Picture the scene. You’re in the middle of the interview. You’re feeling a bit nervous but the interview seems to be going well. You’re pleased with your answers so far but as yet you’ve not really connected with the employer, the role or the firm. Then it comes:

“What sort of salary are you looking for?”

You experience a sinking feeling. Pitch too high, do you lose the job? Pitch too low, you lose your best chance of a decent salary. If you seem uncertain this can interpreted as a lack of confidence, research or even commitment.

So how should you approach the salary question?

First, don’t be pressurised in to giving a figure straight away. Even if you have a figure in mind it’s important to see all discussions as potential negotiations.

To help you think about, let’s break the problem down into three parts:

  1. your preparation
  2. the negotiation
  3. your decision

So for preparation, you need answers to the following:

What is the rough figure for this job in other organisations? What is the custom and practice for salary negotiation for this role in this sector? What ‘added value’ can you bring to the role? (maybe from work experience, academic study, extra-curricular activities). How does the market intelligence you can gather from web searches, informational interviews with alumni, employers or other expert witnesses impact on the ‘value’ of what you offer? Finally, what is the figure you cannot go below?

Now for the negotiation itself. Remember to focus on the positives. If they are talking about salary, the chances are they want you. From your research you should have a salary range in your head. Before you mention the salary range make sure you have answers to all the questions above and you have clear sense of the role and your ‘unique selling points’. In particular you need to have case prepared to justify the upper end of the salary range you mention (maybe specialist knowledge from a dissertation). The important thing at this stage is to keep the conversation going andkeep them at the table.  This might involve asking open questions, making clarifying points or maybe just ‘buying time’ for example: ‘Thanks for the offer; there a number of things I need to weigh up so I’ll come back to you if that’s ok? Could you tell more about…’ If an offer is too low for you think about ways you can help them increase the offer (maybe explaining how you can increase income or provide valuable specialist knowledge).

Finally there’s the decision itself. There are number of factors to consider when deciding on whether to take an offer, and not all of them are about the basic salary (eg. its worth considering the ‘whole package’ including the role and responsibilities). It might also help to pose the following questions: will the role will be a good move for your career, CV or confidence? What value do you to place on these? How long until you get a review or how long is the contract?

Finally you have to make a judgement. Yes or no? Once again try to avoid absolutes. Try to keep the door open so to speak: ‘It sounds like a great role and a really exciting opportunity to work with you – but for moment I can’t quite make it work from salary perspective.’ If you reject the offer, be gracious. Thank them for their time and that you would be keen to stay in touch. Follow up with any additional information you promised. Leave them with a positive impression of you – it might result in a revised offer or simply a great contact for the future.

Good luck!