer (later interview stages).
  4. It paints a dream for the hiring manager; by quantifying what you can bring to the table it makes them think about how you can impact their business (e.g. 20% increase in sales).
  5. It allows you to ask what they want to achieve (this will give you bargaining power later on).

BUT I'M NOT IN SALES...

That doesn't matter - every role in an organization has the ability to affect the bottom line and results can always be measured in Time, Money or Manpower* (the most valuable things to an organization). Here’s some examples that I’ve coached my clients on: 

Administration: "For my current role, my salary was based on my ability to create efficiencies and identify cost savings in my department. I’ve been able to save $200/month on office supplies and $300/month on courier costs by sourcing two new vendors, resulting in $6000 in savings per year. What are you trying to achieve with this role?"

Finance: "In this role, my salary was based on my ability to research and recommended a new automated invoicing system which, since implementing, has freed up valuable time and allowed us to take on larger revenue-saving projects. The gains in efficiencies and having less errors to fix has been estimated to have saved thousands of dollars per year for the department. What are you trying to achieve with this role?"

Human Resources: "My current package was based on my ability to increase our retention rate and reduce the time it took to hire new employees. The turnover rate when I joined was 43% and the average time to hire was 12 weeks. Over the past 2 years, I’ve implemented new hiring practices, changed the employee culture, and managed to reduce our turnover rate to 14% and the average hire time to 7 weeks. This has resulted major savings of at least $1M for the business. What are you trying to achieve with this role?"

Marketing"My current salary was based on my ability to rebrand the company’s toy division by implementing new marketing strategies and redesigning our packaging. Since we’ve relaunched our toy division, we’ve seen an increase in sales by 67% and our social media engagement has doubled. What are you trying to achieve with this role?"

Operations"When I negotiated my current package it was based the ability to implement a new company-wide ERP system which I have managed to do under budget by 8% and ahead of schedule by 6 weeks, resulting in over $800,000 in savings. What are you trying to achieve with this role?"

By providing examples of in-depth results based on Time, Money & Manpower* you can overcome having to disclose your salary requirements early on. The method above pushes the hiring authority to give quantifiable goals that you need to achieve.

Ask for a number before you give your number.

If you’re struggling to think about how you can apply this concept to your role, message me and we can exchange ideas. For the record, this is the main thing your résumé should be filled with; quantifiable results based on Time, Money and Manpower*. Check out my free resume guide here if you need help. 

*or Womanpower or Peoplepower - I identify with male pronouns so I use Manpower. 

BUT WHAT IF THEY WON’T MOVE FORWARD WITHOUT A NUMBER?

Some hiring authorities will claim that it’s company policy or standard practice to understand your salary requirements before moving forward. This can be tough to answer if you really want to explore a role but are concerned about underselling yourself or pricing yourself out of the competition. 

However, unless you feel comfortable that you’ve learned enough about the role to provide a range, you can say (with a smile):

"Again, thank you for recognizing that compensation is important to both of us. From the information I have at this stage, it sounds like my current role and the one you're recruiting for could be quite different. Until I learn more about the deliverables, I wouldn't be able to provide you with an informed answer."

*PAUSE*

This is often when you’ll get asked: 

“Well, what are you currently earning?”

Hiring authorities often think that a $5,000-$10,000 increase is all it takes for the average candidate to make a move. I’m not saying that’s not a decent amount for some people, but, again, your salary should be determined on what results you need to deliver - not your current salary. 

Try smiling and responding with: 

“I understand your perspective and why it’s important for you to know my salary requirements, however, every time I’ve made a career change, my compensation was based on what the requirements of the role were, not what my previous salary was. 

I’d need to understand some specific goals you have for this position before I could provide a salary requirement. For example, another aspect which my current salary was determined from was my ability to... (provide another example).

What would your company pay a candidate who deliver those results?" (push them for a range now).

*PAUSE*

IF YOU HAVE TO GIVE A NUMBER

There will be some scenarios where you won’t be able to proceed without providing a rough range. If you have to, at least make sure you have some information on what will be expected and when you have to deliver it (e.g. grow market share by 10%; increase sales by 25%; penetrate 2 additional markets; all within 18 months) so you can make an informed decision.

I’d recommend saying: 

“Based on what we’ve discussed at this stage (growing market share by X%, etc.) I’d be looking in the range of X to Y. However, if throughout the interview stages it’s determined that the deliverables of the role will be differ significantly, or there are other major responsibilities that haven't been discussed at this stage, my salary requirement will change. Are you comfortable with that?”

This tells them that you’re providing this range based on the information you have today and you’re giving a heads up that if the goals change throughout the interview process you will have to reconsider the salary. Make sure they acknowledge that your range could change based on further interviews (get it in writing/email).

Your other option is to refer to the market but don't state what you're looking for/comfortable with. You can say:

"From my research online, and speaking to my fellow peers in similar roles, I understand that the market range is between $75,000-$90,000. Is that what you've found too?"

HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR SALARY RANGE

Before you go into a salary negotiation, or provide a range, you want to make sure that you research what you think the company's range might be. Use Glassdoor, government websites and online salary guides to determine roughly what similar roles might pay. 

If you think their range is $42,000-$49,000 then you want your minimum to come in just below their top figure. For example, your range should be $47,000-$54,000 if you think you're worth that much.

That way you’ll hopefully not lose out on a potential of at least $5,000/year if you go in at their range of $42,000-$49,000. Got it?

Just make sure you deliver the results they want.

TO HIRING MANAGERS, HR PROFESSIONALS AND RECRUITERS

My intention isn’t to make it difficult for you to prescreen a candidate or waste time going down an impossible avenue. As a former recruiter, I’ve asked several candidates “what are your salary requirements?" but in exchange, I’ve always provided 3-5 quantifiable goals that my client wanted to achieve so the candidate could make an informed decision. 

You have to give numbers if you want numbers. 

For example: “my client is looking to reduce turnover by at least 15% over the next 18 months and implement a new ATS system within 3-6 months. Additionally, they’re looking to hire 10 additional staff members - from junior to senior - in the next year. Based on that, what would be your approximate salary requirements be to hit those goals?”

The above scripts have worked for me as a recruiter and for candidates that I’ve coached. I’m sure there’s many different alternatives so if you have any other experiences or perspectives to share, feel free to email me: sam@thehiddenjobmarket.co

Good luck,

Sam Struan