We all have been there – an interview that seems to be going well and then out comes the 500 pound gorilla in the room – “what are you looking for in terms of salary”. There are a variety of ways to handle this and how you handle could make or break your candidacy.

The best approach is not to even discuss salary until you are a final candidate or even “the” candidate. However, this isn’t always possible. Given the reality, it’s helpful to go into the conversation (so you have to be prepared) with what the job pays in your industry at comparable organizations. This is often easily discovered with a little research. Networking can help here, too.
Given that you’ve done your research, you can quote a figure that you believe represents your value to the organization. Or, you can quote a range based on your research. The key is to remember that the position is more important than the money, and you’ll want to convey that you’re open to various scenarios related to any eventual (or actual) offer. Obviously, you have to look out for yourself; at the same time, are you willing to lose a great opportunity over a few thousand dollars or start off on the wrong foot because you haggled over insignificant things? Probably not.

Another option is to redirect the question back to the interviewer by asking something along the lines of “what do you normally pay people in this type of position?”. You may or may not get a straight answer, and this is a far less desirable way to handle this than by having done your own research.
You can also use what you’re currently earning as a benchmark: the problem is this – you aren’t likely applying for the same job that you currently have, so what you currently earn isn’t really relevant. Even if you are staying in the same career path and moving into a higher level position, I would say “so what?”. If you’re at a new organization with a new set of expectations, doing a new job, what does your old salary have to do with anything at all? Absolutely nothing. Certainly, if you were making $25,000 a year, and were being considered for a position that paid $75,000 a year, that may raise some eyebrows – either you were woefully underpaid in the past or you’re aiming way too high, barring some very unusual circumstance. In that sense, it’s a good benchmark number, but nothing else.

A couple of final thoughts: don’t be a pushover and accept whatever is offered unless you’re in dire financial straits and have no other real option. And, don’t be too ambitious to the point that you’re so out of whack with the reality of the pay that you come off looking like you’re a fool. Finally, try to delay this conversation for as long as you can during the process so that by the time you have it, you’re a finalist or the final candidate – this is where you have your leverage.

Good luck.

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Author's Bio: 

Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR-CA, is a Certified Career Coach and a Certified Executive Career Coach, who helps people find their passion and fulfill their dreams as they relate to careers through his organization, Trustworthy Coaching, www.TrustworthyCoaching.com. Mr. Trust’s Coaching, Business, and Human Resources experience spans twenty years, and he has had major roles in staffing in all of his Human Resource positions. In addition, he has coached individuals at all career levels relative to their career paths, job search strategies, business strategies, and related areas. Mr. Trust is also a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF).