Salary Negotiation Starts in the Screening Call

How Not to Lose $20k in One Answer

Salary negotiation is a stressful topic for most job seekers, and it starts in the screening call.


There are two straightforward ways to become clear on what you can earn in a new role. I’ll tell you how to cover it early in the process without low-balling yourself.


Unfortunately, few job postings include information about compensation. Some companies will post explicit ranges or pay bands but that’s the exception.


No one wants to spend hours preparing for interviews and interviewing, only to receive an offer that falls short of your compensation target.


Just the thought of asking about compensation makes many job seekers anxious. They don’t want to seem like they only care about the money, so they don’t ask. Usually they just tell the recruiter what they’re targeting and undercut their earning potential.


The key is to ask in a way that doesn’t make recruiters think compensation is all you care about. Here’s how I recommend handling the two most common situations:


1) Recruiter Asks about Salary Expectations on Screening Call

The first way compensation comes up is when a recruiter asks about your salary expectations. This is when salary negotiation starts.


Answering their question is useful for transparency, but doing so before you understand the range they have budgeted often results in you leaving money on the table.


My preference is for clients to earn as much as possible, so I recommend a different approach: tell them you’re more focused on the fit of the role and company than compensation. Then ask what they have budgeted.


Q: “What are your salary expectations?”

A: “I haven’t really thought about that yet. I’m focused more on the fit of the role and company. COMPANYNAME seems like a great company to work for, so I assume you pay at or above the market rate. What do you have budgeted for the position?”


80% of the time they’ll give you a range and you can decide what to do from there.


Targeting more than the range? Bring up the discrepancy and discuss whether to move forward in the process.


If your target is in that range, thank them for sharing it and acknowledge that’s in the ballpark of what you were targeting. Then ask a different question.


2) Recruiter Doesn’t Bring it Up

When the recruiter doesn’t ask about salary, many job seekers feel uncomfortable bringing it up. They worry about coming across as money-focused, so they don’t bring it up at all. It’s easy enough to avoid that.


A less ideal scenario is you invest hours in a process, only to get an offer that’s less than you’re currently making and they don’t have more budgeted. That wastes your time and the company’s, and nobody wants that.


If you ask what’s budgeted for the role, few recruiters will give it a second thought. When you have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the conversation, I recommend this structure:


“This position seems like a great fit for me! One thing I want to check on is that compensation is in the ballpark. What do you have budgeted for this position?”


No matter how you ask, the important thing is to keep it simple. You don’t need an elaborate walk up and I recommend you avoid one. Nerves tend to make you ramble, so some would benefit from reading this verbatim. Your question doesn’t need justification and the more importance you place on it (the more you talk about it), the higher priority it appears to be.


It should be clear to the recruiter that compensation is just part of the fit, not the whole thing.


Salary negotiation starts as soon as compensation is mentioned so YES, ask about it during the interview process. Bring it up on the screening call so you can focus on rocking the interview and showing why they should hire you!

Scott Swedberg

Scott Swedberg

Scott is Founder & CEO. A former LinkedIn employee, recruiter, and hiring manager, he's known for going out of his way to offer strategic support to anyone he meets.

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