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How to Ask Questions About an Applicant's Expectation for Salary

by Ruth Mayhew, studioD

Talking about money often is difficult. And when the prospective employer's purse strings are tighter than either the recruiter or the candidate would like, addressing salary issues can be especially challenging, yet a necessary part of the selection process. A little finesse, some honest conversation and candid questions are all it takes to find out what kind of pay the applicant will accept.

Application Process

The application process is an effective way to start the discussion -- or, rather the consideration -- for salary expectations. In your job posting, require that applicants summarize their salary history, note their salary expectations or both in a cover letter. You might feel compelled to automatically disqualify an applicant based on salary alone, but unless you have a strict budget with absolutely no room for negotiation, don't simply discount an applicant because her salary expectations fall outside your range. Take her qualifications into consideration as well, because she might be worth the extra money.

Telephone Interview

Voice-to-voice preliminary screening typically occurs during the telephone interview. A telephone interview with the recruiter usually lasts 10 to 20 minutes and has at least two purposes: confirm that the applicant is still interested in the job and determine whether the applicant has the basic skills necessary to qualify for the job. Assuming she's still interested and meets the requisites, some recruiters use salary as another screening tool. This is particularly useful when the company budget is inflexible or if the compensation structure is such that the neither recruiter nor the hiring manager has the latitude to assess whether a candidate deserves a salary adjustment. Thus, recruiters conducting telephone interviews often say, "This position has a maximum salary of $50,000, and at this time, we're unable to offer anything higher than that. Would that that be an acceptable pay rate for you?"

Effective Candor

Once the recruiter or hiring manager has a chance to describe the position, its demands and challenges and, importantly, career mobility with the organization, it's prudent to segue into a discussion about salary. By this stage in the interview process, the candidate has likely conducted her own research. She should know how much her skills are worth in the labor market and what she can reasonably command, based on her qualifications, skills and expertise. A direct question, such as, "What are your salary requirements?" shouldn't be an unanticipated one.

Follow-Up Questions

If the recruiter or hiring manager doesn't believe the candidate's salary expectations are in line with what the company can offer, it's perfectly acceptable to ask, "How did you arrive at that figure?" or "If you're basing your increased salary expectations on your previous earnings, what can you bring to Acme Company over and above your performance at your previous company, XYZ Pharmaceuticals?" Those are the types of follow-up questions that require that the candidate present a compelling argument for why she's worth more now than she was paid in her previous job.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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