Compensation Conversation: How to Talk About Salary with Potential and Current Employers

Compensation Conversation

Let’s be real: it’s hard to talk about money. And, it’s even harder to talk about it professionally — especially when you’re discussing salary as part of a role with a potential employer, or having a conversation about a raise with your current one.

If you’re considering making a move to a new role in 2022, you’re going to encounter plenty of questions about salary. Similarly, if you’re happy right where you are, you might be wondering if it’s possible to leverage your staying power and negotiate a pay raise — especially during this time of “The Great Reshuffle.” (Note: We like this phrase much more than “The Great Resignation,” as we feel it’s more indicative of what’s really going on, which is employees taking deliberate next steps down the career paths that best meet their needs.)

That said, we’ve put together our Candidate Relations team’s best tips and insights for how to tactfully — but firmly — bring up the salary conversation in both a job interview and with your manager in your current role:

Before talking about salary in a job interview:

Do your research.
It’s always helpful to know what others in your role and industry are making before setting your own range — you might be surprised at what your level of experience may command. There is no shortage of free salary calculators out there (PayScale, Glassdoor’s salary calculator, and others) that can show you a potential salary range based on job title, education, skills, location, and years of experience.

Set a range.
We always suggest having a salary range rather than a singular number — i.e. $90,000 to $110,000 instead of $95,000 — for a few reasons. There are many factors that may impact your final salary — the benefits package being offered, for example — and having a range is a way to be flexible, yet firm. And, a company’s HR team already has a range in mind that they’re willing to pay, and you don’t want to short-change yourself by giving a single number that’s lower than the low point of their range.

Don’t feel pigeon-holed by your current salary.
If you’ve done your research and are looking to make a higher salary in your next role, don’t be afraid to politely side-step the “What is your current salary?” question — you’re not obligated to share what you’re making now. Instead, share what you’d like to be making. Here are some examples:

“My current role is a bit more entry-level than where I’d like to be next. I’m looking for compensation between x and y.” 

“My current role doesn’t have the level of responsibility that this position does. Because of that, I’m looking for my compensation to be between x and y.” 

Trust your gut.
You’re in that first interview for a role, and everything’s going great — but the interviewer hasn’t discussed compensation yet. If you’re concerned about it, it’s appropriate to say, “By the way, my compensation expectations for my next role are between x and y. Does that align with this role’s compensation?” If it doesn’t — and it’s something that’s a deal-breaker—it’s best to know that as soon as possible so that you can move forward to a different opportunity.

Focus on all the benefits — not just salary.
24 million people left their jobs from April to September 2021 — and many of these are what Texas A&M Associate Professor Anthony Klotz called “pandemic epiphanies.” Employees have more agency because they feel they can fit work into their lives, not cram their lives around their work. As you think about your salary range, consider the other benefits that would add to a better quality of life. Would a remote or hybrid work environment be possible? Does the company offer assistance tuition or professional development opportunities that will help you grow with the company? Salary is important — but so is your peace of mind.

Before talking about salary at a current role:

Know your worth.
Negotiating a salary at a current role is all about having data — data that emphasizes the contributions you’ve made and the value you bring to the company as well as the additional data on potential salary ranges. There’s also another value you shouldn’t overlook — not leaving your current company actually saves your employer money. Turnover is expensive — it’s estimated that losing an employee can cost a company 1.5 to 2x the employee’s salary — and more for manager- or director-level roles.

Focus on your value, not current market conditions.
Inflation is high, and it has been for months — and it might be tempting to bring it up as a reason for a raise. As much as the squeeze on your paycheck can be frustrating, resist the urge to cite that as the reason your pay should increase. Focus instead on the value you bring to the company, what you’ve accomplished, and any supporting data points.

Be honest about why you want to stay.
If you truly want to stay and grow with the company, say it. Being genuine about why you love working there — and why you want to continue — will create the space for you and your manager to talk genuinely and transparently about the steps toward a potential pay raise.

Time the conversation correctly.
As with most important decisions, timing is everything. Alexandra Carter, Columbia Law professor and the author of Ask For More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything, suggests approaching your salary negotiation as a campaign. “If performance reviews are in March, you don’t start your campaign then. Put your ask on the table early, while the company is making budget decisions and allocating dollars for the coming fiscal year.”

In our work with candidates, we help with all aspects of the job search, including working with you to establish your value and get the compensation you deserve. If you’d like to work with us as you’re considering your new step, we’d love to chat — contact us here to get started.