What to Say When You're Underpaid and a Hiring Manager Asks, 'How Much Do You Make?'

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By Rachel Gillett

Proving your worth during a job interview is stressful enough as it is, but when a hiring manager asks questions like "How much are you currently making?" it can be especially disconcerting when you feel undervalued or underpaid in your current role.

After all, this could very well be the reason you're considering leaving your job.

In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, a quarter of Americans confess they are unhappy with how much they're paid. And another recent Gallop poll found 42% of Americans are either making the same or less money than they were making five years ago.

As Steven Steinfeld, career and job search coach and author of "3 Steps to Your Best Job Ever!" explains, your salary history isn't all that relevant since your new job and company will never be exact matches with your last job and company.

But while these questions have little relevance to your new-hire potential, they still get asked, which is why it's vital to come up with a plan of action.

Here's what you'll want to do:1. Know your worth
"By doing salary research and knowing your market value you can break the cycle of being underpaid," says Ryan Kahn, a career coach, founder of The Hired Group, and author of "Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad."

Steinfeld recommends researching salary trends and ranges for your job in your geographic area on websites like Salary.com, PayScale.com, BLS.gov, Glassdoor.com, and Indeed.com. He says you should check at least two of these sites before you head into your first interview.

2. Dodge and weave
Steinfeld says to avoid answering questions about current salary if possible until you are offered the job, which is when salary negotiation should begin. Instead, say, "I am open," or "I am flexible."

If hiring managers persist, ask about the salary amount they have budgeted for the position, Steinfeld suggests. You could say, "This job is very different from my last job and the compensation package at my last company included a bonus program and extremely good benefits. If you tell me how much you have budgeted for the position, I can tell you if it is in the range I am expecting."

If you're lucky, Steinfeld says they could mention a number higher than what you were expecting.

3. Highlight your function, not your pay
When your current job title doesn't reflect all you do in your current role, which often goes hand-in-hand with being underpaid, Steinfeld suggests giving interviewers your current title but also including an explanation of your responsibilities and accomplishments.

Kahn says a functional title that better encapsulates your duties can also be added with your actual title on your résumé. "The key is to make sure the functional title you select is not inflated in any way," he cautions. You could put the functional title in parentheses, italics, or following a dash.

And don't forget to emphasize your work accomplishments by highlighting how much revenue or cost savings you've generated for your current company, he says.

4. Give a desired range, not a concrete number
If hiring managers continue to press you for a number, rather than tell them exactly how much you make, you should focus on the salary range that you have researched for the position you want.

Steinfeld advises you give a wide-range based on your research and never include a number lower than what you would accept.

If, for example, the salary range for the position is between $60,000 and $75,000, but you won't accept less than $65,000, you could say, "My current salary is in the high 50s, but based on my experience and the salary range in this area for this position, I would be comfortable earning between $65,000 to $80,000."

5. Stay positive
Throughout your discussions, shy away from negative talk and focus on your future advancement. "The last thing you want to do is make excuses or throw your former employer under the bus," Kahn says.
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