How To Negotiate Salary During The Job Interview Process

By Mike Simpson


It makes the world go ‘round… it’s rumored to be the root of all evil… and if you listen to the old saying, it can’t buy you happiness.

Hmm. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say whoever coined that phrase hasn’t had to face the struggle of negotiating a fair salary for a job.

In a perfect world we’d all be working at jobs we love making piles of money and nobody would ever have to worry about negotiating salary.

Unfortunately we don’t and too often people end up taking jobs for a pay rate they’re not happy with…and that can lead to resentment, anger, dissatisfaction with the job, and in some cases…poor performance which can ultimately lead to, well, no job!

But when is the right time during your job interview to negotiate a salary?

How To Negotiate Salary – The “Old School Method”

There are quite a few different schools of thought on this subject, with the majority siding with the “it’s only okay to discuss it if the hiring manager brings it up first” rule…or as we like to call it, the “Old School” method.

Usually this discussion is brought up near the end of the interview.

At this point the hiring manager has generally made up their mind as to whether or not they think you’re a good fit for the job. You’ll get a smile and a nod and they’ll open with “Now, you’ll start at $X dollars an hour for your probationary period and then be eligible for a raise every year based on performance reviews.

If you’re lucky, what they’re offering is exactly what you were expecting and everyone goes home happy.

Old School can be successful, if you’re just starting out in your chosen field and don’t have a lot of experience…or if you’re the super lucky person I described above who gets exactly what they expected when they walked into that interview.

It’s also the route people who might lack confidence in their skills will find the most comfortable to deal with.

We’re here to tell you that, with the exception of the luckiest guy in the world who always gets what he wants, this method of just accepting whatever number the hiring manager starts with isn’t necessarily the best way to go – and here’s why

Interviews today are usually multi-step processes, starting with a phone interview, moving to a video interview, and often finishing up with multiple in-person interviews.

More often than not salary won’t even come up until the final interview, which means you’ve jumped through all those hoops and invested all that time and energy only to find out at the very end that what they’re offering and what you’re expecting are two very different amounts.

For some people just the lure of having a job is enough for them to accept whatever number is thrown at them, even if it’s much less than they were hoping for. That’s fine for those people…but you are not one of them!

It’s time to enroll in a “New School” way of dealing with your salary!

The “New School” Method

Here at we strongly believe that you need to have confidence in yourself and your skills. You are the ideal candidate and that confidence needs to carry all the way through everything you do… including deciding how much you’re worth.

Rather than just taking the job no matter what, you need to have an “executive mindset.

Liz Ryan, a leading expert in the world of HR, job hunting, and how to not only get your dream job but your dream salary as well, describes the “executive mindset” as the switch between thinking like a job-seeker and more like a professional in their chosen field just looking for their next assignment.

Rather than being that individual who is so grateful for a job that you take whatever they throw at you, you want to be that person that the company is so eager to bring onboard that they work to make it work for you!

So how do you go from “seeker” to “professional?”



First off, make sure it’s genuine confidence. Like we’ve said time and time again…honesty is the best policy.

Blowing up your ego and swaggering into an interview with an inflated sense of entitlement is going to get you either right back out the door and onto your butt or into a situation where you are vastly underqualified…and again…out the door on your butt.

So go in with a healthy level of confidence. Make sure you’re in charge of the interview. (No…not that you’re asking the questions…that’s the hiring manager’s job.)

Just that you’re in control of yourself and projecting a level of confidence that lets them know that they’re dealing with someone who knows exactly who they are, what they can do, and what they deserve for that work.

Of course all this requires having a strategy that starts with knowing your value…and bringing it up yourself…

Don’t wait until the very end… by then it’s too late… and don’t start your very first interview by bringing it up then either (unless this is a one interview situation…but we’ll tackle that in a bit).

Managing The Multi-Step Interview

As we’ve said before, there is absolutely no reason for you to continue with the interview if the salary for the position does not align with your expectations.  It’s really just a waste of everyone’s time, which is why we recommend that you get to the heart of the matter before moving forward.

Therefore, the sweet spot for starting salary negotiations in a multiple level process is just before the second interview.

When they call you to bring you in for a second interview, it’s your move. Open with a question, not a demand. This is a negotiation!

Let’s do a little role playing! Pretend you killed it in your first interview and things are going beautifully. The hiring manager has just called you and wants to schedule a second interview…this time in person.

You feel good about what you bring to the table and where you see yourself going with the company if you’re hired.

Now’s the time to talk bottom line!

Hiring Manager: We’d love to have you come in and meet with a few of our department heads and wanted to know if you were available later this week?

You: Is this a good time and are you the right person to have a salary conversation with?

Smooth! You’re asking…not demanding. And by including the word ‘conversation’ you’re indicating that this is a give and take scenario.

What Did You Make In Your Last Position?

This is the question that many job seekers dread, and you might be in the same boat.

But what is so darn scary?  Well, everybody knows that the moment you reveal your previous salary you have made it much more difficult for yourself to negotiate anything much better than that.

Hiring Manager: Well, do you mind me asking you what you made at your previous job, XYZ Company?

Uh oh! This question has the potential to derail your interview…especially if what you were making is far below what you want to be making. Many hiring managers will take your past salary and use that to decide how much they’ll pay you. Instead of answering it directly, think like an executive and gently deflect/redirect.

Now this is where you need to have a little courage and more importantly, confidence in yourself…

You: To be honest, I'm not sure that the salary I made in my last position is relevant with regard to this opportunity.  It was a different position with different responsibilities, not to mention with a different company (with their own budgets and salary guidelines).  More importantly, I am looking for a job that can compensate me fairly for my skills and experience.

This answer actually satisfies several criteria. You’re not answering directly and shooting down your ability to negotiate, and you’re projecting confidence and showing that you know what you’re worth.

Hiring Manager:  Well then, how much are you expecting to make at this job?

Again, another potential roadblock…but not an impossible one. This one requires some research beforehand…but you’re already a pro at that!


Before you go to an interview it’s always a good idea to determine how much other people have made doing the job you’re applying for. There are various websites out there that can give some general info, but they tend to lack the specificity needed for different regions, levels of experience, etc. A great place to get information would be from local recruiters or job-search consultants who may have familiarity with the company or the range for that position in your market.

You: I’m focusing on roles in the $60K range, so that’s a good starting point. Is this a role in that range? If so, it makes sense for me to come back for a second interview.

There you go! You’ve just let the manager know that you’re knowledgeable about the job you’re applying for, know how much it pays, and know how much you are worth doing that job! It also lets them know that you’re serious about the job and also serious about not wasting anybody’s time.

Want a variation on this answer? Try this one too:

If it turns out that I’m the candidate you hire for this position, I’m sure we’d be able to reach a mutually agreeable salary as I’m willing to be flexible. Can you give me an idea as to what the budgeted salary range is?

The goal is to give an answer that allows room for back and forth but also protects you from being trapped in a lowball position you might never be able to fully crawl out of, no matter how long you’re with the company.

But what if the hiring manager keeps asking you how much you’re currently making and your ninja deflection skills are being thwarted at every turn?


It’s hard to not just blurt it out. I know. Honesty may be the best policy…but in the case of salary negotiations…silence is golden!

No, I don’t mean sit in the chair and just stare at the hiring manager in defiance to the question…rather, follow these simple rules:

  1. Don’t lie. Don’t tell them it’s more/less than what you made in order to fit what you think the hiring manager is looking for. All you’ll do is end up looking stupid in the long run and potentially really screwing up future possibilities.
  2. Don’t tell. Nope. Don’t say a word about what you made. It’s YOUR salary! You can firmly, but politely, refuse to answer.

You: My financial information is private, as I am sure yours is as well. If you aren’t comfortable extending me an offer based on my experience and qualifications, I totally understand.

Any hiring manager who continues to press you for your past salary isn’t really interested in hiring you based on your qualifications…rather they just want to protect their bottom line…and that’s not someone you want to work for.

As Liz Ryan so sagely put it:

“As soon as you give up a past salary figure, you lose all your negotiating leverage. Most employers will not hire you in at more than ten percent over your last salary, even if they love you. They feel that ten percent is enough of a pay bump to go from one job to another.”

Remember, polite – but firm.

The “One-Shot” Interview

But what about a situation where you get just one shot at the interview process…as in “Come in right now and we’ll talk and see if you’re a good fit?”

One shot interviews are the time to break the rule about not discussing salaries within the first interview…which makes sense when you consider you only get, well, one interview.

The same rules apply here as they do to the multiple process interviews…be firm, be polite, be knowledgeable.

And again, if the numbers don’t match what you’re looking for, it’s okay to negotiate.


Not all jobs that you apply for are going to provide the opportunity for salary negotiation.  For example, most entry-level jobs will come with a well-known and firm starting salary.  Certain industries follow this mantra as well. If this is the case for the position you are interviewing for, don't come out swinging and flexing your negotiation skills.  You're there to get the job, not squeeze more money out of them.  You want to have a good understanding if this applies to the position you are interviewing for.

Salary And Your Job Application

But I wrote down what my past salary was when I filled out the application! Now what?!

Drat! Those pesky applications! Well, there’s no undoing what’s already been done…but you can absolutely still negotiate using the above strategies…and the next time you see one of those horrible little “list past salary” boxes on an application…here’s what you do:


Fill it in. Just don’t fill in what you actually made.

But hang on, isn’t that lying? You told me above that honesty was the best policy and to never ever lie!

Yes, technically…but we’re not lying…at least not directly…because you see, what you’re going to fill it in with is the salary you’re looking for right now. And you’re going to put that amount in every box that asks for past salary. Every. Single. One.

Even the box where you worked at your Dad’s garage filing spark plug paperwork. Say your target salary is $75,000 a year. Put that down.

Then in the very first open comment box that allows you to free write or type in it, make sure you write “All salary figures reported on this application reflect my current salary target.

Nobody needs to know you made $3.75 filing those spark plugs. All they need to know is you’re damn good at the job you’re applying for and you’re worth $75,000 a year to do it.

So why do it this way?

Remember, 99% of the automated applications that you fill out online are going to a machine that is going to scan them at a rate of one billion an hour (okay, might be exaggerating, but you get the picture) and the first thing they’re going to kick out are applicants that don’t fit the job they’re hiring for.

At this point you’re not lying…you’re simply getting past the first gatekeeper (computer) so you can get the chance to sit down face to face with a real hiring manager and discuss just how awesome you are in person.

Putting Your Strategy To The Test

Whew! A lot to process, I know, but you’re tough…you’re a rock star…

No wait, you’re better than that.

You’re a professional. And now, armed with the tools we’ve given you above and a healthy dose of common sense (always a good thing to keep in mind) you’re ready to take on any job search with a clear salary goal in mind and the ability to negotiate what you need.

Taking the more passive “Old School” method might get you a job faster…but in the long run, is it really the right job for you?

Taking a stand and negotiating your worth might make you uncomfortable in the short run, but when you land the job of your dreams making what you truly deserve…well, that’s the best feeling in the world!

Good luck!

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.