Interview Tips: How to Answer the Salary Question

Last Updated Jun 25, 2010 4:32 PM EDT

As young adults, we know how difficult it is to land a job interview these days (never mind receiving an actual job). And we understand that if we get considered for a position, we should be absolutely grateful. But let's be real - the pay is very important. We can't help but fixate on the potential salary and benefits. But how to tackle this aspect of the job interview without hurting your chances of actually getting the job or losing your chances of making the money you deserve?

Here's part 2 of my interview with Fred Ball, co-author of Killer Interviews: Success Strategies for Young Professionals. He gives some great advice on how to handle the money talk, as well as some other sticky interview matters. (Read part 1, on making a great impression.)

The company wants to know your salary requirements. Are you obligated to tell them?

At some point, yes. But he who talks first about salary loses. What you want to do is to hold off that discussion until the end. When you're ready to talk, offer a range starting with the minimum you'd accept and your best wish. And when they're making you a job offer - get everything on the table at one time. For example, if you need to buy a car for the job or move to be closer, mention you may need more money for these things up front.

How can you negotiate salary?

For the young, new worker going to an established company, it's harder to negotiate. There are salary guides and the company will just tell you "here's the starting salary." If you go to a smaller company, though, there may be more wiggle room to actually talk and negotiate pay. Finding salary data on the Web is very easy to do these days. At the least, make sure you're being paid comparably.

One thing young people don't do is ask the employer to explain how the salary process works. You should ask about salary ranges and salary bands. Understand how you would be promoted and progress at the company.

When it's time to ask the interviewer your questions, what are the best and worst questions?

The worst questions are: How soon can I have your job? or How fast can I get promoted?

Instead, get into the kind of questions that make sense. For example: What are my responsibilities in first 6 months to a year? How will success be measured? Find out the elements of the job and how you could be successful.

How do you deal with the issue of being overqualified for a position?

Avoid the term or phrase "overqualified" (even if it 's true) ... Instead, emphasize that you are looking for the right company with either a product or service that you can feel good about. Say: "I'm looking for the right people, right values, and a place where I can feel comfortable and find a home." And if they ask about your pay, say "Pay is important to me -- but it's just one factor."

What's the best way to follow up? E-mail? Hand-written note?

Eighty percent of the time, e-mails work. But you should ask yourself about the interviewer - what kind of person is this? I know people who've gotten jobs thanks to a hand-written letter. But if it's a fast-moving person, then write an e-mail to thank them for their time and interest. Send the e-mail within 5 business days - the sooner the better.

Photo courtesy bpsusf from Flickr

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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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