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Advice / Job Search / Job Offer

Here's How to Recover After You Ask for Too Much Money in an Interview

“So, what are you thinking in terms of a salary range?”

It’s a seemingly simple question, often thrown in at the very end of an interview process, that can be extremely difficult to answer. No matter how much confidence you have in your response, there’s always the possibility that your interviewer will say your salary range is way more than he can pay. How can you backtrack if you really want the job?

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry—it’s definitely possible to turn things around. Here are some tried-and-true steps that will help you keep the conversation going and settle on a solution.

1. Ask the Interviewer to Share the Full Salary Package

After you’ve given your number and sense some hesitation, ask the interviewer if he can share the position’s salary range with you. While there may be a little wiggle room in that figure, it’s unlikely he’ll give you a range that is too far off from what he’s willing to pay.

Make sure to also ask about any other additional compensation, such as equity, commissions, and annual bonuses, so you have a complete picture of the salary package. It’s possible that the number is low—but the “all-in” salary is much more reasonable when you consider the combined components.

2. End the Conversation, But Schedule a Follow-Up

Once you’ve gathered the information you need from your interviewer, it’s time to end this part of the conversation so you have a little time to think. Wrap up by reiterating your interest in the position, so the company doesn’t write you off and make the offer to someone else. You should also ask to schedule a follow-up call or meeting, so the interviewer knows when you’ll be telling him whether you’re interested in the role at his salary range.

3. Do Your Research (Again)

Now it’s time to dig in and try to understand where your salary mismatch came from. Was your market value estimate off, or were you spot-on and the company proposed something way too low?

Make sure to check websites like Glassdoor and Quora for salary information for either the exact role you’re applying for (this is best if you’re applying for a standard role at a big company, such as a sales associate at Salesforce) or similar roles (i.e., at companies that are comparable in size and sector).

If your college or university has a good career services office, you can also call and ask what the average salary is for someone from your year in your sector. While determining a fair salary for the position probably won’t change the offer you’ve received, it will give you necessary context to help you decide how to move forward.

4. Make a Decision

Now that you have a sense of whether your interviewer’s salary range is fair and aligned with compensation for similar roles, it’s time to make a decision.

There are a number of factors to consider—for example, the amount of money you need to make for personal budgeting reasons and whether you could make a higher salary doing the same work at another company.

Whatever you decide, it’s important that you are firm with yourself about your decision (i.e., “I can not accept a salary that is less than $40,000”); that will enable you to give your interviewer an honest bottom line that you’ll feel comfortable with.

5. Be Honest and Direct

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do, it’s time to follow up. Whatever your decision, the most important thing to keep in mind is to only give a final number if you really mean it.

For example, you can let the interviewer know that you think a higher salary is justified, but if you tell him that you will only take a salary above a certain amount, he may decide to take you at your word and not give you an offer—and you have to be prepared for that.

Be direct and open about your situation, do your research, practice what you’re going to say, and be honest with yourself (and your interviewer)—and you’ll be much more likely to come to a solution that works for both of you.

Photo of piggy bank courtesy of Shutterstock.