It’s never been easier to see how much a job will pay before you go into an interview.
More than a dozen states, cities, counties and Washington, D.C. have passed pay disclosure laws, where employers of a certain size are required to list the salary range of an open job. And more than 1 in 4 workers in the U.S. now lives in a place where they’re entitled to see pay ranges on job ads.
But once you have that information, how can you actually leverage pay ranges to negotiate a job offer?
It’s as simple as asking one straightforward question in a job interview, says Chanelle Howell, 31, a New York City-based recruiter who’s interviewed hundreds while working for Goldman Sachs, Bridgewater Associates and through her own consulting company.
She recently gave this example: Say you’re interviewing for a position that states the salary range is $100,000 to $150,000.
In an interview with the hiring manager or recruiter, ask: “Can you tell me what skills and experiences separate the $100,000 candidate from the $150,000 candidate?”
This question will prompt the interviewer to explain their compensation strategy for the role. For example, they might say a candidate in the top end of the range has a certain number of years in the field, managed a certain number of people, led specific projects or is an expert in specific skills.
Use this information to then shape what skills and accomplishments you can discuss based on your own background. The key is to repeat these qualities throughout your interview, Howell says, to help build your case for why you’re a star candidate.
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Then, “later in the negotiation process, you can use their literal words to justify why you deserve more money,” Howell says. By the time you reach final conversations and get a verbal offer, it’s time to run through how you meet the expectations of a top-paid candidate, then counter the offer with your desired pay at the top end of the range.
“The key is to push your potential employer to quantify exactly why someone deserves that dollar amount and then to create your story around that,” Howell says.
Put another way, “get them to give you the answers.”
What to do if you don’t know the salary range
Even if you don’t live in a state or city where pay range disclosures are required by law, you can still point out that it’s a growing practice and that you’d like to apply it in your situation: “Given new pay transparency laws, a lot of companies are sharing pay ranges with candidates. Can you share the range for this role?”
Howell says she’s seen this strategy work “time and time again” among the people she coaches. One recent client who works in marketing used this framework to negotiate a 20% increase in the initial offer, or a roughly $15,000 to $20,000 boost.
Of course, in addition to presenting herself well during the interview, “she was the best candidate,” Howell adds.
Some job descriptions may list salary ranges that are too wide to be helpful. In those cases, still ask what puts a candidate at the top of the range. For example, a recruiter might say the top of the range is reserved for someone with decades of experience, or a level of seniority you don’t have yet. If that’s the case, Howell recommends asking what the median pay level is expected to be, and what helps a qualified candidate stand out even a little more than that.
And just because you don’t get the very top of the range right away doesn’t mean you won’t work your way there. Howell says it’s possible the posted range includes the salary growth expected of the role after a few years.
Remember that the base pay range doesn’t always consider total compensation, Howell adds. Other elements like a signing bonus, performance-based bonuses and equity can be negotiated at a later stage.
That’s especially important as wage growth has slowed following a post-pandemic rise.
Ultimately, “your first calls with the recruiter or hiring manager are fact-finding missions to use those tidbits of information to build your case at the end and state why you deserve more money,” Howell says.
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