The Money Question

There comes a time in every interview process when the person you’re interviewing with—either the hiring manager or HR person—will ask you about money.

How you handle this question can be the difference between being offered the job or not. If you throw out a number that is too high, you may be perceived as unreasonable or overqualified, even if you are willing to take a lower number. If you throw out a number that is too low, they may wonder what is wrong with you and why you’re so desperate to get this job.

So what’s the best way to answer?

Instead of answering the money question directly, what we’ve found to work best is to highlight what you’re looking for (other than money), and then throw the money question back at the hiring manager.

Taking on new challenges, learning a new skill set, or working with a certain type of company are all great examples of this.

When the interviewer asks, “What are you looking for in terms of compensation,” you may want to say something along the lines of:

“Money is important, but isn’t the only thing I’m looking for. I’m looking to join a growth oriented solar developer with access to financing that can capitalize on the projects I can deliver. An organization that is well positioned in the market and can give me an opportunity to grow professionally would be the most attractive. From what we’ve discussed so far, it sounds like you offer all of that here.”

Then, you can turn the tables a little and ask them, “How do you typically compensate someone in this type of role?”

An experienced hiring manager may probe further and ask what you’re currently making. If that happens, here are two ways you can answer:

  1. If you’re comfortable sharing your salary history, say something like:
    “I am currently earning XYZ and would be looking for a reasonable increase to make a move. How is the compensation structured for this role?”
  2. If you don’t want to share your salary history, say something like:
    “As I mentioned earlier, money isn’t the primary driver for me, but it is obviously still important. To be able to make a move, I would be looking for a total package that would allow me to earn at least XYZ. Will that be possible here?”

Ultimately, you want to avoid being the one who throws out a desired salary or salary range. If you throw out a number that is too high, you may be instantly disqualified. If you throw out a number too low, you may be leaving a significant amount of money on the table.

By all means, have a clear idea in mind of what the minimum salary would be for that position (that you would feel good about), but focus on the non-monetary aspects of the role/company/opportunity that you’re attracted to when they try to get you to throw out the first number.