Do you feel your compensation is:

  • Too high?
  • Too low?
  • Just right?

Are you really interested in a lower salary?


Welcome to the maze of interviewing and the pain of compensation negotiations.

In the interview process compensation can be one of the most difficult questions to deal with. It’s also one of the most agonizing, causing a lot of stress. Are you in their salary range? Over their range? Below their range? If your salary is high, will they interview you anyway? If it’s too low, will they assume you are not at the level of expertise they are seeking?
Is there flexibility in their range? How do you know if there is flexibility and how much? Ask them? Really?

It depends who you’re interviewing with. You sometimes feel like you’re at a poker table with neither side showing their hand. Check that. They want to see your hand and will ask to see it.
One of the things I’ve taught candidates for years in my interview coaching [InterviewCoach24-7] is that you can’t “not answer” the question. And you need to answer it honestly. But it’s how you answer the question that makes all the difference. In my trainings I talk about 3 types of questions in the interview, since there are only 3. For example this falls under the heading of what I call a “set up for failure” question. They ask you what are your compensation expectations? The wrong move and you could be eliminated, pricing yourself out of the opportunity or alternatively wind up accepting a position at lower dollars than were available to you. Possible you lose out on a position that you wanted even thought you knew it paid less than you are earning.
As a recruiter I deal with and advise candidates regarding compensation issues all the time. Sometimes it can be a pretty uncomfortable situation for both the candidate and myself as there is a suspicion that we, or our clients, are looking to take advantage of underpaid candidates. Nothing can be further from the truth. A candidate can actually feel ashamed that their relative compensation in the market is so low and will not want to share it. Others don’t know that they are underpaid for their skills in the marketplace. Still others come with salary comparisons from websites such as to show their value. All well and good, but there are many things that these comparisons don’t take into effect. And these comparisons are not what will get you a job. A company knows their compensation parameters.

“In the interview process compensation can be one of the most difficult questions to deal with.”

One problem is salary compression, when the individual is substantially underpaid for their role in the marketplace. It happens for a number of reasons such as: low paying organization, change of jobs, too long at one company without market corresponding raises, etc. The candidate needs to find a way to position themselves so there is not a continuation of the same issue in the future. Also you want to prevent the focus of the interview becoming compensation. However, that’s only one side of the coin. What happens when a candidate wants to enter the marketplace and they are at a higher compensation then the market, making them uncompetitive? It could be a situation where they worked for a company that overpaid or maybe that they want to take a new direction.

A case in point. The Sunday NY Times, June 12, 2015, Business Section, The Workologist, By Rob Walker
“When a High Salary Is a Hurdle”
Here an individual wants to change direction and knows that the area of interest is lower paying than his compensation level. Now there’s a problem we’d all like to have, right? Not so quick. In this situation the candidate is concerned that a company may think of him as a short term employee who may jump at the next opportunity or be suspect in other ways.
In either case the issue is still the same, i.e. how do you handle compensation in an interview? I remember reading recently an article by an “expert” that said, when asked about compensation a candidate should “lean over the desk toward the interviewer, look them straight in the eye and say, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll give you my compensation if you agree first not to hold it against me.” What did you just accomplish? Antagonizing the interviewer? You just set up a wall between you and the interviewer and that is where the interview begins to stall. This is true to either question, low or high compensation. That is where the interviewer will spend “your” interview time. And when you start negotiating with the person that doesn’t hold the purse strings you’ll go deeper into the hole.

What I prefer to teach candidates as the art of compensation negotiation is learning to negotiate without negotiating. It’s answering the question but not getting stuck on it. It’s creating an interview environment that allows you to focus on the 1st of 3 types of questions in the interview, that I call “substantive questions”. Learn that, and you will begin to ace your interviews. They will be a lot more successful and profitable.