Minimum salary? Really?
January 23, 2015 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I had an interview yesterday. It went alright, until the end when he asked me what my absolute minimum salary was. Is this a thing?

I can't recall ever being asked this in an interview, so I'm mainly wondering if this is a normal thing for an interviewer to ask. I am qualified for the job, more or less, but had no idea what they will pay--and still don't. The ad said "salary is negotiable," but I expected to hear, in the interview, what their base salary would be, and then we could do the negotiations from there. But instead the interviewer asked me.

But when I gave my minimum salary requirements, I felt like it put me in a bind: go too low and my salary would be low, go too high and they'd not bother hiring me. I gave an amount that matches my current salary, and that was that. Left a bad taste in my mouth, though. I thought it was rather unfair of them.

In the end the interviewer told me to think about it, then write them again if I were still interested in the job, I guess another type of cover letter selling myself. Should I say nothing about the salary, and leave it at the potentially too-high amount I gave them? Or should I soften it a bit and let them know I'm flexible on salary? Which I am, a bit anyway.
posted by zardoz to Work & Money (21 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I have been asked first for money (usually more along the lines of "what range are you looking for", but it's the same question) with every single job interview I've ever had except my first job out of college, which was a job at a public university and therefore had a published, non-negotiable salary range.

Of course it sucks and is shitty of them, but it is extremely common: they want you to put up a number first as much as the other way around. Ideally, you try to deflect, or ask them back what the range is, or something else, but at this point I wouldn't mention it again until they do. You haven't promised that you'd be OK with that salary, and they haven't committed to offering you that salary. Definitely don't go back and say you'd take less, and if they offer something too low, counter as you would have anyway, even if it's higher than the number you said.
posted by brainmouse at 4:18 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is this a thing?

Yes. If your minimum salary is less than they can afford, there's no reason for them to continue the interview, nor is there a reason for them to make you an offer. It's a waste of their time and your time.

I felt like it put me in a bind: go too low and my salary would be low, go too high and they'd not bother hiring me.

You can feel that. However, from their perspective, the ideal salary to pay you is either the minimum cost it takes to hire you or the cost of hiring someone else (if that cost is lower). If you want to get paid more, you need to make that minimum cost higher. If you want to always get the jobs you look for, you need to make that minimum cost lower. Employers don't pay you more than they need to for no good reason.

Should I say nothing about the salary, and leave it at the potentially too-high amount I gave them?

I don't know. Do you want the job or a higher salary more? If you want the job, you can say, "I'm very interested in the job given [NICE THING 1] and [NICE THING 2] discussed in the interview. Given that, I'm willing to work for a lower rate of $X." However, if they were willing to pay high amount, then you will now get an offer of $X rather than the high amount. You get to pick.

Which I am, a bit anyway.

What does that mean? Quantify it. You should always know what the minimum amount of money is to accept a job offer. If you don't know that number, you have no effective negotiating leverage, and they will attempt to make that number up for you.
posted by saeculorum at 4:19 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My general rule is that if they ask me about salary when they are speaking directly with me, either in person or on a call, I just always say I would need to think about it. Whether they make me an offer or ask me to offer a number, I just always say I'd need to consider it further. If they want a number first, I mostly try to avoid saying anything and say I would want what is fair, I don't know what they usually offer for such positions, etc.

If they absolutely require a number, I would do some research first, talk to some people, etc. and pick a number that is high but within reason so they can negotiate down from there.

I would definitely not retract the number you gave them. Just let them know you are very interested in the position and open to negotiating.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:20 PM on January 23, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Next time, turn it back on them and ask what range the position pays given the experience level and skills they want for the person fulfilling the job.
posted by driedmango at 4:24 PM on January 23, 2015 [12 favorites]

Why would you change jobs for less than you're making now?

Some number of jobs you interview for, you're not going to get. Last job I interviewed for I went in way high, but gave them plenty of room to structure my salary in a way that would have left me making roughly what I'm making now. They didn't bother to counter-offer, which showed me that they're not serious.

There are plenty of non-tangibles; any company which thinks that they're just paying a dollar amount for an employee isn't good at negotiating. Any company that isn't good at negotiating is probably not a good ally, and you want to be working with great people.

If you're willing to work for less than you're making now, you can give them an out by saying "I need to see the complete offer so I can weigh the trade-offs" (especially since different people will evaluate their non-tangibles differently), but be ready to walk away from it.
posted by straw at 4:24 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Never ever (ever) EVER be the first one to quote a salary.

If asked a question similar to this, I will always either turn it back on them and ask them what the salary range is, or I will give an answer that translates as basically "I don't yet know the ins and out of this particular position enough to know what compensation I should expect."

You could also do something vague like "I'd expect a salary in line with the job requirements, my experience and skill set, and the market conditions".

This may feel weird because it's not really answering the question. But nothing good can come of you being straightforward here.

Also, frankly, if an interviewer pulls that shit, especially if it's someone I'd be working directly with if hired, that's a big old checkmark in the "con" column for taking that job. It indicates an employer who wants to get by with paying employees as little as possible, rather than paying fairly and creating an environment where employees are happy and motivated and there's little turnover.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 4:39 PM on January 23, 2015 [32 favorites]

Best answer: Your number is a signal of how much you value yourself. Remember, we tend to think something which that costs more is better quality.

Are you still in Tokyo? That job market may be VERY different then a US one. I also don't know your industry, which may be important.

As a Software engineer in California, I've thought about people asking for mimimum, or what I am looking for, or other attempts to gauge my ask. I plan to go with something like: "I have some flexibility in that department, but I I am exploring what I'm worth to different companies as a full time employee. I don't really feel comfortable discussing what I am looking for in salary without an offer on the table. That said, I would be interested in hearing your range."

If you were in the US, working in a field like mine, I wouldn't soften it. It's your current salary, if they want you, they will find a way to pay you at least that. At the very least they may make a counter proposal, offer a signing bonus, etc. If you are deeply unhappy at your current job, or layoffs are coming, and they reject you, you can ask if salary was a factor, and always say that your situation has changed and you are prepared to take a lower amount.
posted by gryftir at 4:39 PM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Whenever I hear a candidate dither about specifying pay, I know they are either extremely flexible about pay, don't know the market very well, or don't value themselves very well. I know they will be willing to accept a lower amount than I would otherwise be able to offer.

In other words, if you don't specify a number, I'll specify one for you - and it'll be at the low end of what I can offer, not the high end. The highest paid candidates are the ones that know their value and refuse to work for less than their value. Most of those highest paid candidates are the ones that don't even bother giving a range of pay and simply say, "I will work for $x".
posted by saeculorum at 4:41 PM on January 23, 2015 [36 favorites]

Have they provided any information about other kinds of compensation? Health, equity, vacation, etc? Compensation is about more than salary.

My answer to that question: I have to see the total compensation package to understand what you're offering.
posted by Sauce Trough at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

In this case, I would ignore the word "minimum." Name a number you'd be happy getting paid, or one a little above that. If they come back with, "Well actually we can only afford X," then you've found their offer without having to lowball yourself.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:44 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Couple of comments deleted. Hey folks, please just answer OP's question without getting into discussions amongst yourselves. MefiMail is an option if you have a question for another commenter in the thread. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:50 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

so I'm mainly wondering if this is a normal thing for an interviewer to ask.

No. I mean it seems like this person is an exceptionally transparent negotiator. Obviously everyone is looking for the minimum they can get away with paying- this guy just seems to have no filter between what he's thinking and what he says to candidates.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:52 PM on January 23, 2015

I've never heard anyone use the word "minimum" before, but "so, what salary are your looking for?" definitely yes.

Fwiw, a friend of mine told me that when she's called for an interview she asks them straight out before making the appointment what the salary range is, telling them "I don't want to waste my time or yours". If they turn the question back on her, she always goes high, again not to waste her own time. She's the sort of person who's generally always looking though, she's never in dire need of a job, she just likes to keep her options open.
posted by vignettist at 4:59 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When doing the initial screening with HR I ALWAYS ask what the salary range is. "Please tell me what the salary range is for the position, I want to insure we're on the same page."

I had one last week and the answer was, "We're not sure yet, were sort of waiting to see what kinds of applicants we get." Yeah, not going out of my way for those idiots.

You should have a number in your head and it should be roughly 20% more than you're making now. Never make a move for the same or less than what you're currently making.

If they absolutely press, you can say, "Well, I'd like to see something between Foo and Bah, but I'd have to see the entire compensation package."

Grow a pair of brass balls and say this stuff like you do it every day and twice on Sunday. People don't resent it, they respect it. You're a hot property and you know what you're worth.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:08 PM on January 23, 2015 [27 favorites]

"My range is $x, but I'm not married to any specific number. I'll entertain any reasonable offer, and I have some flexibility around types of compensation besides salary. What are your thoughts?"
posted by j_curiouser at 5:52 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have been asked this exact question. I fucked up by answering it straight with the minimum amount I was prepared to accept. They offered me lower than that, I didn't accept the job. They're being slimy and you should treat it the same as if they'd said "what kind of salary would you like?" (ie: don't respond with a number if possible, respond with a number higher than you'd be happy with if you have to give one so they have room to go under).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:54 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

It is a thing, although a more common question is "what is your current compensation" so they can get an idea of how much you would require to switch jobs (if you are currently employed).

I have personally never been asked it - in every job I've interviewed for, they either gave me an offer at the very end, or asked me in the beginning how much money I make currently. But that's because I have always been working in the same industry and there is some mutual understanding on how much somebody with my experience should be making and how much positions should pay.

If you work in a field where that is less obvious or are switching industries/starting a career, it might make sense for an employer to ask this just to save everybody's time in case you both have completely different ideas. Of course a better question would have been "what range are you expecting."
posted by pravit at 7:08 PM on January 23, 2015

I would understand that question to be the same as "what are you currently making" which is a common question. I.e. typically you are not going to move for less than what you're making.

I am baffled by all the responses suggesting you not provide this information. In any of the companies I've worked for as an in house recruiter, this would take a candidate right out of the running. I'm not going to lowball you; I just need to know whether we should even be talking. And I'm not going to tell you the high end of my range, because then you will just hear that number and be upset to not get it, and it really does vary with the candidate. And sometimes a candidate tells me "I make X but I really need to be making Y" and that is fine too. You won't always get it, but the more information I have about what is going to make you happy, the better.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:54 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

The way I look at that question is that it's not the same question as "how much money do you want." It's "how much money would be a insta-no even if you had no other offers."

And then I would answer it just like that. I would need at least $x to even consider it, but I think I'll be able to get somewhat more than that in this market, so I'd be pretty disappointed by that as an offer.

To which they will then ask more literally, what do you expect to get from us? What would be a more exciting number? And you say, well, that would depend on what other offers I have at the time, wouldn't it?

They like to present it as if there is some fixed number that is fair, but the truth is, they're in competition with other employers just as much as you're in competition with other candidates. Doesn't hurt to remind them.
posted by ctmf at 9:06 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

By asking for your minimum salary, they are setting up the salary discussion to have a low anchor. If I thought to do so on the spot, I would say "if you can tell me what the maximum starting salary could be, presuming the candidate is ideal, I'll let you know if that's below my minimum."

In the end the interviewer told me to think about it, then write them again if I were still interested in the job, I guess another type of cover letter selling myself.

Now this I've never heard of. My guess is your number was low. You came across as talented in the interview, but they can't imagine someone as good as you wanting to work for so little. Of course, they said minimum, so you were just answering the question. I think in the letter I would include a few lines about this: "Please understand that the minimum salary I mentioned in the interview was just that; a minimum. It is not what I would consider fair market compensation for the position as described. An appropriate salary would be in the range of $x-$y." (where $x is 20% higher than the number you gave as your minimum)
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 3:31 PM on January 24, 2015

If they ask this question it's a clear sign that you need to move on and find a company that doesn't suck.
posted by w0mbat at 5:09 PM on January 24, 2015

« Older We give programmers what they need to get the job...   |   Finding translation customers at trade fair? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.