Mark Levine
Mark Levine
Managing Director: In-house

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How to (best) answer the salary question at an interview

If you’re interviewing for a new legal job via a legal recruitment agency, you should have knowledge of the client’s budget, which should help with your answer.

Looking at in-house legal recruitment in particular, it’s fairly normal for individuals to receive a circa 10 per cent increase on their current salary. However, there are times when it might be appropriate to seek out more than this. If you’re relocating to the regions from a magic circle law firm in the City, you’ll be lucky to get away with a 50% decrease!

I can think of two recent examples where lawyers provided a figure at the interview – one they weren’t happy with; maybe it’s nerves or good old fashioned Britishness that makes us hate talking about money!

Whatever the reason, it makes it more difficult when an offer comes through at the stated ‘happy with salary’ amount; we have to go back to request a higher figure. To avoid this, there are some things to think about pre-interview.

Before you interview, think about the following…

Is your current salary appropriate?

Most lawyers think in PQE level and this is a good starting point, but as you gain more experience, the role you play in your organisation might be at a higher or lower level than other lawyers in the market. In addition, location has an impact and some sectors pay higher than others.

Lawyers with management experience can often command more than those without it. An experienced legal recruiter should be able to offer you a guide on where you sit in the market and what salary range you should consider.

Should you sacrifice salary for experience?

If you’re on an appropriate salary and looking for a step up, then you might feel the move you’re searching for should pay you c£15-20K more than you’re on now. Can you justify this at interview? Or, do you need to recognise that although you might be the chosen lawyer for the role, you don’t have all the skills yet, which means, you have much to gain by undertaking the role. So, although the role was advertised as paying £20K more than your current salary, a ‘fair deal’ is £10K above what you’re currently on; with an agreement in place that outlines what you need to do over the next 12 months to receive the extra money.

Is your current salary below market rate?

Perhaps, for some reason, you sit below market rate. You need to be able to explain why you feel this is the case and why you’re justified in asking this new company to be the one to get you back on track.

Benefits, benefits, benefits

Know what your current benefits package is worth and how this compares with the company you’re interviewing at. For example, if you base your answer (regarding salary) on the premise that the benefits on offer (at the new company) are exactly the same as those at your current company, to later find you need to pay for private medical insurance yourself, you could be looking at an additional £1,000 cost (for a family) that you hadn’t anticipated.

At the interview, here are my recommendations

Talk salary brackets (but get it right!)

Aim towards the higher level (but remain reasonable). For example, if you’re on £48K and you say you’re looking for between £50K and £60K, the recruiting client will often hear the lowest amount. It might be that you’re actually hoping for at least £53-55K, so when the company comes in at £50K - £52K, feeling like they’ve matched or gone above your expectations, in reality, they haven’t! So it’s much better to state £55-£60K at interview and see what comes your way!

Be confident in your response

Many questions asked during an interview are in part to hear your answer, but also to see how you respond. It’s much better to come across as confident and self-assured, rather than shying away or stuttering in answering the salary question. It’ll reveal you know your worth, and although you might be open to negotiation, you’re not going to accept what the company can ‘get away with’.

Explain your reasoning

If you prepare a well-considered and data-informed answer, you’ll ensure you’re not pitching yourself too low or aiming beyond market norms. Also, by giving an honest and informed response, you’ll help the interviewer understand whether your expectations align and if things go well, what sort of salary is attractive enough to get you on board (reminding them that the benefits package counts as well!).

Consider all of the above and you’ll be more than ready to answer the question – in fact, you might end up hoping it comes up!

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