The (Surprising) Best Answer to the Question "What's Your Salary Range?"

by Penelope Trunk

Salary Range

The right answer to the question, "What's your salary range?" is almost always some version of "I'm not telling you."

It's true that you can look on PayScale to figure out the going range for the job, but you can never guess how much the company values the position for which they are interviewing you. So don't give the first number.

Because if you request a salary lower than the range for that position, the interviewer will say nothing, and you've just lost money.

That's why you want the interviewer to tell you the range for the position, because then you can focus on getting to the high end of that range. But you can't work to the high point if you don't know it.

When there are two good negotiators in the room, each person will try to get the other to give the first number.

Each time you deflect the question, the interviewer will try again. Your goal is to outlast the interviewer until they finally tell you the salary range for the job. Here is how to respond:

Question: What salary range are you looking for?
Your Answer: "Let's talk about the job requirements and expectations first, so I can get a sense of what you need." That's a soft answer to a soft way to ask the question.

Question: What did you make at your last job?
Your Answer: "This position is not exactly the same as my last job. So let's discuss what my responsibilities would be here and then determine a fair salary for this job." It's hard to argue with words like "fair" and "responsibilities"—you're earning respect with this one.

Question: What are you expecting to make in terms of salary?
Your Answer: "I am interested in finding a job that is a good fit for me. I'm sure whatever salary you're paying is consistent with the rest of the market." In other words, I respect myself and I want to think I can respect this company.

Question: I need to know what salary you want in order to make you an offer. Can you tell me a range?
Your Answer: "I'd appreciate it if you could make me an offer based on whatever you have budgeted for this position and we can go from there." This is a pretty direct response, so using words like "appreciate" focuses on drawing out the interviewer's better qualities instead of her tougher side.

Question: Why don't you want to give your salary requirements?
Your Answer: "I think you have a good idea of what this position is worth to your company, and that's important information for me to know."

You can see the pattern, right? If you think you sound obnoxious or obstinate by not answering the question, think of how he feels asking the question more than once.

Also, by the time the interviewer has asked two or three times, the interviewer will know that hiring you means having a tough negotiator on his team -- another reason to make you a good salary offer.

And that is the ultimate glass-ceiling breakthrough.

Penelope Trunk

About the Author
Penelope Trunk's career advice site was named a top 10 resource by Entrepreneur magazine. And Inc magazine named Penelope "the world's most influential guidance counselor." Read her blog at