The “salary question” asked in a interview

Having a goal for 2010 of (trying) to read blog posts for about 10-20 minutes a day,  I ran across a (very) interesting discussion on “Punk Rock HR” blog about how candidates should answer the “salary question” when in a interview.  The discussion on that blog started in the early morning of Dec 29, 2009 and there was over 20 responses by noon (there are 63 total responses as of writing this)….as I have always thought, salary is the most personal connection between employee and employer.  It is the one universal fact employees compare themselves to others and employers use to compare other employees (within and outside their company)…maybe that was the reason for so many responses?

The summary of the discussion fell into 4 basic categories stated in one post:

– Candidates should keep their salary history confidential
– Candidates should reveal their prior
– Sorta want to keep it confidential but it’s not realistic
– Sorta understand where the recruiter/company is coming from but it’s really none of their business

As a HR professional and currently in transition, I see both sides of the table (very) clearly!  Employers (could) have a couple of reasons for wanting to know a person’s salary:  budgetary reasons, validity of candidate (one of the easiest details to confirm), and perhaps a “clue” of the candidate’s worth to prior company in the prior company’s value scheme.   Candidate’s reasons for not revealing the number vary from “its confidential” to “it doesn’t matter to what prior companies paid me” and everything in-between.  It is thought that who ever gives up “salary” number first looses in negotiations.

Being part of both sides, I do understand the reality that organizations exist either to “make money” (for-profit organizations) or “advance some cause” (non-profits), and at some point revenue/income must be equal to or greater than expenses!  At the end of the day (or fiscal year) the salary (or in HR, what we call total comp. which includes benefits, employer taxes, etc.) of all employees plus the other expenses must be less than the revenue/income or the organization doesn’t exist!  Therefore, candidates need to do their homework and understand what their worth is, then be prepared to inform employers who ask, what their salary expectations are…and not be afraid to answer the question.  Revealing salary history may be a little more tricky and one needs to determine for oneself if that is appropriate at that part of the negotiation, but salary expectations are just that, based on your homework, my expectations are X.

If interested in reading the entire discussion (and it is real good reading)…see


One response to “The “salary question” asked in a interview

  1. Hi Scott,

    Interesting insight. Maybe I think too defensively, but my concern with the salary question is disqualifying yourself. Ask for too much and you could get thrown out as being great but too expensive. Ask for too little and you could eliminate yourself because they wonder what is wrong with you that you are so underpriced.

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