Handling Questions About Compensation

The Insider's Guide To Job Search

  Click image to return to Index
Handling Questions About Compensation

By Kevin T. Buckley, CPC

The key to handling questions about compensation is not to bring up the subject in a first interview.

In fact, you need to avoid bringing up the subject yourself and allow the interviewer to open this
topic of discussion. Many new graduates and more experienced people as well think that it is
important to try and control the discussion about salary and benefits. That eagerness to find
out what is being offered can be misinterpreted by an interviewer.

In order to have the strongest position for discussing salary expectations, you need to build your
case (and buyer interest) by establishing a firm foundation of mutual interest. This is especially
important if you are seeking an entry-level position. The interviewer must see you as a viable
candidate for the position he/she is looking to fill. If you broach the subject of compensation
without first having kindled interest in the employer's mind, your negotiating position will be

You first need to impress the interviewer with your personal presentation to the extent that he/
she starts to see you as a potential employee and the subject of compensation then arises
naturally as a result of that interest. You cultivate that "desire to buy" by having prepared
beforehand what you are going to say about your academic progress, the research you
did into the employer's company or industry, the skills you have learned in summer or night
jobs and your enthusiasm and desire to join a progressive firm and make your personal

Identify your skills and strengths and express them to them interviewer. Tell the interviewer
how your hard work and dedication will be of benefit to the company. Give examples of
how you learned job skills like customer service, problem-solving, dealing with stress and
working well with others. If you have practiced presenting yourself through role-play with
friends or family, you will have a better focus on what you want to say.

If you have presented yourself well, the interviewer will be motivated to ask you what you
are looking for in terms of a salary. There are several ways to respond to this question
without boxing yourself into a particular figure:

Question: " What sort of salary do you expect? "

1. " I'm very interested in your company, I  wonder if you would share with me the normal range for starting? " 
2. " It is important that I join a good company, I'm sure we could agree on a fair salary. What do you
      think I should expect? "
3. " It sounds like a great opportunity. What range would
       you have in mind for someone like me? "

The key point is to turn the issue back to the interviewer in order to know what range he/she
has in mind. To do this you answer the question by reinforcing your interest in the company
and ask an open-ended question (one which can't be answered by a "yes" or a "no" ) to keep
the dialogue going. At this point the interviewer will usually mention a range or even a
specific figure. Find out when the first salary review date is if the figure seems too low. Many
companies hire at a low salary and then offer a substantial increase at the time of a first
review. Your personal performance and how successfully you have progressed in the
learning curve will often affect the amount of the increase. Ask about  how they measure
and reward performance. Ask about employee incentive programs offered in addition
such as bonuses, quarterly/semi-annual/yearly profit-sharing and when employees become
eligible for participation in these benefits. Sometimes companies will pay lower salaries
but offer a group profit-share or other tangible incentive which makes the complete package
more attractive.

Don't make the mistake of asking for a high starting salary thinking that you should start high
and then accept something lower on the scale in the course of negotiations. If your demands
are unrealistic then you may lose out on a good opportunity. On the other hand, don't price
yourself too low as it may take some time to work your way up to a better salary. Do some
research on what salaries are being paid by visiting recruiter sites, job boards and speaking
to your campus placement coordinator to see what certain jobs are paying. If you see a job
advertised requiring say 1-2 years of working experience,  deduct about 15% from the low end
of the salary scale to arrive at a reasonable entry-level figure.

Do your research to learn what similar positions are paying at the junior end of the
experience scale. You will be better equipped to know if you are being offered a fair
salary when you meet with a potential employer.

Remember that salary isn't everything, and that people starting out tend to make fairly rapid
progress in the first 6-18 months of their work experience. A lot of it has to do with how
well you perform and create value for your employer.

Bookmark and Share