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How to Respond to Four Common Salary Negotiation Questions

You want to be prepared for your upcoming salary negotiation, so you plan to research the standard pay range and practice asking for what you want. Those steps are certainly valuable, but they’re not enough.

Too often, people lose money because they think through just one contingency. While they’re ready to say, “I know the starting number for someone in this sector in this city is $55,000,” they’ve never considered how they’d reply to “This is our best offer, with no room for negotiation.” Feeling flustered (or stumped), they accept on the spot, even if they’re not at the desired number.

After interviewing dozens of women, I learned that one of the main reasons their negotiations didn’t go as planned was they weren’t prepared to respond to what the other person said. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, read on for the most common things you’ll hear and tips for how to respond.

1. “What Are Your Salary Expectations?”
It sounds like the hiring manager is letting you lead. But in actuality, they want to gauge the very least you’d be willing to accept. If you say you’re hoping for a certain salary that’s at the bottom of their range, they know they won’t have to offer you more, (even if they were originally planning to).

Deal with this question with a diplomatic deflection: “I’m more interested in finding a position that’s a good fit for my skills. I’m confident that what you’re offering is competitive.”

Or spin the question right back around to them: “I’m flexible on compensation. The position and growth potential are much more important to me. Would you be willing to share the rough range you have in mind for this position?”

If they still push you for an answer, come prepared with some market data to answer the question matter-of-factly, without giving away what you’d actually accept: “Based on my research, the market rate for a position like this is $65,000 - $80,000.”

2. “How Much Are You Currently Making?”
A common mistake applicants make is disclosing their current salary early in the process. Again, employers will use this to gauge if you’d be willing to accept a low offer. If they’ve budgeted up to $90,000, but you disclose that you’re currently making $65,000, they’re likely going to start with a lower offer, assuming that you’ll be happy with a 10 to 15% jump.

Therefore, the best response is to avoid giving an exact number. Try: “I’d prefer to not discuss what I’m currently making because this position that I’m interviewing for isn’t exactly the same as my current job. I’d like to discuss the responsibilities and then I’m sure we’ll agree on a salary that’s appropriate.” Or, “My current employer doesn’t allow me to discuss compensation outside of the company. I’d like to respect their privacy.”

Of course, this may’ve come up before the interview stage, if you had to list an amount in your job application. (For future reference, I suggest putting “N/A” or an obviously incorrect number, like $1. In my experience, most recruiters won’t penalize you, as they’ve likely seen it before from experienced negotiators).

If you already listed your compensation, be ready to reframe that amount during the interview process. Come up with solid reasons why your current salary isn’t reflective of your true market value. For example, highlight if you’ve taken on significant responsibilities in your current job or classes to improve your skills.

Whatever you do, don’t confuse pivoting the question back or delaying it until the interview process with lying. While it’s okay to argue your market value is higher than what you currently make, it’s never okay to lie.

3. “Unfortunately, We Don’t Have Any Room to Negotiate”
Sometimes, the number really isn’t negotiable. For example, if you’re being hired into a “start class,” the offer can be nonnegotiable. (A start class is when a large company hires a number of people at the same time with similar qualifications—associates straight from law school or management trainee programs.) It can also be non-negotiable if you’re taking a public sector role and you’re already getting the best offer for the pay grade.

That’s a good time to ask about the compensation package as a whole (vacation, tuition reimbursement, stock options, bonus, work from home flexibility). Even if they can’t budge on take-home pay, other benefits could provide a real monetary value.

Once you’ve decided what benefit you’d like to focus on, try: “I understand that at this point, salary isn’t negotiable. I see that you have a tuition reimbursement program and I want to get my product management certification. Would you consider sponsoring my program?”

4. “In the Future You’ll Have Opportunities for Growth and Raises”
If the offer isn’t competitive and they deflect any of your attempts to negotiate by saying you’ll discuss it in the future, don’t let the conversation end there. Instead see it as an invitation to specifically discuss what’ll come next.

It sounds like this: “Because this number is a little lower than I feel comfortable with, I’d love to discuss my future and performance. I know that one of the most important things in this role is [key metric here]. If I’m able to deliver that in [time frame], would you be open to raising my compensation to [target amount] then?”

If they say yes, make sure you get something that describes this agreement written into your employment contract—and then work your tail off to deliver before that review date.

Just as you prep for an interview, you’ll want to prep for your negotiation. And that means more than thinking about your canned speeches, it means getting ready for a two-way conversation. So team up, practice with a friend, and imagine how you’ll respond to the unexpected. That way, you’ll avoid being caught off guard—and be a lot more likely to hit your target number.

This post originally appeared on The Muse.


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