A friend is talking to an HR person today about a job possibility and she wrote me this question:

What if salary comes up? I know the ballpark number from my friend, but I am loathe to talk about that now. How do I get out of it gracefully? Or should I?

Regarding salary, most employers now want to know that you are looking for pay within their ballpark range. Otherwise, it’s pointless to interview you – because there is almost no flexibility today to increase beginning salaries. The days are over when employers would interview someone above their budget because they knew they could somehow find the money. That money isn’t available anymore. So my friend can’t put off answering the question if it arises. She can, however, answer it in a few different ways:

  1. “In my last position, I was making $x and am hoping for a comparable salary in next position”
  2. “I think we can come to an agreement on salary if we decide I’m the right person for the job, so I’d really like to learn more about what the job is and tell you what I bring to the table in terms of my experience, skills and enthusiasm”
  3. “I have a range I’m targeting, from a “live with” number to a “want to get” number, depending of course on the opportunity. Let’s first see if the job and I are a good fit.”
  4. “I’m looking for between $xx and $yy”

I like #2 best because it indicates your flexibility and focus on the job. If you know that you’ll be offered something within your “live with” and “want to get” range, then you can be confident in giving that response.

If you don’t know if the bottom of the pay range would be acceptable for you, then you might use response #1 first, moving to #3 or #4.

If the HR person pushes to get a number, then you can use #1 or #3. Only use #4 if s/he really insists.