How Do You Handle The Dreaded Compensation Question? – It Depends

Posted February 27, 2012 by
Sheila O'Connor

Sheila O'Connor, 15SecondResume

Most job candidates will tell me that the one question they dread more than any other is about compensation, with good reason. It’s a question that has no right answer. In fact, the best way to respond to the question will differ depending upon a number of factors including; who’s asking, what their role is in the hiring process, what stage of the hiring process that you are currently in and the level of the position. For example advice for how to respond to the question when asked by the hiring manager may undermine your candidacy with an outside recruiter. With all the material available about the compensation subject it can be daunting and confusing. You don’t want to put yourself at a disadvantage by pricing yourself too high nor do you want to price yourself too low.

In addition to the relative minefield of considerations regarding the company and the hiring process that you need to weigh, there are also the personal factors. What is your reason for being in the job market? Are you currently employed?  If so, what is your current compensation? If not, what compensation are you seeking? Are there other job related factors like the option to telecommute that could be considered in exchange for higher compensation? These are questions you need to have clarity on before entering the job search.

In terms the interview process, why is it so important to consider who is asking the question and what their role is in the hiring process? The reason comes down to knowledge and motivation. A company recruiter within the human resources department will often use the compensation question as way to eliminate candidates. That’s their primary role in the process. The hiring manager does not have the time to interview dozens of candidates so is relying on the HR recruiter to do an initial screening and send along only those candidates who fit the requirements and will likely accept an offer if one is made. From the perspective of the HR recruiter both points are equally important. Nothing is more frustrating to a hiring manager than learning that their top candidate is not even in the same ballpark regarding compensation expectations. In essence, the HR recruiter is asking the question in order to avoid potential embarrassment.

So while the final compensation package will be the result of a negotiation between you and the hiring manager, until you are the finalist, and speaking with the hiring manager, it is generally used as an elimination question. With that in mind it is essential to address the question when asked. The easiest way to be eliminated by that question is to avoid it. Here are some examples of ways not to respond to the question:

●    I’d rather not discuss that now.
●    I’m open, negotiable
●    Can we discuss the job instead?

These “non-answers” will either result in a follow up question or worse yet, send you to the no call-back pile. So what is the answer? Once again, it depends. The company has a range that they are planning to offer, however, they don’t intend to share that information with you.  If you provide an answer that indicates you can fit into that range, you’ve addressed the need of the HR recruiter and may be able to move forward. If you are currently working in the industry the best way to respond is to simply provide what your current compensation is. If the role you are seeking is a step up or in a different industry, it is essential that you thoroughly research compensation ranges for the position and the industry. To answer provide a range that is consistent with your research. For example, “I am aware that this level position generally pays between $85,000 and $120,000. I would be willing to accept an offer that is within that range.

The bottom line is do your research and answer the question as directly as possible so you are not wasting valuable interview time negotiating before you have presented your assets thoroughly.


Guest Blogger is Sheila O’Connor and her website is

Article courtesy of the Recruiting Blogswap, a content exchange service sponsored by, a leading site for college students looking for internships and recent graduates searching for entry level jobs and other career opportunities.

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