How to answer “What are your salary expectations?”

By Robert Half 11 March 2019

It is one of the most dreaded questions in any job interview: “What are your salary expectations?” Or, “what's your hourly rate?”

You can't avoid it, especially when online application systems make answering the salary expectations question a requirement — or when the hiring manager asks you directly.

And even though many job postings close with a statement indicating salary is negotiable, jobseekers don't always speak up to secure a better compensation package when they should.

You may have to deal with the question of pay long before you get to the salary negotiation, of course, but keep in mind that you have more power than you may think.

Questions about salary expectations

Whether the job opening is for an entry-level bookkeeper or a senior business intelligence analyst, the job interview is your opportunity to convince the hiring manager that the company would be better off choosing you over anyone else. You want them to think, “How much do we need to offer to convince this person to join our team?”

So if the interviewer asks, what your expected salary for the position is, you need to have an answer ready. And it doesn't have to speak directly to salary — recruiters say the “salary range expected” question is one that’s often not in your best interest to answer too soon.

One good response is, “At this point, I’d like to focus on the value I would add in this position.” Or, “I’d like this position to be an advancement opportunity for me in terms of pay, responsibility and the impact I can make.”

You might even turn it around and ask, “What type of salary range do you have budgeted for this position?”

The reason you don’t want to throw your desired compensation out there too early is that if you go way too high, you might take yourself out of the running. If you go too low, you may end up with a less-than-appealing offer.

Of course, it can be tricky when the online application asks about salary. Your answer could hinder your chances of landing an interview — or it could set a limitation on how much the company will offer you.

So how do you answer? Just leave it blank. Or use words, instead of numbers.

“Up for negotiation,” is one response. “I’d like to discuss compensation during the interview,” is another. Something vague such as “competitive salary range expected” may be a tactic that opens the door for a later discussion.

Do your salary homework

By preparing for salary questions ahead of time, you may have a better chance of landing the job of your dreams, with a paycheck to match.

Here are four tips you can follow to get ready for that conversation.

1. Do your research

To answer the crucial question, you need to know how valuable your skills are in today’s market. So take a look at the job market to see how it's performing, how saturated it is and where there’s demand. If your area of focus is inundated with similar professionals, you may want to skew your salary expectations lower.

Your assessment should also consider where a company is located, how many employees it has, and whether it is privately or publicly owned.

2. Be confident

If possible, it’s always better to put off a discussion about your expected salary until you’re well into the interview, after you’ve had the opportunity to explain what you can bring to the table and learn more about what’s expected in the position. But if the interviewer insists, you can also insist that you’d like to know first if the salary range they have in mind is in your ballpark.

If you decide to give a pay range you’re comfortable with, based on what you discovered during your research, be sure to consider the low end. Would you truly be happy with that number — and able to live on it? The hiring manager may just take you up on your lowest number, and you don’t want to live to regret your answer.

If the question “What are your salary expectations?” pops up during the interview phase, don’t be evasive. Responding with a clear figure in your mind sets a stronger tone for your application.

3. Look at the bigger picture

When you work for a company, you’re not just receiving a salary or a paycheck. The compensation package may include health and life insurance, and other perks and benefits.

If the salary is lower than you had hoped, you can ask for perks, from vacation time to flexible work hours to permission to occasionally work remotely.

Once you’ve learned the possibilities — and considered whether the company’s organisational culture seems right for you — then you can decide whether these extras make up for getting less money.

4. Know when to walk

If your answer to “What are your salary expectations?” causes your interviewer’s eyes to widen, maybe it’s not the right job for you. You should know from your research, based on market trends and demand for your skills as well as the experience you bring to the table, what you should be getting paid.

When a company isn't willing or able to compensate you adequately, it’s probably not one where you’ll be happy in the long run.

Preparing is key

The question “What are your salary expectations” is not just about proper preparation, but equally about swift action and thought. If you go too high, you can take yourself out of the running. If you go too low, you may end up with a less-than-appealing offer.

By preparing for this question ahead of time and knowing a figure before you enter the job interview phase, you just might land the job of your dreams, with a salary to match.

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