Compensation Trials and Tribulations

Q. I am relocating to Boston from a small town out of state. Prospective employers are asking what salary I was making and using that as a basis for what they will offer. This is comparing apples to oranges. I do not see the relevance of what I was making in a small town versus a large metropolitan area. How can I politely ask what they are offering?

A. Welcome to the big city! Prospective employers want to know what all candidates were making in their prior jobs, not just those who are relocating. Salary comparisons do set the tone for what an organization might offer you. “Comps” provide information about where you were in a certain salary band or grade, particularly when a title doesn’t offer as much information as needed to differentiate the many levels within one role.


But you now have tools to help you. For many years organizations bought propriety research relating to salary surveys in a variety of industries. The government provided information comparing cost of living in various geographic areas. Companies used these tools and others to make competitive offers for new hires and to provide equal standards of living to employees who were asked to relocate from rural to urban settings or the reverse.

With these tools now easily accessible to job hunters through sites like, you are equipped with the same kind of research that companies have had at their disposal for years. The information they are asking of you is relevant so don’t have a bad attitude about being asked questions. Anticipate these questions, prepare for them, and develop answers which will work in your favor.


When you are asked about your previous compensation, your answer would include: “At my previous firm, I was making in the high $XXX’s which was the top of that salary band. My research suggests that this geographic area carries a 25 to 30 % higher cost of living, with a matching increase in competitive pay for a role with these responsibilities and someone with my level of experience. What is the compensation range you have for this role?”.

This statement needs to be made in one breath, and with confidence. You may be asked where you got your research, which you will easily be able to discuss. You gain information about the range set for this position. It isn’t an offer but you now have information about their thoughts about the role, and the company has a clear view of what you will see as a competitive offer based in data, and not just desire.


There are other ways to get additional specific information from other web sites including, which offers “inside information about jobs & companies”. This information includes interview questions, compensation data, and comments about cultures of specific organizations. Make sure to compare any web data you receive with other sources like placement or search people, and from former employees who may be available to you via LinkedIn.

This preparation and a good attitude about sharing actual information and data should get you the competitive offer you are looking for.

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