6869768383_84f708306e_zScenario 1: You’ve heard about a job posting from a friend and you go to the company’s website and sure enough, there it is. As you read the posting, you know you’re a perfect fit. You begin the application and are cruising through when all of a sudden, there it is – the income box. Your situation is not that simple. Your income has varied. You’ve chosen opportunities for their potential that didn’t pan out or you were in a situation where you were earning far more than you would normally expect to. “Surely, there’s a place to put my explanation,” you think to yourself. You nervously look for it but there is none. Just the income box with a little asterisk indicating it is required.

Scenario 2: You have successfully made contact with a decision-maker in a company in which you are very interested. You have arranged an informal meeting over a cup of coffee. The meeting goes better than you could’ve hoped. You have synergy and chemistry with this decision-maker, and the conversation turns toward possibilities. You are aware that you have crossed a threshold and this is now a serious conversation about a possible opportunity. And then it comes. “What are your salary requirements?” he asks. Wait, this is just an informal meeting over coffee! It’s too soon to be talking about money! You have this horrible deer-in-the-headlights feeling.

For most job seekers, questions about income are among the most challenging and frustrating.  The reason is for most of us, our career has not followed a neat and tidy pattern of progression and our income history reflects this. It’s also because our value proposition is unique to each organization and situation. We bring more value to one organization than to another.


As you approach the income question, there are natural concerns. You don’t want to leave money on the table. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market. You don’t want to become the bargain employee either. People often think, “I’ll go in low and once I prove myself, I’ll work my way up to an appropriate salary.” While there are exceptions, this is often a mistake. Why? Because people love their bargains. We all like being on the right side of a good deal. I dare say you have never purchased something at a bargain price, loved it so much that you went back and paid the difference to the full price. People love their bargains and employers are no different. Worst of all, when you’re the bargain employee, you have given up more than just money.

The Money Matters

You may think of your compensation primarily in terms of what you want to provide for your family and your personal goals. In the marketplace, it is tied to other things. First and foremost, it is tied to your value to the organization. You may be tempted to think that you have a static market value but this is not the case. The degree to which an organization needs the things that you can bring to it with your value proposition will determine, in large measure, what they are willing to pay you. As you manage your career, one of the questions you want to continually ask yourself is, “To which organizations can I be most valuable?” This will significantly impact your job satisfaction. If you’re highly valued by an organization, that will typically lead to more respect and more autonomy. Conversely, if you’re underpaid, you’re likely undervalued and receiving less respect and less autonomy.


If you’re filling out an online application, this is a difficult situation. “Negotiable” or “glad to discuss in interview” may successfully dodge the question; however, some may frown upon it and exclude you. The safest way to handle this (if you prefer to be safe) is to do your homework, research the range for the position, and enter a number that is not too expensive and not too cheap but is reflective of a strong candidate. This reveals yet another disadvantage to online applications and why a targeted contact development strategy that leads to more informal dialogue with decision-makers is much more effective.

If you are in a formal interview or a less formal dialogue with a decision-maker, here are three proven techniques for deferring the compensation question:

Discussing salary is always challenging for me until I feel like I fully understand the requirements of the position and the challenges of the organization. Could we talk more about that?

I’m sure you have something budgeted for this position. What is the range you had in mind?

I’m sure if we both believe I’m the right person for the job, we will be able to agree on something that works for both of us. Can we discuss more about the nature and scope of the position?

In most cases, because your response is reasonable, the conversation will move on. On rare occasions, you may have an interviewer who will go into pit bull mode and not let go without a number. At this point, you need to know your desired number, your acceptable number, and your not worth it number. Then you want to respond with something like, “I’d like to be around (desired number) but would consider (acceptable number) depending on the situation.

Buy Time to Build Value

While some people think it’s best to get the salary question out of the way and not waste anyone’s time, I typically disagree. You want time to build the perception of your value to the organization. You want them to see how you can help them achieve their objectives and solve their problems. The greater their perception of your value, the more they will be willing to pay you.

Income questions can be challenging and like most job search challenges, they are most difficult when you are simply one of many applicants. This is why you really want to engage in a methodical strategy to cultivate informal dialogue with decision-makers wherever possible. When this happens, income questions become more easily connected to your value proposition to the organization. This is the kind of income conversation you really want to have.


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