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The worse part of any interview is when a job applicant is asked either:

• “What is your current salary”; or
• “What are your monetary expectations should you be offered this position?”

Both are tough and both put you on the hot seat, says A. Harrison Barnes, career coach and founder. While most career counselors will encourage a candidate to assert themselves, it can be risky. You’re already at a bit of a disadvantage. You’re competing against folks to fill a job, after all and you’re trying to sell your own skills to the human resources manager. “It’s a delicate balancing act”, says the founder. Finding that confidence for this discussion is going to take every bit of your energy, especially if you are going to accurately protect your financial interests.

Your best bet, says Barnes, is to prepare ahead of time your answers to those questions. For instance, if you’re interviewing with a larger firm, you can say, “I’m not sure my current salary would provide any insight as my current employer is much smaller, in both the number of employees and its physical size”. This tells the employer that you’re prepared and that you’re not going to give it up easily. Remember, you’re not trying to pull a fast one, but you also don’t want to find out they were prepared to offer a substantially bigger salary until they learned they didn’t have to because of what your current salary is.

Another tip A. Harrison Barnes offers is how to respond to the question of what your salary expectations are. You can always give an honest answer, of course (and should you give an answer, it most certainly should be on the up and up), or you can say, “It’s open”. This puts the ball back in the employer’s court, even if it comes right back at you. In this case, you’re going to have to provide a bottom line figure. Keep in mind that even if it’s not what the employer had in mind, you can always go into negotiations, which is likely what will happen anyway. The goal is to keep the playing field as level as possible.

This is one reason it is so important to do your research before the interview, says the founder. “Know what others are making in your region of the country with similar backgrounds, experience and education as yours”. Otherwise, you’re really just taking a shot in the dark.

Finally, Barnes says to be prepared so that you’re not floored when the question comes up. Practice answering the question beforehand with confidence. Once you’re facing it, that confidence will shine through. Don’t get discouraged if you do hear a reply of, “Well, that’s a little high and a bit more than what we’re prepared to offer”. If that’s what you hear, simply say, “I am open to negotiations”. If you can’t come to an agreement, it may be better to walk now than spend a few years in a position that you know you’re not earning enough for. The resentment will build quickly and that’s never good for anyone.

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