“What’s your current salary?”

This is likely one of the most dreaded interview questions you can be asked.  If you answer it, you might get low-balled.  Give a high number and you may seem too expensive. You can’t fudge it because a background check will reveal the truth.

Who can win?

You can!

An End to this Dreaded Question?

The good news is that candidates have been given some relief with this question.  There are several states and cities who have started banning the salary question.  In certain places it is illegal to ask what a candidate is currently making.  It is part of an effort to ensure pay equity for women and minorities.  Advocates of the law also believe this will lessen the pay gap over time.

I’ve lost count of the interviews that I’ve conducted at this point in my career. I have also found that far too much mystery surrounds that one small question. As such, I am a proponent of the new laws.  This will force companies to pay an equitable salary based upon the skills and expertise that one brings to the table.  It also puts accountability on the part of the job seeker. Candidates should understand their value and be poised enough to confidently state it. In fairness, you may not get what you ask for but the decision to accept or not accept lies with you.

The new law, however, does not prohibit employers from asking about the compensation level candidates are seeking.  If that is still not a comfortable question, there are ways to respond artfully instead of awkwardly.  Here’s how:

Be confident and know your worth

If you are starting a job search, do your homework.  Know your numbers before you apply.  Whether by phone or on an application, you will be asked what salary you desire. There are a number of sites as well as the resources here on ClearanceJobs that will help you determine your expectations.

If you are looking for a simple way to answer the question, say: “According to my research, a fair compensation for my technical expertise, my background, and the requirements of the role, would be $85-95K annually.

There are two hints that I would like to add for this:

  • Know what is negotiable. Before starting a job search, determine what a new job would mean for your finances.  Maybe you are looking to move up the ladder or even downshift into less responsibility. Additionally, think about what you might have to pay upon departure of your old job.  For example, do you have to pay back any loans, etc.? Calculate that into your financial situation or in a negotiation for a signing bonus. While you should aim to get a competitive salary, the focus does not always have to be on money. You can negotiate for perks such as work-from-home opportunities, flex time, or additional vacation days. It depends on what is most important to you. This might give you some wiggle room in your base salary.


  • Know what is non-negotiable. What do you have now that you want in your next position or what don’t you have that you need or want? Are you focused on achieving a greater salary or better benefits? How much do you care about the work environment? Do you need an office or open workspace? Do you need the flexibility to work from home, or is that a bonus you would like to have? You want to be able to confidently decide which offers you want to consider and which aren’t worth your time.

State your salary number and then stop talking.

There may be a pause by the interviewer or uncomfortable silence. Do not start talking to fill in the silence. This is where people get into trouble. They start rationalizing their figure. After you have given your number, the ball is in their court for the next steps.

If you have to, deflect the question or turn the tables. While I generally advocate for transparency from both the company and applicants, you can deflect the question for later in the conversation.

You can say: “I expect a salary that is in line with current employees at the same level. I know that I can add value to this role because of X.  If you agree, I’d love to hear your salary range for this position.”

If You’re not Ready to Discuss Salary…

If you are not ready to talk simply say: “Before I answer, I would like to know a few more specifics about this position.  That way, I can provide a more realistic figure.”  You’ll have to back this up with asking solid questions.  If not, that may be off-putting to the hiring manager or recruiter.

You will eventually have to discuss your salary expectations. Be confident in your approach and state your desires.  Salary negotiations are stressful. Many recruiters are not comfortable with those questions either. So that makes both parties stress over something that is a normal part of an interview process. Don’t sell yourself short. It doesn’t have to be awkward. Remember, the new laws do not apply to all states or locales  so that is another reason to do your homework!

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Jan Johnston Osburn is a Certified Career Coach and Organizational Consultant. Her organizational specialties are Talent Acquisition, Training, and Leadership Development. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Buckingham, UK, and has certifications in Executive Coaching and Advanced Social Media. Her website is www.YourBestLifeTodayCoaching.Com .