Talking turkey! Broaching the subject of salary at interview

Recently, I found myself at a meeting with the Head of Recruitment of one of our major national clients. The conversation turned to the subject of salaries and how the question is broached at interview. It still surprises me how often this aspect of the recruitment process is ignored, (or perhaps actively avoided) by interviewer and candidate alike. Some candidates ask me how go about negotiating salary at interview so I thought it might be helpful to set out a couple of points.


Salary negotiation – a candidate perspective

As an established legal recruiter in Manchester, we deal with job offers for candidates on a regular basis. But often this happens after an offer has been made. It is arguable that it is better to broach the issue of salary expectations for a given law job before or during the interview itself, though candidates may often find this topic a bit more of a challenge. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. It’s simply not the done thing!

Many people still feel uncomfortable talking about money in general, let alone mentioning the subject of salary at a job interview. This is a cultural thing. I spent a brief amount of time in Beijing a number of years ago. Here, the Chinese don’t think twice about enquiring as to you how much you are paid, or indeed how much your house is worth, or the cost of your wrist watch! Us Brits would never dream of asking such a sensitive question, (well, not in such a direct way anyway). How much we are remunerated is a closely kept secret, often guarded jealously.

  1. Fear of pitching oneself too low or too high

This is understandable. No candidate, especially one who is particularly keen on the legal role in question is going to want to jeopardise their position by ‘pricing themselves out of the market’. Nor will they want to undervalue themselves by stating a figure, when they might have been offered more had they said nothing at all.

  1. Lack of experience

This may certainly be the case for more junior candidates such as newly qualified solicitors. That said, even more experienced candidates who find themselves looking for a law job may be a little out of practice.

negotiating-salary amended

A few useful tips

It’s important to think about salary before you attend any interview. A good legal recruiter should have already had a discussion with you concerning your salary expectations, which they will have fed back to the hiring law firm. You should really be made aware of the salary parameters of any legal job on application. That said, it is always wise to have good idea on how to approach the issue of salary should it arise. So, here are a few hopefully helpful tips:

  1. Be aware of your position

Should you be nearing the end of your training contact and applying for newly qualified Solicitor jobs on qualification, most firms will have a set levels of remuneration for NQs, so there will be very little, if no, position for substantive negotiation. Furthermore, if you are a fee earner with a higher degree of experience, applying to another law firm, try and get a feel for what they generally offer for fee earners at your level within a given specialism. A good legal recruitment agency should be able to assist with this.

  1. Never be too guarded or too gung-ho!

People have different reasons for wishing to move. For some it is more client contact. For others, it is career progression, whilst there are those who may feel they are genuinely underpaid for the work they do. On the other hand, it could be that salary is not the driving factor. That said, I would always warn against saying things like “the salary is not as important… it’s all about the role“. There’s always a chance that a shrewd employer could put in a low offer. Similary, don’t be the candidate who states a conditional salary of X and gives the negotiation nowhere to go eg: “I’m not going to move for anything less than £50,000!”

  1. Build your argument

Explain what you’re looking for and how you have come to that reasoning. If you feel you are underpaid, back it up with some relevant market data. A legal recruitment consultant should be able to assist you. Salary surveys are also a useful tool. Furthermore, re-iterate the experience you have gained to-date. In other words, demonstrate that you’ve done some thinking and some research and you have reached a reasoned figure by carrying out some proper research.

  1. Set out a ‘marker’, but leave room for further negotiation

After building your argument, you may wish to set out a figure that you have in mind, but leave the door open for further discussion eg: “Having looked into things and done my own research, I’m looking for something around X, but I’d be keen to hear your thoughts…”

It’s also important to tune into the conversation and to read the reaction of the interviewer to try and gauge if what you’re asking is appropriate. If you sense that it is not the right time to discuss salary, then don’t, but you should always have a plan at the back of your mind just in case you are put on the spot.

At the end of the day, unless you are in the position to play hard ball, the golden rule is to try and turn this kind of situation into more of a discussion. Never leave yourself with nowhere to go and always leave the door open for further negotiation.


Bydand Legal offers coaching to all candidates on how to hone your particular approach. Should you require any guidance of have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a confidential discussion.