What’s Your Number?

Last year, the daughter of a very good friend was interviewing with one of the leading global consulting firms in the WDC area.  She thought she had the job in the bag, when by surprise, a clever interviewer asked, “So what salary are you looking for?  What’s your number?” 

This was followed by an uncomfortable silence after which she responded, “$150k.”  The interviewer said, “That is probably beyond our range…”  After another uncomfortable silence, candidate responded back, “Well…maybe a $125k…$120k?”  Interviewer said, “We’ll get back to you.”  Turns out the individual got the job at $120k, but later found out that her peers hired in the same MBA grouping had starting salaries of at least $15k more than hers.  She never quite recovered.  Just recently changed firms.

So how do you handle this question?  This is a tough one, but the main objective is to get as much information from the interviewer as possible by deflecting the question if they hit you with it.  Ultimately, you let them make you an offer with a firm number, but it can be a good thing as it opens the door for a lot of tough questions that are now fair game.  Here are some pointers:

  1. The standard response should be, “I want to make what the job pays, but I don’t know enough about the actual position yet to give you a specific number.” Then ask them what the range typically is for someone with your experience.
  2. Ask them specifically, “What range do you have in mind for the position?”
  3. Ask them about the benefits – is there a 401k matching plan, parking, paid for?  Continuing education? How about a start date?  Ask about the medical plan – how much are monthly premiums? 
  4. This is important:  ask them how many times you will be reviewed during the year.  When would your first review be?  You want to make sure you will be evaluated on a regular basis.
  5. Ask them “if I perform well above expectations…above the call of duty…what is the next logical next step in my professional development?”  In other words, $80k is worth more than $100k per year if your promotions come much faster.  Some companies will pay you a lot to start but then you 3% for the next ten years.
  6. Ask them about performance-based bonuses…i.e.  “If the XYZ Division grows really fast, would I share in the upside in any way via bonuses or promotions?”
  7. Have them explain the duties & responsibilities of the position – is this a sales position, business development, analysis, marketing??  This all makes a huge difference as customer-facing positions have more bonuses whereas internal-focused positions typically do not.
  8. “What’s the range that you have in mind for the position?”  “What is the established salary range for staff in similar jobs with a background like mine?” or “What are some non-salaried benefits that are available?”

I prep my candidates prior to each interview on the above, but for those of you that I do not represent, I hope this is helpful. 

Rob Houghton

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