Interview pitfalls – disclosing your salary

“So, how much are you paid…?” This is the question, dropped casually by your interviewers as they cover off a...

Andy Bristow
Andy Bristow
5 min read Reading Time
5 April 2018 Date Created
“So, how much are you paid…?” This is the question, dropped casually by your interviewers as they cover off a few “basics”, that has the potential to be a real banana skin in the recruitment process for both sides, how would you handle it? Put on the spot without preparation and you’ve got two choices – blurt out the answer or refuse to disclose. Neither is particularly desirable – volunteer the information too readily and any following offer could be whatever you said plus a few percent, or risk being perceived as evasive and confrontational. The risk with full disclosure is that you potentially sell yourself short; if you are underpaid in your current role and the new role entails a step up in responsibility then a significant pay increase may be entirely appropriate. Let’s look at a theoretical example: David is a Systems Administrator currently earning £34,000 and he hasn’t had a payrise for 2 years (tough times, etc etc). He applies for a new role which has been advertised at up to £40,000 and David feels that this is closer to the level he is hoping to achieve and more reflective of his skills and experience. At first interview David was asked his salary, which he disclosed. After final interview he was successful and the employer offered David a salary of £36,000 believing that there would be an enthusiastic acceptance. David was disappointed and turned down the offer as he felt undervalued and didn’t want to start his relationship with this employer having to push and negotiate. Now, if a skilled recruiter were involved then in most cases this scenario wouldn’t arrive in the first place and if it were to crop it could most likely be resolved, but that isn’t always the case – there may be no recruiter or they may not be particularly skilled or experienced and even many experienced recruiters can overlook the importance of this. Let me share some truths as I see them in that example:
  • Salary is not always about numbers but about how we feel about those numbers
  • Most people are uncomfortable talking about what they are worth and will avoid confrontation around this subject
  • Employers very rarely make a hiring decisions based on price/salary. In most instances the budget is there to be used, it’s a balance between getting value for money and the skills they need
  • Effective communication removes the problem
What were David’s options? Well, I think there are six possible choices here and the preference is entirely yours, I know how I would go but so much of this is down to personal preference. I’ve spent my entire career trying to de-risk the recruitment process so I lean towards a risk averse approach…
  • Answer #1: £34000 – this is the truth and a straight answer to a straight question but that potentially brings with it the issues discussed above
  • Answer #2: I’m on £34,000 but I’m looking for £40,000 – Again, this is the truth but it leaves an obvious question, why? How can you justify that and what is it based on. These matters are perilously subjective
  • Answer #3: £38,000 – This is a flat out lie. It might work but what if you get caught out at referencing stage? Only for those who don’t struggle to sleep at night
  • Answer #4: I’ll let you discuss salary details with my agent – sometimes this is an approach advocated by recruiters as it takes it away from the discussion and tricky area to be dealt with separately. It’s not one I would prefer as I believe that at some stage you are going to have to have these sort of conversations yourself and I also think it comes across as a bit weak
  • Answer #5: Thanks for asking! Does this mean you would like to offer me the role? – This sounds quite presumptuous but actually it’s a pretty reasonable question – why are you asking me salary unless you are thinking of hiring me? If you have the charisma and personality to pull off this sort of reply without appearing arrogant it’s a nice way of batting back the question to see what they say.
  • Answer #6: I’m glad you asked, I understand that this role is paying upto £40000? I’m on a little less than that at the moment but all the roles that I have been applying for are around the £38-£40k mark so my target salary is at the upper end of that range, depending on what offers I receive – This is my typical advice to candidates. An interviewer has no specific right to know your salary than the next person, a response like this allows you to duck the question while also stating your expectations, justified by the fact that you are looking at comparable roles and reminding the interviewer that you have choices.
How do you think and how will you respond the next time you are asked?