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Keep Salary Issues From Derailing Your Job Search

A lot of people think, "I'm so grateful to get a job offer that I'm not going to negotiate. I Don't need to learn about negotiating." This wrong thinking can kill you in the interview process. 

People often get eliminated over salary because they are "overqualified" (meaning highly paid), they are "underqualified" (not paid enough), or screened out because they Don't have a good sense of their own worth (read as not qualified).

What to do? 

First, avoid salary discussions (if you can) until the employer decides you are the one he/she wants for the job.  Discussing money too early can get the boss thinking that:

a)  You will accept being underpaid; or

b)  you're not as good as the smooth-talking, but not-as-qualified candidate, who makes $10,000 more than you; or

c)  You are too expensive and not worth serious consideration. 

Here are a few employer tactics--and how to respond.


Problem:  The paper job application has boxes for past salaries or the employer demands a salary history—and threatens to burn/delete your application if you Don't comply. 

Solution: Don't give the information! 

On the paper application, place an asterisk in the box for salary, and at the bottom, write something like, "I am happy to talk about salary in an interview." 

When responding to an ad or posting, you might write a cover letter that says, "My salary was competitive for a ______ (your title) with X years of experience.  I will gladly discuss salary in a job interview." 

There is a small risk that you will be eliminated for not disclosing salary, but the risk is much bigger if you do disclose. Plus, you run the risk of being boxed into a low salary. Most employers crave good talent to help them resolve their issues, and if you look like you've got what it takes, they will want to talk to you.


Problem:  Many employers are doing phone screens before investing the time to do a face-to-face interview.  Often, they will ask about past earnings or your current requirements.

Solution: Just as when you interview in person, strive to convince the interviewer that money is not going to be a problem. Possible responses: 

"I know your company pays fair salaries, so I'm not that concerned about it."

"If you decide to hire me, I'd like to fit into your salary structure.  Can you tell me more about the job?" 

"I'm very uncomfortable talking about money at this point, since I Don't want to get screened out because I was making too much or too little. Could we discuss how I might be able to help you?"

If the interviewer still persists, you might say, "Could you give me the range you have in mind?  I'll tell you if we're in the right ballpark."

If the interviewer won't take no for an answer, you might say, "I'm happy to discuss salary, as long as I won't get disqualified by doing that.  If I tell you, can I still get the interview?"


Problem:  The web site won't allow you to complete the online application without salary information. What now?

Solution: Give a number or a range that you feel won't get you screened out.  Later, you can negotiate for what you are really worth.

won't this get you boxed into a low salary?  It might—if you Don't play your cards right, but good negotiating can undo the damage. 

Learn more about salary negotiations; attend Jack Chapman's free webinar on Salary Negotiations.  See our Workshops and Webinars schedule for the next date.  Jack is the author of the national bible of salary negotiations: "Negotiating Your Salary:  How to Make $1,000 a Minute."  Register at



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