Discussing salary in the interview

How to address the issue of pay in the interview

A taboo topic? Not at all. Although salary negotiation makes many applicants nervous, it must not be left out of the interview. Take the reins into your own hands as an applicant and guide the conversation in the right direction. However, you need the right timing and a good strategy for this.

Prepare in advance: these criteria define your salary

Rule number one is: know your market value before you talk about your salary. Salary negotiations are in part based on the supply and demand principle. You should therefore research the following information before you go to the interview:

  • What is the standard range of pay for the position advertised in your sector? You can usually get reliable information from sector-specific salary tables, such as for business careers, finance and accounting or the IT area. Salary calculators are even better, which take into account various criteria such as position or work experience. These figures will give you a guideline for your salary negotiation.
  • Do you have skills that are urgently needed by your employer, but are hard to find? Or are there a lot of applicants with similar qualifications? You will get this information from employees at the specific company, people who know the industry or from trade magazines. The answers to these questions decide how courageous you can be in the negotiation. If supply is greater than demand, use relevant additional qualifications, project experience or knowledge of foreign languages that are needed in the job as arguments in your salary negotiation.
  • What is the company’s financial situation? Companies with large profits in the last few years are usually prepared to pay higher salaries.

Pay attention: recognise the right moment to talk about your salary

Now you need to have good timing: if you start talking about your pay expectations too early, you signal that you’re more interested in money than the job advertised. If you wait too long on the other hand, you'll seem unsure. The fundamental rule is: you can talk about money as soon as it’s clear that the company is interested in you. That’s usually the case if you have been invited for a second interview. If in doubt, ask: “I can imagine taking this job and I have the impression that I have the skills you're looking for. Am I right about that?”

Find the right words: how to actually start negotiating your salary

Even if the company’s interest and the technical details have been cleared up, you should not go at it like a bull and ask about pay directly. Instead, give your interviewer a push in the right direction by asking about the number of hours per week and the overtime policy for example. Usually this will lead the conversation automatically to the topic of pay. If this does not happen, you can ask, in a friendly way, if there are any other technical details to clear up. If the interviewer says no, you can ask about your salary directly.

Shall we talk about pay – but how?

If the conversation turns to salary, the question of how much usually follows. Some applicants feel pressured when they’re asked to say what they currently earn. But you don’t have to give a specific figure. It’s better to give an approximate idea: “My annual salary is around…” or "My salary is about the average...".

The concrete question on your salary expectations is easier to answer. Don’t give a fixed figure in the interview, but give a range. If the employer reacts hesitantly or if a specific offer is less than expected, suggest additional remuneration in other forms. Contributions to childcare, mileage allowance, petrol coupons and other perks are usually easier to negotiate, since they do not come with additional salary costs. On the bottom line, it's ultimately about how attractive the job being offered is to you and how much you’re willing to compromise your expectations about pay.

No matter if you or the interviewer gets the salary ball rolling: you can find out how to negotiate the best pay for you in salary negotiation.