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How to answer the salary question

The question that most candidates dread, usually comes close to the end of an interview:

“So, what is your expected salary?”. . . .

Best practice tells us that disclosing the salary before candidates reach interview is the fairest and most effective way to recruit.   Most non-profits are coming around to this way of thinking, but in South Africa the majority of roles advertised still don’t “Show the Salary”.

So, it comes up at interview and you, the candidate, need to know how to deal with it.  Even if the salary is expressed as a range, you are still very likely to be asked about how much you want to be paid for the role.

What do you do when it gets asked?  Here are some tips and scenarios below to make sure you receive what you deserve.

  • Tip #1:  Do not ask them how much you will make BEFORE they raise the subject. If they haven’t told you, they will.   If you ask first, employers will suspect you are not truly interested in the work – just the pay.   Put yourself in a better bargaining position and make them ask you.

  • Tip #2: Benchmark the salary range by researching similar positions with other NPOs and finding out the salary for those.  Try and find out what other roles the potential employer has and what they pay. EG if you are applying for a role as marketing officer, you might be able to find out what they pay their fundraising officer – they are likely to be similar.

  • Tip #3: If they have set a target for the role, compare yourself to that target.  Let them see that an investment in you isn’t about how much you cost, it’s about how much you produce. If they have to pay 10% more for you, but you can produce twice what the target is – they’ve got a bargain.

  • Tip #4: No matter how much you are tempted to make them an unbeatable offer, do not mention a figure lower than the base rate for your role. Employers will either agree on that rate, leaving you happy you have a job but unfulfilled because you are now stuck with a low rate. Or the employer will decline that rate and your employment because they feel you do not value yourself.

  • Tip #5: Do not name a price that is too high. Unless you are so qualified that a multitude of employers are reaching out to you to work for them… no one will pay you higher than needed, unless you are unmistakeably one of a kind. Instead, ask if there is room for growth in the organisation, list your skills and achievements, and see if you can direct the conversation until they reveal that a higher figure might be a possibility.

  • Tip #7: Don’t be drawn into answering a question about what you currently earn.  Tell them that your current role is very different from this position, and your current employer is very different from them, so it wouldn’t be a fair comparison.   Tell them what you estimate the salary is for their role, how you came to that figure, and that you would be happy with that figure due to the additional responsibilities involved over your current role.

Image Credit: Salary by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

Bruce Tait

Director, Charity Careers Africa

Bruce is a well-known international NPO expert.  He has worked as a Consultant, Chief Executive and Director of Fundraising at multiple NPOs in Europe, North America and Africa. In 2007, Bruce set up his first NPO recruitment agency and now operates 6 ethical search firms around the world.
He pioneered values-based recruitment, and has worked to promote diversity in the non-profit sector. His team at Charity Careers Africa will guide and inform you throughout the recruitment process.

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