At this stage of your career, you’re probably a pro at interviewing and sharing your strengths and weaknesses and answering all the other standard questions. And then there is the dreaded salary conversation, which challenges even the most experienced job candidates.
To prepare you for those tricky exchanges, we’ve compiled a quiz. Answer these five questions, then read our expert’s salary-negotiation tips so you can navigate this important aspect of landing your next job worry-free. For each, pick the one answer that you think is best. Analyses of the answers (and the correct ones) are below the quiz.
QUESTION 1: What year did you graduate?
B) 2011, but I had several internships during college as well.
C) I don’t think that impacts my ability to do this job.
D) I have spent the decade-plus since I graduated taking on content curation roles with increasing responsibilities.
QUESTION 2: What are your salary expectations?
A) Without knowing more about the job and total rewards program, I can’t name a specific number. I’d like to know the hiring range, if you can share that.
B) I am looking for total compensation of between $175K and $200K, with a base salary of at least $150k.
C) I prefer not to discuss salary at this time.
D) From my research, I’d expect a salary of $160k.
QUESTION 3: What salary are you making at your current job?
A) $125K with a $15K bonus.
B) $135K with a $20K bonus (when you really made $125K with a $15K bonus).
C) Thanks for asking. My salary expectations for this role are $165K.
D) I’m sorry; isn’t that question illegal?
QUESTION 4: How negotiable are you in terms of salary?
A) Of course, I’m negotiable!
B) I would hate for salary to get in the way of a great match. I would like to hear more about the role and the compensation package before we land on something that would work for both of us.
C) At this stage in my career, I am holding firm on the salary I am seeking.
D) I could be negotiable with the expectation of a review and raise after six months.
QUESTION 5: What are your expectations in terms of benefits?
A) Given that this is a staff position, I am assuming you’d offer full benefits, don’t you?
B) I am more motivated by salary than benefits.
C) I’d like to hear what benefits you offer so I can understand the full compensation package.
D) I need health insurance, no wiggle room there.
We consulted with Kate Dixon, a salary-negotiation coach, compensation consultant, and author of Pay Up!: Unlocking Insider Secrets of Salary Negotiation, for advice on how best to answer these questions. Having worked with major firms like Intel, American Express, and Nike, Dixon shares tips on making the best impression and snagging as good a compensation package as you can get.
Correct answer: D
Allow us to elaborate: Some recruiters seem hellbent on knowing when you graduated, which can make you feel apologetic (answer B, trying to pad your experience) or uncomfortable because you’re an older worker who doesn’t want to trigger ageism. There’s nothing wrong with A (AKA telling the truth), but you may feel as if you’ve given the recruiter ammo to unfairly calculate what they think you’re worth. And while C may be true, challenging the interviewer makes the moment seem confrontational. So your best bet is D. This form of redirecting, says Dixon, usually works well and lets you shine a glowing light on your achievements.
Correct answer: A or D
“This is the salary-negotiation question that many of the people I coach need help with,” says Dixon. It’s a “who blinks first” scenario. For some, A is the best bet; it shows that you recognize the salary isn’t carved in stone and you want to collaborate. “Most recruiters I know are okay with saying, ‘The hiring range is between x and y; is that in your ballpark?” explains Dixon.
However, you can also go with D, advises Dixon. You might say, “My research shows jobs like this are paying x to y, based on experience, I am targeting the higher range, given my last two roles. How close to that can we get?” The recruiter will be impressed that you’ve done your research, observes Dixon, and you will quickly find out if this job is in the range you want. Option B may give away too much info, too soon, and shortchange you on negotiation possibilities; whenever you give a range, recruiters tend to focus on the lower number. Option C doesn’t allow for insight into how well you and the open position’s pay may compare.
Two more bits of compensation advice from Dixon: Often you’ll be asked to put your salary expectations into an online application prior to an interview. Dixon recommends her clients put in zeroes to bypass this until you can have a real conversation with the recruiter. Also, know that what companies pay reflects how they value a role. It’s nothing personal, nor a denigration of your experience or skills, if the figure is low.
Correct answer: C
This is a redirect again, and most recruiters are fine with it. First, let’s note that option D is true. “Asking salary history is illegal in many states. It disadvantages women and people of color who historically have lower pay,” says Dixon. “If an employer bases new pay off of older pay, one’s salary history can just perpetuate lower earnings.” Even if it is technically okay to ask, your past paycheck shouldn’t be the focus. “The expectations at this new job may be totally different,” says Dixon. By sharing your salary (A or even inflated B), you are perhaps underselling yourself. So instead, “It’s good to go in knowing what your ballpark is. You can get great intel on salaries offered for the kind of work you do by just putting a phrase like “salaries for software engineers” into a search engine — but it’s important to adjust for regional differences (offices based in big cities may pay more than those in small towns or remote arrangements).
Correct answer: B
Dixon says that it’s wise to look at the whole package before making a decision. Perhaps the salary is a couple of thousand dollars lower than you’d like, but there are amazing benefits that more than compensate. You don’t know yet, so why paint yourself as A, a little desperate, or C and D, rigid and acting on incomplete knowledge? Instead, play your hand and see what the recruiter reveals.
Correct answer: C
This question is most likely to come up if you are applying for a job at a start-up or entrepreneurial company that may not have a full complement of benefits to offer. If you have a hardline answer (like answer D), it’s fine to put it out there, but who knows? Maybe there’s another part of the package that lets you afford buying your own healthcare if the company doesn’t have an enticing plan. Option A sounds aggressive, and B may be giving up too much ground too soon. So keep your cards close to your vest and try to get more details about compensation and job description first.
With these negotiation tactics to draw on, you’re well equipped to ace your next interview and get the salary you want and deserve.