One of the most common and crucial questions asked during a job interview is, “What are your salary expectations?” This question can be tricky and may induce anxiety and stress in the interviewee. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
So, what are the reasons why recruiters and hiring managers ask this question? How would you answer this by not overpricing or underselling yourself to them?
According to experts, here are some tips and examples on how to answer “what are your salary expectations” in an interview:
Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Credit One Bank
Be honest with yourself about what your motivations are
Your motivations for interviewing with a company should drive how you approach the answer to this question.
For example, perhaps you are entertaining an opportunity in an entirely different industry or a brand-new functional area to acquire various skills and experiences that can take your career in a new direction.
In that case, you might be more inclined to settle for lower compensation at the outset, given your longer-term career aspirations.
On the flip side, perhaps you are being recruited heavily by a company or a search firm, but you’re perfectly happy and fulfilled with your current employer.
In this case, you likely wouldn’t take a new role unless it offered substantially higher compensation. The point is that your circumstances should frame how you think about your response to the question.
Ask what the salary range is for the position
Many jurisdictions now require companies to disclose salary ranges to external candidates.
So, when your interviewer asks you what your salary expectations are, rather than making the first move that could scare your prospective employer away or leave money on the table that they might have been prepared to pay, ask them what the salary range is for the position.
Most companies should be prepared to answer that question and potentially even give you the specific salary (and bonus if applicable) they’re targeting to pay. From there, you can respond in a manner consistent with your motivations.
If you are being recruited for the role
For example, suppose you are being recruited for the role and are only lukewarm about it because of your current position and employer.
Signal that the range or amount quoted was lower than expected
In that case, you can signal that the range or amount quoted was lower than expected, and it may be a stretch for you to consider a move unless they can entertain higher compensation.
If you have a strong interest in securing the position
Signal that the amount is reasonable with your expectations
On the other hand, if you have a strong interest in securing the position, you can signal that the amount is consistent with your expectations or that the range they quote seems reasonable.
You can negotiate your position in the range once you’ve landed a job offer.
If they are unwilling to share a salary range or target compensation amount
Defer the issue
First, you can defer the issue and state that your interest in the position remains high and that you’re confident that you’d be able to come to terms on a suitable offer package should you be selected as the finalist candidate.
This approach risks you being surprised and/or disappointed if they extend an offer to you. Your expectations may be misaligned with what they’re prepared to pay.
However, it keeps you in the running for the position since compensation expectations can be a reason for a company to knock you out of its recruitment process.
Declare your compensation expectations
The other option is to declare your compensation expectations. The advantage of this approach is that you will be able to gauge quickly whether your expectations are aligned with theirs.
Ask how they feel about the amount you quoted
If they don’t offer an opinion on the matter at the moment, be sure to ask how they feel about the amount you quoted. If they say it’s something they can work with, you know you might have negotiating room should you receive a formal offer.
Let them know it’s negotiable if you’re inclined
If they express hesitancy over the amount, you can let them know it’s negotiable if you’re inclined. Again, it all comes back to your motivations for entertaining this opportunity in the first place.
Don’t disclose your current salary
Not so long ago, companies would ask finalist candidates — particularly those in the running for senior roles — to provide proof of current earnings. Given an array of legislative and regulatory changes, it’s a practice that has quickly become obsolete.
Suppose a prospective employer pushes you to provide evidence of your current compensation. In that case, that should be a red flag that this organization is perhaps not an employer of choice and, worse, may be engaging in something illegal.
Related: What Not to Say in a Job Interview
Start by reflecting on your motivations
In summary, start by reflecting on your motivations for speaking with the prospective employer in the first place. Those motivations should inform your response to the question about your salary expectations.
Look for openness on the part of the hiring organization
Regardless of those motivations, look for openness on the part of the hiring organization; given legislative and regulatory changes, they should be inclined to share the position’s salary range even if you don’t specify your expectations.
Founder, Effort Wise
When you get asked, “What are your salary expectations?” it can be shocking. Suddenly you’re in the midst of a negotiation, and how you respond to the question may determine whether you’re thrown out immediately or moved through to the next round of interviews.
Get them to tell you what they’re offering
Upon being asked this question of how much you want to be paid for your work, your goal should be to turn it around on them and get them to tell you what they’re offering.
If that doesn’t work, meaning the other person is skilled at giving a non-answer and turning it back on you, then your goal should be to provide them with a non-committal answer and turn it around again.
Here’s what that looks like:
Hiring Manager: “What are your salary expectations?”
You: “Given my skills and experience — which you can assess for yourself — I’d be targeting the high end of the range you’re offering for the role. What is the approved range you’re working with?”
Hiring Manager: “Well, if we get the right fit for the role, we want to make sure the candidate will be happy with what they’re getting, but we also want to make sure that we can afford it. Any idea what you’d be satisfied with?”
You: “Well, from my research, I’ve seen that people in similar roles and with my level of effectiveness tend to make from [your desired salary] to [30% over your desired salary], but of course, every company has different priorities and constraints. As you said, you need to be able to afford it. So what is the salary range that you can offer for this role?”
Keeps things hypothetical
The second answer keeps things hypothetical while probing with a range of numbers. It’s a way to avoid confrontation and anchor the other side to the number you want without committing to anything specific.
Since you’ve said an actual range of numbers, they will be more likely to reciprocate with their own range.
Move things forward slowly and give a little information
Negotiation is a tricky process, especially when you feel like you’re at a disadvantage, such as in an interview. The best strategy is to move things forward slowly. Probe without committing, and see what reaction you get.
Give a little information, and see if they reciprocate. Above all, remember that every negotiation isn’t just an opportunity to get more of what you want.
It’s also an opportunity to test the other side and see if they’re the partners you want to negotiate with. Transparent employers are sometimes more valuable than a high salary.
Reasons why recruiters and hiring managers ask this question
They want to disqualify people quickly
First, they want to disqualify people quickly, especially if they have many applicants. They’ll take any reason to narrow down the pool initially, so the decision isn’t as hard in the end.
It’s lazy but makes sense because humans like to take shortcuts when faced with hard choices.
They want to anchor you to a number
The second reason for the question is to anchor you to a number. If you say a number within their acceptable range, they may not have to give you more than that. It’s unlikely that you’ll say the very highest end of their acceptable range.
Predictive Index Certified Practitioner | Director, People and Engagement & HR Consulting Services, Atrium Staffing
The salary expectation question is probably the one that causes the most angst during a job interview.
Be prepared by doing the research before the interview
So it is important to be prepared with an answer that you believe will not only help land you the position but also provide you with a salary commensurate with your skills and experience and one that you would be happy with.
While there are currently 17 states with pay transparency laws, most do not have these laws in place. So, if you are not interviewing for a job in one of these states, you need to be prepared!
It is essential to research before you enter the interview. Find out what comparable positions are paying, and be realistic about the amount you ask for, as you don’t want to undervalue your experience, nor be so unrealistic to price yourself out of a position, either.
Many recruiting firms, including ours, publish salary guides which are helpful tools for applicants and candidates alike!
Be frank by telling the exact amount you’re seeking
What should you do when asked the question? Be frank. Tell them an exact salary you are seeking rather than a range because if you give them a range, you can expect that they will come in at the lower (or, if you are lucky, the mid) part of that range.
You can respond to their question like this:
“Most of the positions I’ve been interviewing for are offering $XXXXX dollar per year, so that is what my expectation is for this position.”
Ask for more information about the position
Ask for more information about the position and extent of responsibilities — especially if the position doesn’t align with others you’ve seen posted.
Another alternative is to answer a question with a question, saying something like this:
“I’ve liked what I’ve heard from you so far about the company and the position. But I’m not sure of the full extent of the responsibilities. Can you tell me what the position has been budgeted for?”
This is particularly helpful if the posting doesn’t fully align (from a responsibilities standpoint) with other jobs you are seeing posted.
When companies are creating new roles, merging two parts into one, or redesigning a department, it can be hard to benchmark salaries against other organizations. In these cases, employers are looking for hard-to-find talent.
Be confident and comfortable with your approach
If you are that person with the broad skill set the role is seeking, pushing your salary expectations to be a bit above what you are seeing posted could be the best strategy for ensuring you are compensated appropriately for the level and volume of work the job entails.
Either of these approaches can work, and you, the candidate, need to respond with the method you feel most comfortable with.
Content and Marketing Manager, SpeakingNerd
We all love the idea of interviews, and in the path of our career advancement, we do have to appear for multiple interviews over time. However, we will all agree that the most awkward interview question for most of us is, “What are your salary expectations?”
This question gets us thinking, and this is where we face a little dilemma. The dilemma is whether we should be honest and upfront about our salary expectations or play a little diplomatic and not answer that question with exactitude.
You should answer this question effectively
However, in any way, we need to answer this question and answer it effectively. At the same time, we are answering this question, neither do we want to degrade ourselves by settling for anything less than expected, nor do we want to seem too overconfident.
Explain your salary expectations in terms of your experience and skills
While answering this question, you should back your skills and experience. This is where self-awareness and your understanding of the job market come into the picture.
Politely, you should try to explain your salary expectations in terms of your:
- zeal to learn whatever it takes to fit into the new role
If you can back your salary expectations with great confidence, that has the recruiters interested throughout the interview.
Give them a figure below which you would not want to settle
For instance, you can tell them:
“Given my experience and skill set, I am at least expecting USD 25000 per annum, and I would not want to settle for less than that.”
Express your salary expectations through a salary range
For example, you can say:
“I am expecting something between USD 25000 per annum to USD 30000 per annum.”
Express these without sounding overconfident
When you put it across this way, you would have clearly expressed what you seek without sounding overconfident and someone who is not self-aware.
Justify a higher salary expectation if the job requires you to relocate to a new city
In all humility and simplicity, you can tell them that since you will be moving to a new city and the cost of living will be high, you expect the salary to be inclusive of some perks that can help you cope with the increased cost of living that would involve accommodation expenses and other miscellaneous expenses.
The bottom line is to stay confident, act genuine and explain everything well in a graceful manner when you put out your salary expectations there.
Recruiter | Personal Development Coach
If you are interviewing, you will likely come across the question, “What are your salary expectations?” I know it’s likely because I’ve been a recruiter for over seven years and ask this question in every interview, regardless of the role level.
My purpose for this is to ensure that we are aligned pay-wise. While fit, location, flexibility, etc., are all important, it is a waste of your and my time if we don’t align, at least closely, on the pay scale.
Give the range that you are comfortable with
What I’m looking for is the range that you are comfortable with. If your range does not align with the company, I will typically disclose that at this point to find out if either side is flexible enough that we could get close enough to still proceed with the conversation.
If we are too far off, we don’t waste additional time. It also allows me to get a better idea of the level you are at professionally. This helps me gauge if you might be a good and closer fit for a different role.
But it also should be in alignment with the position
The range you provide should be what you are comfortable with but also in alignment with the position. It is preferred that you provide an hourly and annual salary range as some positions may seem salary but are hourly, and some seem hourly but are salary.
Providing both helps the recruiter not have to do the math to convert it if you provide it in the form the position doesn’t fall into.
Avoid answering “don’t know”
The range can be as broad or narrow as you like, but typically a $5,000-$10,000 difference for annual and $2-$5 difference for hourly is preferred. A range too extensive or answering with “don’t know” can give the impression you are not prepared or serious about the role.
Asking the company’s range for the role can be off-putting
Also, asking the company’s range for the role instead of answering the question can be off-putting. Asking the question is fine but preferred if it’s asked after answering the initial question.
Head of People, PhotoAiD
Research comparable salaries for the position you’re applying for
There’s no precise formula, but a good strategy is to research comparable salaries for the position you’re applying for and use that information as your starting point.
You can find this data by reviewing job postings or talking to people in your network who may know about what similar positions pay.
Be specific and use numbers rather than ranges
Also, remember to be specific and use numbers rather than ranges or vague terms like “reasonable” or “competitive.” This will help the employer understand exactly what you’re looking for.
Be flexible and willing to negotiate
Once you have an idea of the market rate, it’s essential to be flexible and willing to negotiate. Remember, the goal is to come to an agreement that works for you and your potential employer.
So be open to different salary ranges and explain why you feel a specific salary is appropriate based on your skills and experience.
Don’t lowball yourself but be reasonable
You don’t want to lowball yourself for a few reasons:
- It can make you look bad in front of potential employers.
- It can make you miss out on opportunities.
- It can make you feel bad about yourself and your abilities.
Have a realistic understanding of your worth
It’s important to have a realistic understanding of your worth and the market rate for your skillset. That being said, it’s also important not to ask for too much.
You don’t want to price yourself out of a job or make it seem like you’re uncommitted to working with the company. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 10-15% above your current salary expectations.
Mary Alice Pizana
Human Resources Manager, Herrman and Herrman PLLC
When asked about your salary expectations in an interview may be uncomfortable, but it is a necessary topic before taking a new job.
Determine what is fair for your work
Start preparing before the interview by determining what is fair for your work and ideal for the position. Now that you have a salary in mind, you can confidently answer the question.
Start the negotiation by reversing the question back to them
When the interviewer asks the question, you can start the negotiation by reversing the question back to them.
When asked, you can respond with something similar to:
“Excellent question! It would help if you could share the range for this position’s salary?”
This question helps you manage your answer to fit into the organization and hopefully will be higher than what you originally had in mind.
Ask what benefits they offer
If the salary range is below what you were looking for, bring it up in the interview and ask what benefits they offer to help make their offer closer to what you were seeking.
You can also ask if there is any more room to reach the salary you wanted or if they can add to the benefits you favor most.
VP of Human Resources, GlassesUSA.com
If speaking about your salary expectations makes you twitch, you have some homework to do before looking for your next role.
Do market research and identify your worth
It is essential to be always ready with an answer that suits the role in question. After you have done your market research and have identified your worth compared to peers with similar experience and skills, now is the time to set a range.
Answer it professionally and with confidence
Give yourself a window to negotiate and consistently deliver your answer with the utmost professionalism and confidence. No need to share your reasoning about why you are entitled and deserve to earn a certain amount of money.
Don’t be afraid to aim high
In the end, never be afraid to aim high and don’t settle for less than you are worth. Remember that some things are worth more than a monthly salary if they help you grow in the right direction in your career.
HR Specialist, Fit Small Business
Interviewers often want to know what candidates are expecting in terms of salary. However, answering this question can be difficult, as salary ranges can significantly depend on the industry and geographic location.
Stay positive and have a figure in mind
When asked about your salary expectations in an interview, staying positive and having a figure in mind that you are comfortable with is essential. You don’t want to price yourself out of a job, but you also don’t want to undersell yourself.
Answer this question confidently and accurately by doing your research and having a realistic idea of what the market is paying for similar positions.
Some general tips on how to answer this question include:
- Let the interviewer know where you are in your career. If you’re just starting out, it might be easy to say that you’re not sure what your salary might be.
- Examine your current salary and compare it to the salary range listed in the job listing. This will give you a good starting point.
- State your salary requirements for annual income, not an hourly wage.
- Discuss your experience, education, and skills. Your salary should be based on where you are with these attributes. The higher your experience and skill level, the higher your salary range.
Former Recruiter and Director, StandOut CV
Spend time doing some research
A little time should be spent reviewing the current market rate for your area, position, and level of seniority — preferably considering examples from similarly sized companies. You’ll then be able to make a comparison with your current salary.
It’s always better to go in a little higher and negotiate down rather than playing it safe — within reason.
As an example, you could say:
“My salary expectations align with my experience and the seniority of this role. Accounting for local market rates, I suggest a starting salary of between $xxx and $xxx (plus or minus around $10,000-$20,000).”
Finally, check Glassdoor if possible, as sometimes people leave nuggets of information about salary ranges or how much wiggle room the company had in the interview process.
Founder & CEO, GrammarHow
Investigate the job market and compensation trends
The job interview is your chance to convince the hiring manager that you’re worth top pay. You want the interviewer to think, “That’s who I want to hire. How do we encourage them to join?”
Pay expectations may come up in the first formal interview or phone screening. So, I recommend you start planning your “anticipated wage” answer as soon as you apply.
So doing your homework is the key. Never disclose salary expectations without market research.
Give a range rather than a specific figure
Job seekers shouldn’t ask about pay when applying or being phone-interviewed. In my opinion, bringing up money too early sends the idea that you’re more interested in the paycheck than the job.
As an expert, I think the company may ask about wage requirements on the first contact. If a job post asks for your projected salary, mention a range, not a definite amount.
Answers like “negotiable” may work, but they might be evasive. You’ll know what a decent salary range is if you’re prepared. The range displays flexibility, which employers like. It allows you to change the numbers as you learn more about the work and the employer’s expectations for the new hire.
Financial Adviser and Co-founder, CocoLoan
“What are your salary expectations?” is one of the most common interview questions. It can also be one of the most difficult to answer. If you give a number that’s too high, you may price yourself out of a job.
Use salary calculators online to find out the range for the position
Always ensure you do research beforehand and find out the salary range for the position you apply for an interview.
- use salary calculators online
- talk to friends in the same field
- ask the interviewer about the salary range for the job
Once you are confident of the salary range, you can give a range appropriate for the position. For example, if the salary range for the job is $5000-$6000, you could estimate a salary within the given range.
Deflect the question if they press you for a specific number
If the interviewer presses you for a specific number, you can try to deflect the question by saying you are flexible and open to negotiations. Ultimately, you will need to give a particular number if you want to move forward in the hiring process.
Some factors to consider when negotiating salary include:
- The cost of living in the area where the position is located.
- Your experience and qualifications.
- The salary range for similar positions in the same industry.
Use these tips to help answer the question, “What are your salary expectations?” in an interview. Be sure to do research and be honest with your answer.
Recruiter & Business Owner, My Coffee City
Most job seekers have to deal with the dreaded question, “What are your salary expectations?” in the interview process.
It’s one of the most challenging questions to answer because you need to walk the fine line between negotiating without sounding like you’re being greedy and stating your demands without appearing overly demanding or unrealistic.
Understand the market value
If you’re a recent grad or switching industries, it can be hard to know what you should make. Consider doing some research on your industry and location to figure out how much other people in similar positions are making.
Don’t be afraid to ask friends who are similar professionals in your field how much they make; people love talking about money and will probably tell you if you ask them casually.
Emphasize your strength
Put special effort into emphasizing your strength when answering salary-related questions. Employers want hard workers who can contribute well beyond salary considerations.
If you convince them that you are that person — and that having them on their team will benefit them in ways they can measure — you increase your chance of landing a great job.
Don’t quote a specific number
Don’t quote a specific number if you’re not sure what you’re worth. It’s okay to say that you’re open to negotiation or that you would like to discuss salary further after an offer is made.
This can be a great way to show that you are eager to work for the company while also leaving some wiggle room in case negotiations go south.
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