How to Answer the Salary Interview Question
Many entry level candidates tip their hand far too easily when the topic of salary is brought up in the interview. This is one time you do not want to be specific. If you give specifics, you lose—you will be either too low or too high, potentially costing yourself thousands of dollars or possibly even keeping yourself from getting the job. If you are asked the money question early in the interview (as is common), the best response is: "What would a person with my background and qualifications typically earn in this position with your company?" The best response if asked late in the interview process is: "I am ready to consider your very best offer."
That said, if you continue to be pressed by the interviewer for a commitment to specific numbers, do not put them off with more than one open-ended response. First, make sure you have done your homework on the expected salary range for your field. Many salary surveys are skewed toward the high end (possibly because only the best-paid graduates responded, while those with average or low pay did not want to admit what they were earning), so take them with a large dose of conservative adjustment.
The best salary surveys are from those who graduated within the last year in your major from your school. You can possibly locate the information through your Career Center, Alumni Office, or your personal network of contacts. It is important to understand the differential by college. A business grad from Stanford is going to be earning a lot more than a business grad from a lesser known school. Know the going rate for your major, your school, and the field that you are considering entering. And make sure you know it before you get propositioned with the money question. For further information on current salaries for both entry level and experienced employees by geography, visit: CollegeGrad.com/salaries.
The Money Response Technique
Armed with this salary information, ask the interviewer: "What is the general salary range for new hires in this position?" If the entire range is acceptable, respond with: "That would be within my expected starting range, depending on the full salary and benefits package." If only the top end of the range is acceptable, respond with: "I have been discussing the upper end of the range with the other employers that are currently interested in me." If the range is below your expected starting salary range (be careful!), respond with: "The other employers I am currently speaking with are considering me at a salary somewhat higher than that range. Of course, money is only one element and I will be evaluating the overall offer package."
Do your best not to get pinned to specific numbers, but if they do mention a number and ask if it would be acceptable to you, respond by saying: "I would encourage you to make the formal offer. What is most important is the opportunity to work for you and your company. I am confident that your offer will be competitive." Remember, don't do any negotiating until you have a formal offer in hand. When that finally happens, go straight to the Successful Job Offer Negotiation information for guidance on enhancing your offer into the best offer.