“The Salary Question” – How much money do you want
For maximum salary
negotiating power, remember these five guidelines
Never bring up salary. Let the interviewer do it first.
Good salespeople sell their products thoroughly before
talking price. So should you. Make the interviewer want
you first, and your bargaining position will be much
If your interviewer raises the salary question too
early, before you’ve had a chance to create desire for
your qualifications, postpone the question, saying
something like, “Money is important to me, but is not my
main concern. Opportunity and growth are far more
important. What I’d rather do, if you don’t mind, is
explore if I’m right for the position, and then talk
about money. Would that be okay?”
The #1 rule of any
negotiation is: the side with more
information wins. After you’ve done a thorough job of
selling the interviewer and it’s time to talk salary,
the secret is to get the employer talking about what
he’s willing to pay before you reveal what you’re
willing to accept. So, when asked about salary, respond
by asking, “I’m sure the company has already established
a salary range for this position. Could you tell me what
that is?” Or, “I want an income commensurate with my
ability and qualifications. I trust you’ll be fair with
me. What does the position pay?” Or, more simply, “What
does this position pay?”
Know beforehand what you’d accept. To know what’s
reasonable, research the job market and this position
for any relevant salary information. Remember that most
executives look for a 20-25%$ pay boost when they switch
jobs. If you’re grossly underpaid, you may want more.
Never lie about what you currently make, but feel free
to include the estimated cost of all your fringes, which
could well tack on 25-50% more to your present
The Illegal Question
Illegal questions include any regarding your age…number
and ages of your children or other dependents…marital
origin…birthplace…naturalization of your parents, spouse
or children…diseases…disabilities…clubs…or spouse’s
occupation…unless any of the above are directly related
to your performance of the job. You can’t even be asked
about arrests, though you can be asked about
ANSWER: Under the ever-present threat of lawsuits, most
interviewers are well aware of these taboos. Yet you may
encounter, usually on a second or third interview, a
senior executive who doesn’t interview much and forgets
he can’t ask such questions.
You can handle an illegal question in several ways.
First, you can assert your legal right not to answer.
But this will frighten or embarrass your interviewer and
destroy any rapport you had.
Second, you could swallow your concerns over privacy and
answer the question straight forwardly if you feel the
answer could help you. For example, your interviewer, a
devout Baptist, recognizes you from church and mentions
it. Here, you could gain by talking about your church.
Third, if you don’t want your privacy invaded, you can
diplomatically answer the concern behind the question
without answering the question itself.
Example: If you are over 50 and are asked, “How old are
you?” you can answer with a friendly, smiling question
of your own on whether there’s a concern that your age
my affect your performance. Follow this up by reassuring
the interviewer that there’s nothing in this job you
can’t do and, in fact, your age and experience are the
most important advantages you offer the employer for the
Another example: If asked, “Do you plan to have
children?” you could answer, “I am wholeheartedly
dedicated to my career“, perhaps adding, “I have no
plans regarding children.” (You needn’t fear you’ve
pledged eternal childlessness. You have every right to
change your plans later. Get the job first and then
enjoy all your options.)
Most importantly, remember that illegal questions arise
from fear that you won’t perform well. The best answer
of all is to get the job and perform brilliantly. All
concerns and fears will then varnish, replaced by
respect and appreciation for your work.
The “Secret” Illegal Question
Much more frequent than the Illegal question (see
Question 55) is the secret illegal question. It’s secret
because it’s asked only in the interviewer’s mind. Since
it’s not even expressed to you, you have no way to
respond to it, and it can there be most damaging.
Example: You’re physically challenged, or a single
mother returning to your professional career, or over
50, or a member of an ethnic minority, or fit any of a
dozen other categories that do not strictly conform to
the majority in a given company.
Your interviewer wonders, “Is this person really
able to handle the job?”…”Is he or she a ‘good fit’ at a
place like ours?”…”Will the chemistry ever be right with
someone like this?” But the interviewer never raises
such questions because they’re illegal. So what can you
ANSWER: Remember that just because the interviewer
doesn’t ask an illegal question doesn’t mean he doesn’t
have it. More than likely, he is going to come up with
his own answer. So you might as well help him out.
How? Well, you obviously can’t respond to an illegal
question if he hasn’t even asked. This may well offend
him. And there’s always the chance he wasn’t even
concerned about the issue until you brought it up, and
only then begins to wonder.
So you can’t address “secret” illegal questions head-on.
But what you can do is make sure there’s enough
counterbalancing information to more than reassure him
that there’s no problem in the area he may be doubtful
For example, let’s say you’re a sales rep who had polio
as a child and you need a cane to walk. You know your
condition has never impeded your performance, yet you’re
concerned that your interviewer may secretly be
wondering about your stamina or ability to travel. Well,
make sure that you hit these abilities very hard,
leaving no doubt about your capacity to handle them
So, too, if you’re in any different from what passes for
“normal”. Make sure, without in any way seeming
defensive about yourself that you mention strengths,
accomplishments, preferences and affiliations that
strongly counterbalance any unspoken concern your
interviewer may have.
What was the toughest part of your last job?
State that there was nothing in your prior position that
you found overly difficult, and let your answer go at
that. If pressed to expand your answer, you could
describe the aspects of the position you enjoyed more
than others, making sure that you express maximum
enjoyment for those tasks most important to the open
position, and you enjoyed least those tasks that are
unimportant to the position at hand.
How do you define success…and how do you measure up to
your own definition?
Give a well-accepted definition of success that leads
right into your own stellar collection of achievements.
Example: “The best definition I’ve come across is that
success is the progressive realization of a worthy
“As to how I would measure up to that definition, I
would consider myself both successful and
fortunate…”(Then summarize your career goals and how
your achievements have indeed represented a progressive
path toward realization of your goals.)
“The Opinion Question” – What do you think about
…Abortion…The President…The Death Penalty…(or any other
In all of these instances, just remember the tale about
student and the wise old rabbi. The scene is a seminary,
where an overly serious student is pressing the rabbi to
answer the ultimate questions of suffering, life and
death. But no matter how hard he presses, the wise old
rabbi will only answer each difficult question with a
question of his own.
In exasperation, the seminary student demands, “Why,
rabbi, do you always answer a question with another
question?” To which the rabbi responds, “And why not?”
If you are ever uncomfortable with any question, asking
a question in return is the greatest escape hatch ever
invented. It throws the onus back on the other person,
sidetracks the discussion from going into an area of
risk to you, and gives you time to think of your answer
or, even better, your next question!
In response to any of the “opinion” questions cited
above, merely responding, “Why do you ask?” will usually
be enough to dissipate any pressure to give your
opinion. But if your interviewer again presses you for
an opinion, you can ask another question.
Or you could assert a generality that almost everyone
would agree with. For example, if your interviewer is
complaining about politicians then suddenly turns to you
and asks if you’re a Republican or Democrat, you could
respond by saying, “Actually, I’m finding it hard to
find any politicians I like these days.”
(Of course, your best question of all may be whether you
want to work for someone opinionated.)
If you won $10 million lottery, would you still
This type of question is aimed at getting at your
bedrock attitude about work and how you feel about what
you do. Your best answer will focus on your positive
Example: “After I floated down from cloud nine, I think
I would still hold my basic belief that achievement and
purposeful work are essential to a happy, productive
life. After all, if money alone bought happiness, then
all rich people would be all happy, and that’s not true.
“I love the work I do, and I think I’d always want to be
involved in my career in some fashion. Winning the
lottery would make it more fun because it would mean
having more flexibility, more options...who knows?”
“Of course, since I can’t count on winning, I’d just as
soon create my own destiny by sticking with what’s
worked for me, meaning good old reliable hard work and a
desire to achieve. I think those qualities have built
many more fortunes that all the lotteries put together.”
Looking back on your last position, have you done
your best work?
To cover both possible paths this question can take,
your answer should state that you always try to do your
best, and the best of your career is right now. Like an
athlete at the top of his game, you are just hitting
your career stride thanks to several factors. Then,
recap those factors, highlighting your strongest
Why should I hire you from the outside when I could
promote someone from within?
Help him see the qualifications that only you can offer.
Example: “In general, I think it’s a good policy to hire
from within – to look outside probably means you’re not
completely comfortable choosing someone from inside.
“Naturally, you want this department to be as strong as
it possibly can be, so you want the strongest candidate.
I feel that I can fill that bill because…(then recap
your strongest qualifications that match up with his
Tell me something negative you’ve heard about our
Just remember the rule – never be negative – and you’ll
handle this one just fine.
On a scale of one to ten, rate me as an
Once again, never be negative. The interviewer will only
resent criticism coming from you. This is the time to
show your positivism.
However, don’t give a numerical rating. Simply praise
whatever interview style he’s been using.
If he’s been tough, say “You have been thorough and
tough-minded, the very qualities needed to conduct a
If he’s been methodical, say, “You have been very
methodical and analytical, and I’m sure that approach
results in excellent hires for your firm.”
In other words, pay him a sincere compliment that he can
believe because it’s anchored in the behavior you’ve