How to Answer the Question, “How much did you make at your last job?” (Part II)

I hope you had a chance to review my last post on what NOT to do when answering the question, “How much did you make at your last job?” If not, you might want to take a quick look as this post is closely related to the last one. Please click this link to review Part 1 (click here: Part I)

As I brought up in Part I, the proper way to answer the question, “How much did you make at your last job?” is really much simpler than you think.

Just tell the truth.

BUT WAIT! Wouldn’t telling the truth potentially leave money on the table? Or, what if you made too much at your last job and they think you are overqualified. Well, no. Because telling the truth is only the first step in establishing a trusting relationship, where then the real negotiation can begin.

Anyone who takes a job interview seriously will do some homework and be prepared to answer any technical questions that might be asked during the interview. Well, it is the same for this salary question.

Before you walk into any interview, you should do the following:

  • Find out how much companies in the same market are willing to pay for the position you are interviewing for. You can easily get the current market rate by visiting sites like salary.com. When you do your research, be sure to include the location of your potential employer. These days, salaries can vary drastically even just a few cities apart. At salary.com you can find out the the low, mid and high salary range for any position.
  • Second, take a look at glassdoor.com. Glassdoor.com provides salary information plus other general feedback of the company by people who either currently work there or have worked there in the past. If you are lucky, you might be able to find out exactly how much the company is paying for the position you are interviewing for. Even if you don’t, getting some feedback from current or past employees about the company is always good for reference anyway.
  • Lastly, if you are fairly active in the social media world like facebook, Google+, and Linkedin, you should certainly search and see if you have any direct or indirect friends from whom you can glean some useful information. You might not be able to find out salary information for the exact job that you are looking for, but if you can find out the salary of any position at that company, you can compare that with what you find on salary.com. Then you would have an educated guess as to whether this company generally pays on the lower, middle or higher side compared to the market rate.

So, now that you’ve done your research, you are ready to answer the question. The key is not how you answer the question, “How much did you make at your last job?”, but how you lead the conversation into the direction that you want it to go. 

Why don’t we have some fun and do a role play here. Let’s say you are currently making $80k, and after having done your due diligence in preparing, you believe this company is likely willing to pay $110k for this position. $30k is a bit of a gap, but hey, why not? Let’s aim high.

Image courtesy of Ambro/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/freedigitalphotos.net

Employer: “Thanks for taking time out to come in and chat with us. If you don’t mind, I would like to find out how much you are making at your current (or past) position.”

You (be sure to answer this question confidently, regardless if you are making far below your targeted number or just a few thousand from your goal): “Oh, sure, I don’t mind at all. I’m currently making $80K.”

Now, here is the important part. After you confidently answered the previous question, you should just as confidently follow that answer by saying. “For my next career move, I am target to make $110K.”

Your interviewer might be a bit surprised. He/she might be surprised by the $30k gap that you are targeting or by how well you’ve done your research. Regardless, he/she might follow with something like this, “Wow, I certainly admire your ambition, but $30K is a bit of a jump. Do you mind telling me why you are targeting $110K?”

Just as you answered the previous question with confidence, you need to answer this follow up question with just as much confidence, if not more. Here are two examples of what I would say. The following are just that, examples. You should say why you truly feel you deserve that $30k (or whatever gap you are trying to achieve).

Example 1: “I’ve been working for my current employer for a very long time. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working there all these years. I’ve made some great friends along the way.  But while my skills continue to improve, the company I work for hasn’t exactly progressed over the years and their salaries in general just haven’t kept up with the market rate.”

Example 2: “My current employer is in a different market in general. I knew I was making much less than what I could be making, but I really wanted to experience firsthand what working in that market is like.  I’ve done some research on your company and the market your company is in. The market is doing so well, $110k is just the standard rate.”

Example 3: “The job requirements for my previous job were much more narrow and utilized just a small portion of my skillsets. I’m looking for a position where I can utilize the broader side of my skills and as such, would be more in line with a $110k market rate.”

Your interviewer likely would say something like this to close. “Ok, great. Thanks again for your time. I will certainly put everything you said into consideration. Our HR/Recruiter will communicate with you on the next steps.”

By the way, it should go without saying that you should pay very close attention to how your interviewer reacts to all of your responses. If you care about the potential of how much you’ll be making, and I assume you do, pay special attention to his/her reaction as you propose your targeted number and your justification for your proposed number. If he or she flat out thinks you are crazy for even suggesting a number like that, well, your research on salaries might have been a bit on the high side. However, not all is lost. If you truly want to work for this company or are desperate for any opportunity, you can always say something like this, “I very much admire the work that your company is doing and I’m willing to be flexible on salary.”

However if he or she responded calmly and even positively to your answers with something like, “We can certainly make something like that work,” then you know your research has paid off, and the confident responses you gave have won over your interviewer.

One more tip that’s not related to salary. In the old days, recruiters/headhunters (if people still use that term) used to always suggest interviewees to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview, what is the next step, or when should they expect to hear from them. The purpose of the question is to show that you are eager about this opportunity. But I recommend that you don’t ask that. Times have changed. In this day and age, especially for the field of IT and Operations, the market is really hot. HR knows they need to act quickly when they have a great candidate on their hands; they will close the deal extremely fast if necessary. Asking a question like that just makes you sound desperate. If you don’t hear from them within two weeks time, you can safely assume it didn’t work out.

Lastly, a little disclaimer here. Of course, I hope to help you get as much as you can for your next job. But ultimately, you need to know your stuff! It doesn’t matter how good you are at negotiating your salary, the conversation will never even get to that topic if you don’t have the skillset for the job. So prepare yourself well for the interview.

Best of luck!

-David H.

Did you try out my method during a recent interview? Or do you have some good interview techniques you would like to share?  Feel free to comment below.

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