How to Help Clients Dodge Those Pesky Salary Questions
By Karen James Chopra
Why Is it Necessary to Dodge Salary Questions?
Keeping salary data private preserves leverage for the moment when it reaches its maximum: when an offer is made. At that point, your client has vanquished the field of competitors and knows she is the preferred candidate. The employer will be more willing to make concessions in order to get the job seeker to say “yes.”
Having found the ideal person for the job, the employer does not want to risk losing this candidate. Without a clear indication of what your client currently makes, the employer is likely to default to the higher end of the salary range, and be willing to stretch on this or other considerations (benefits, work schedule, title) if asked.
It is important that job seekers understand what is at stake so that they are willing to learn and use the techniques counselors and coaches offer to help them protect their salary data. The three-step process is described here.
Interview Protocol: A Question Asked Must Be Answered
It’s one thing to know not to reveal salary data, it’s another thing to know what to do about salary questions in the interview. The protocol of an interview is that a question asked must be answered. If asked a direct question about salary, your client cannot simply refuse to answer the question, because that could result in a loss of a job offer. The client needs to be ready to answer questions that are asked, and to ask good questions at the appropriate moment.
The Salary Dodge Three-Step
To gracefully dodge salary questions without appearing to be difficult, teach your client the salary dodge three-step, an effective technique that will help the job seeker glide around salary questions.
Step 1: Decline to Answer the Question
When asked about current salary, the client will politely say, “That’s personal information and I don’t give that out.” This first step needs to be offered in a gentle tone, without any force. But the client cannot stop here, because the interviewer is likely to dive right back in to ask the question again. The client needs to move quickly to Step 2.
Step 2: Answer the Question Behind the Question
The interviewer is probably asking about salary to determine if the client is too “expensive.” The client can offer reassurance on that point: “Based on my research into this company, if everything else falls into place and you offer me the job, I don’t anticipate that salary will be an issue.” The client has answered the question of whether salary will be a sticking point without disclosing a number. The client isn’t done yet, however, because the interviewer could still return to the salary question.
Step 3: Ask a Big Question
The final step of the Salary Dodge Three-Step is to ask a question of the employer. Not just any question, but a big question that requires a long and thoughtful response: “Can you tell me more about this position? For example, if you hire me and I have an amazing first year, what will I have accomplished for you?” Now the interview protocol-- a question asked must be answered-- works for your client. The interviewer will feel compelled to answer the question, and, if the client is lucky, the conversation will never return to salary.
Keys to Implementing the Salary Dodge Three-Step
The client can use the Salary Dodge Three-Step twice before an interviewer catches on. Make sure your client has a typed list of questions to help facilitate the Three-Step. Have your client practice executing all three steps without pausing until it flows smoothly.
When the Salary Dodge Three-Step Fails
Some interviewers are persistent with their questions about salary. The third time a client is asked about salary, I recommend going on the offensive: “That’s the third time you have asked about salary. Are you concerned that you are not paying market rates for this position?” Such a direct question will likely evoke denials, which the client can quickly endorse. “That’s what I thought. I’m sure that salary won’t be an issue. Now tell me....” The client returns to her list of questions and moves the conversation away from salary, hopefully for the last time.
Sometimes, despite your client’s best efforts, a persistent interviewer will demand a number. Your client should be ready to offer up a range for recent compensation (not salary). Suggest saying something along these lines: “As I’ve said, I don’t give out my current salary, but what I can tell you is that in recent years, my compensation has ranged from $X to $Y.” State as big a range as possible. The goal is to bracket the likely compensation range for the position and avoid being pinned down to a single number.
Answering Salary Questions in Online Applications
Sometimes, it’s a computerized job application demanding the salary data, and the question cannot be dodged. For online applications, clients have a couple of choices:
If asked about salary requirements, enter a middle-of-the-range answer. The goal is to avoid being kicked out of the process for requesting a too-high salary.
If asked about current salary, offer a rounded number, either up or down, depending on where the client thinks the salary for the new position will be. For example, a salary of $35,600 could be rounded down to $35,000 or up to $36,000.
Enter zeros. Most of the application programs are designed to require a number, but often, no lower limit is set. A string of zeros essentially says “I decline to answer this question.”
Since online applications are usually completed before a client knows much about the job, I tell them not to feel bound by whatever number they offered. Once they are offered the job, the client has more leverage, and can now request a higher salary than they had listed on the application.
Preparing Clients for Success
In an ideal world, you and your client will be able to discuss salary negotiations long before the first interview, so the client has time to prepare. But I have found that even clients who are frantically preparing for a last-minute interview can benefit from a quick explanation of how to preserve their leverage and dodge questions about salary when their negotiating power is low.
Chopra, K. J. (2012). Coaching Career Clients Through Salary and Other Workplace Negotiations. Washington D.C.: Chopra Careers Publications.
Karen James Chopra, LPC, CCC, NCC, is a career counselor in private practice in Washington, D.C. (www.ChopraCareers.com). She is author of Coaching Career Clients Through Salary and Other Workplace Negotiations, and webinar, Salary Negotiations: Coaching Clients to Get the Best Deal, https://ceuonestop.com/product/salary-negotiations/, Through her consulting business, Karen Chopra Consulting, www.KarenChopraConsulting.com, she helps counselors, coaches and other consultants launch and grow their own thriving businesses.