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What are your salary expectations?  If you are like many, this question from a recruiter immediately triggers you to go into lockdown mode – retreat, clench, protect, defend, clench some more.  You view the question as the ultimate set-up and you are committed to not falling into the negotiation trap of “the one who speaks first, loses.”  Nope, you will not fall for this.  You are already prepared to answer the question with “I’m open” or “what is a company offering?”  And so the dance begins.

Before sharing two suggestions on how to answer the salary question, let me explain why I, as a recruiter, ask this question and how I process the information.

I ask the salary question to gather data for my client, who then determines if the proposed compensation fits within their range. My goal is not to corner candidates into a specific salary range but to ensure alignment between both parties.

If the candidate’s target salary is below the range, I tell my client that we are within budget or I share a slightly adjusted-up salary total, anticipating a rise in the offer phase.  If the target salary is above the range, I explore with my client other compensatory levers that could make a future offer attractive to the candidate. Ultimately, I relay the information back to the candidate to either confirm alignment or propose an alternative structure

That’s it. I’m not looking to corner someone into a specific salary range or pre-close a candidate. I’m just looking for data from each side to help ease future salary discussions.

Candidates often hesitate to share their salary expectations, fearing their figure may be too low. Two points on this: First, you are not bound to an initial number, especially if the role turns out to be more demanding than described— a bigger role justifies a bigger salary. Second, consider what is fair for you and the market before answering.  That is within your control.  

On to my advice – Things Cost What They Cost.  This applies to items in a store, airline flights, salaries, etc.  For instance, if I am in Manhattan, NY and go into a nice restaurant and order a Manhattan, I’ll expect to pay about $22 for that drink.  If I’m in Manhattan, Illinois and go into a nice restaurant and order a Manhattan, I’ll expect to pay about $11 for that drink.  If I was alive in 1626 and wanted to purchase the island of Manhattan, the cost was the equivalent of $24.  In summary, the market price for a Manhattan is anywhere from $11-$24, with prices varying based on location, quality and time.  Bottom line – a Manhattan costs what it costs.

Someone might refuse to pay $22 for a Manhattan in NYC, but good luck finding a cheaper option in that market without compromising on quality, atmosphere, or service. Similarly, in recruiting, candidates have market rates. While companies may balk at higher salaries, they must recognize that hiring lower-priced individuals might mean sacrificing other qualities.

My first suggestion for addressing the salary question is to do your homework. Research your current salary, market offerings for similar positions, and what salary you need to be happy. If your range is above market, be prepared to explain why you are more expensive. I won’t rule you out, I just want to understand your value proposition for justifying a higher-than-market salary.

My second suggestion is to share your salary expectations early in the interview process, with either the hiring manager or the recruiter. If they don’t ask, don’t assume you’ve dodged a bullet. Instead, include your salary requirements in your initial phone screen or in an email to the recruiter. You are investing significant time and energy, and you don’t want it to end with a low-ball offer. Control what you can and manage the salary discussion proactively. 

Salary negotiations involve many factors, such as being flexible, seeking win-win outcomes, and keeping emotions in check. Avoid repeatedly discussing money once expectations are aligned. The key here is to do your research and be straightforward when answering the salary question. You cost what you cost.

Hire Thought….The objective of the interview process is to ensure a strong fit between one’s objectives and the company’s objectives.  Compensation is just a piece of that consideration for both sides.  Understand and communicate your objectives at the front end of the recruiting process and focus most of your efforts on assessing if the opportunity aligns with your near and long-term goals.  Control what you can control.  Expect a reputable organization to effectively communicate their objectives as well.  


And don’t take offense if a company balks at your asking price. They might simply have different preferences, much like preferring Malort over Manhattans.

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