How do you gracefully answer these questions in a job interview?

My job search has officially started, and after the first few slow weeks of putting the finishing touches on my resume and setting up all sorts of search engines to help identify just the right opportunities, activity is picking up. I’ve had several successful (in my mind, anyway) phone interviews, and I have booked the first two face-to-face interviews.

In the process of email and phone screenings, however, I have come across a few questions that stump me. Both about money, of course.

But before I start that rant, can I first just officially declare that I don’t really like email “screenings.” I’ve had one or two companies email a list of questions they want me to answer before deciding to set up a phone or personal interview. Really? You can’t pick up the phone and have a live conversation for 15-20 minutes, get to know me a bit better? Do I sound like a Scrooge for saying that? Are these HR folks so young that they’ve grown up texting and don’t know how to have a quick phone call?

Anyway, here are the two questions that I have trouble with. And I really believe that my own prejudices as a former hiring manager might have something to do with my concerns.

“What is your current or most recent compensation?” Really, I don’t have a problem talking about this IF I’M APPLYING FOR A SIMILAR JOB. But I’m testing out the waters on moving my career in a new direction, so when I apply for an individual contributor-level job in, say, academia rather than the corporate world, I already know that drawing any comparisons to my former rank and pay scale are futile. Please…I applied for the job knowing that. Don’t insult my intelligence. And don’t rule out my application just because of the number I write down.

Having said that, I need you to know that, when applying for different job types, I don’t answer this question. Instead, I reply with something like, “I fully understand that this position will have a completely different salary range than my former management role and its responsibilities. I’d be happy to disclose my former salary as part of my background check once we both determine I’m a good fit for the role.”

“What are your salary expectations for this role?” Okay, this one is a little more fair, I suppose. Why bother heading down a path with a candidate who wants double what you’re willing to pay? HOWEVER, what if, during the interview, you learn that I have secret magical skills that you weren’t expecting me to have? Wouldn’t that make me an even more valuable candidate? Again, if the role is of the same pedigree as my previous roles, I already know what I hope to be paid. If the job is in my backyard, I’m willing to give up a little. If the job requires a tiresome commute and expensive parking, then I’m going to ask for a bit more.

One role that I’m interested in posted the listing advertising what the range was. Many jobs in education, healthcare, or government do that as well. That’s a huge help. I can assess how comfortable I feel with my qualifications against your needs, and then ask for something appropriate within the range.

Sigh. It’s just tough after not asking for money for more than a decade. And at many companies, coming in at the right level determines a lot about your future.

How do you answer these questions?

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