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The question:

I am a senior public affairs official at a non-profit organization and am looking for opportunities with other employers. Similar positions in the private sector pay 25 per cent to 50 per cent more than what I currently make.

When I am asked about my current salary during interviews for private-sector jobs, I worry that my accomplishments will be underrated and that any offer I get will be less than the position merits because of my lower salary.

How should I handle this? I don't want to lie, but if I refuse to answer it may come across as being evasive for some reason. What do people usually do when faced with this issue when moving from the public to private sector?

The answer:

I want to acknowledge you for the work you are doing in the non-profit sector. Often people are willing to forgo larger compensation packages in the private sector to work on behalf of social, environmental, health and other important groups and causes in the not-for-profit sector. You should wear this as a badge of honour as opposed to considering it an impediment in landing an appropriately compensated position in the private sector.

Shift your perspective regarding your salary and your work in the not-for-profit. Be proud of your work and your decision to be of service in the non-profit sector. Know your worth and ask for what you want in compensation. Let go of your fears that you will not get an offer or an appropriate salary offer because of your non-profit role.

With respect to when you are asked the question regarding salary, you are certainly not alone in wondering how to address this often touchy issue. Remember to only discuss salary after the interviewers bring it up. Do not ask about the salary level unless they broach the subject first.

Remember to answer honestly and directly. Do not lie. Do not refuse to answer the question. The interviewers will think that you are hiding something.

Instead of giving your current salary you can often give a range of salary that you are interested in receiving. Do your research on the pay scale for the positions and companies that you are applying for. You can indicate that you are aware that salaries are lower in the non-profit sector, and that your desire is to be paid at an appropriate rate for private-sector companies.

If you are not landing the positions that you desire in the private sector then it may not have anything to do with the salary level question. You will want to follow-up with the interviewers and ask why you are not getting the job offers you want. Ask them specifically if your previous salary level had anything to do with their decision not to hire you.

Take note of what feedback they give you and take steps to address those areas. Practice your interview and presentation skills, including the salary question with a friend, career counsellor or coach. Video your sessions and get feedback on your style, answers, comfort level, confidence and your listening and presentation skills.

Bruce Sandy is Principal of Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting and

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