How to answer salary questions from candidates

It doesn’t matter how well an interview is going; you’re going to face certain questions that are more difficult to answer than others. We’re willing to put money on those questions being about pay.

You should navigate your candidate’s salary expectation questions with tact and understanding. The following article is designed to ease pressure and establish a negotiation that provides open and transparent discussion.

Our example questions will give you an idea of what could crop up and how to manage them, showing appropriate consideration. Hopefully, how we suggest you reply to our sample salary questions will help you respond diplomatically to any that aren’t covered.

Keep calm, stay human, and hold a conversation—not an interrogation

We promote an interview process where transparency is key. Open and honest discussions build trust and respect. And who wouldn’t want that from a potential employer? Even if the salary is a little lower than they first expected.

If interviews feel stiff and awkward, find a way to put candidates at ease. Lighten the conversation. Relax. Lead by example. This should encourage your applicants to be who they are, and not just a list of qualities they think you expect to hear.

If you can orchestrate an interview to feel more like a chat than a deep probe, your candidates should relax and behave naturally. Not only will it make the tougher topics easier to approach, but you’ll also get a much clearer picture of how they’re likely to fit into your business.

1. How do you determine your pay rates and employee salaries?

Every potential employee is expected to put some effort into preparing for an interview. Many employers demand it – interview processes can often include making a presentation or completing pre-set tests or tasks.

Isn’t it fair that you should do the same?

You will have constructed a salary range for each position you’re interviewing for, and if you haven’t? Why not? You need to be prepared to fight out a deal. Knowing what you can afford and what any new member of staff is worth to your business is essential.

But where do your salary ranges come from? If they’re in line with existing employees’ salaries, can you create a sliding scale that shows where a new employee will fit?

If the salaries of your existing employees are based on qualifications or experience, map those out too. The more information your candidate has access to, the better estimation of starting salary and future earnings they’ll be able to make.

2. I don’t feel that this is a fair rate for the position I’m applying for, is there any movement available for negotiation?

Be prepared for negotiation. It’s accepted as part of the modern interview process, so you need to do your homework and be ready for it.

If a candidate wishes to negotiate on salary, let them take the lead. Ask them what they’re looking for in their working environment, job role, and salary.

Your salary offer indicates the value you’ve placed on them as an employee

If you think that the talking salary is ‘just business,’ then think again. The psychology behind every interview has a lot more to do with worth. Worth is a feeling, which makes your salary discussions personal, and not just business, after all.

All applicants will already have a figure in mind. If your figure doesn’t match with theirs, they’re going to think that you don’t appreciate their potential or value their experience. Alternatively, it could plant the seed that the business isn’t as exciting or as advantageous a prospect as they’d initially hoped.

Is the job itself worth more than the starting salary?

A clever diversion is to move the conversation towards the role of the job. Discuss the prospects; are they as attractive as the starting salary? Shifting the focus away from the salary can provide a more rounded view of the job.

However, never forget the importance that your applicant has put on remuneration and the figure they believe they deserve.

3. Will I be making the same salary as my colleagues?

Again, this is an opportunity to be honest. Even if you think your answers aren’t playing to your advantage, being open will.

If your process means starting new employees on lower salaries, tell them why and when they can expect to arrive at the same level. Be realistic and truthful about timescales. If an employee starts to feel cheated in any way at all, it can soon lead to reconsidering their position. Do you want to begin the process of filling an empty role all over again?

4. What are the possibilities of higher earnings and subsequent pay rises?

Be clear about your employee’s earning potential and future salary expectations from the outset. Trying to lure an employee in with empty promises will only lead to a lack of trust. Unhealthy working relationships lead to poor productivity, which is the last thing any business needs.

Educate your candidates on annual pay increases or when pay scale adjustments are made across the company. Explain your policy on productivity and rewards or personal and company bonuses. If you can, provide examples of recent adjustments so they have an idea as to when they can expect future changes to come into action.

5. What do employees have to do to achieve a promotion and a better remuneration package?

Assure your candidates that employee progression and performance within the company are closely monitored. The information their superiors gather determines which staff members are the best suited for newly available positions.

Discuss the frequency of staff appraisals and how these meetings provide employees with a chance to find out where they sit within the company and where they can expect to see themselves in the future.

6. Can we talk about the available salaries before we discuss the job itself?

It takes a bold candidate to bring up salary expectations before you’ve even had a chance to see if they’re suitable for the job on offer.

Quality recruitment means searching out the most suitable and best-performing candidates. How will it affect your product or service if money is primarily what they’re driven by?

Tell them you can’t possibly discuss an offer without understanding the applicant’s potential and what they will bring to the role. Ask them what they expect to achieve from the job and what they have to offer. That way, they should be diverted from the financial reward, to consider the associated benefits brought into play by the job itself.

7. Are there financial benefits involved in the role that isn’t included in the basic salary?

Again, this is a prime area for the correct preparation. If you have created a complete and enticing package to back up the basic salary, this provides additional bonuses and more desire for the role.

Do you pay relocation expenses? What about offering company shares as a bonus? Do you offer periodical or productivity bonuses? 

Any extras that aren’t included in the base salary add to building your reputation of caring for your employees. If you can get your candidates to see the bigger picture, then you might not have to battle it out over the numbers, after all.