Hosted By

Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Chief Executive Officer Cheeky Scientist

Join us as we talk about…

In this week’s episode…

  • You’ll learn to try and deflect or vaguely accept a salary offer if the employer becomes pushy
  • Next you’ll use the standard “any reasonable offer will be considered” when first asked for your salary expectations
  • Finally, always bring the conversation back to the value you will add to the company

If you tell an employer your salary, stipend or fellowship as a PhD, you’re screwed. I sure was. My second job in industry started with a referral and then a phone screen where the hiring manager immediately asked me “what are your salary expectations?”. I thought I was smart and said “anything reasonable” which is a good first answer but I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

Next, the employer said okay, what are you making now? I couldn’t lie because this information was easily searchable, plus the person referring to me knew the ranges at my current company too, so I told them I was making $100,000. “Oh my God!” the manager exclaimed. Really? I felt awkward and almost apologized. Seriously. That’s how I felt.

Later I realized this was all a negotiation tactic. Long story short, I sheepishly accepted the first offer I was given. $99,000. Yes, they offered me $1,000 less and I was too afraid to negotiate because clearly I did something wrong, or so my imposter syndrome said, by getting paid so much already.

Navigating the interview process can be nerve-wracking, and one of the most delicate topics to tackle is the question about salary expectations. While it’s natural for potential employers to inquire about your expectations, you should never commit to a specific number right away, it can only hurt you. Here are 5 effective strategies to address the salary question without offering a precise figure.

Or, rather than stating a number, you can emphasize the value you bring to the role. By doing this, you’re subtly hinting at the level of remuneration that would be appropriate for your expertise and skills. Consider responding with: “I’m looking for a compensation package that reflects the depth of my experience and the unique value I can bring to your team. I am confident that we can reach an agreement that recognizes my worth and aligns with your company’s compensation structure.”

Of course, salary is just one component of the total compensation. Bonuses, benefits, stock options, and other perks can significantly influence a candidate’s decision. In light of this, another response you could give is “While salary is important, I’m also keen to understand the entire compensation package, including benefits, growth opportunities, and other perks. I’m flexible and am looking for a comprehensive package that matches the role’s requirements and my qualifications.”

Deferring is always the best strategy though. Remember, it’s okay to defer the conversation to a later stage when both parties have a better understanding of the fit. A diplomatic way to handle this: “I’d like to get a deeper understanding of the responsibilities, challenges, and expectations of the role. Once we establish that I’m the right fit and can deliver the results you’re looking for, I’m sure we can discuss a compensation package that’s mutually beneficial.”

Finally, don’t be afraid of seeking their budget. What’s actually on the table? They can always offer more than what’s posted. This can help gauge if your expectations align without you making the first move. You can phrase this as: “I’m curious to know the budget you’ve allocated for this position. This will give me a better understanding of the expectations and how I might fit into the organization’s compensation structure.” The key to navigating the salary question is confidence and preparation.

By doing your homework and understanding your worth, you can answer without pinning yourself down to a specific number. Whichever approach you choose, ensure that it feels authentic to you and aligns with your career goals and personal values.

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