How to answer “What are your salary expectations?”

By Adam Johnston 23 April 2018

It’s the most dreaded question in any job interview: "What are your salary expectations?"

Quite simply, it's a question that cannot be avoided. According to research in Robert Half's 2018 Salary Guide, 40% of Hong Kong professionals do not/would not feel valued because of insufficient pay.* With in mind, salary still remains a determining factor in the employment market, and jobseekers should be prudent to discuss it.

The salary expectations question is one you can prepare for prior to a job interview. And by doing so, you'll come across as flexible and knowledgeable.

Follow these five tips the next time you’re asked "What are your salary expectations?"

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 the question “What are your salary expectations?” pops up as one of the face-to-face interview questions, don’t be evasive.

It’s always better to put off a salary discussion until you’re well into the interview, after you’ve had the opportunity to explain what you can bring to the table and learn a little more about what’s expected of the job you’re interviewing for. But if the interviewer insists, then give the salary range you’re comfortable with, based on what you discovered during your research.

3. Look at the bigger picture

When you work for a company, you’re not just receiving a salary. You’re also getting a full compensation package that includes vacation days and other benefits. If the salary is lower than you had hoped, you can ask for more benefits, from vacation time to flexible work hours to permission to occasionally work from home.

Once you’ve learned the possibilities — and if the company is the right cultural fit for you personally — then you can decide whether these extras make up for getting less money.

4. Make the low end of your salary range liveable

Whether the salary expectations question appears in an in-person interview or an online application, it often asks you to provide a range. Before you answer, consider whether you'll be happy — or able to live on — the low end.

The chances are pretty good that the hiring manager will take you up on your lowest number. Don’t live to regret your answer.

5. 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.

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.

*Source: Independent survey commissioned by Robert Half among 500 office workers in Hong Kong.

Download the 2018 Salary Guide

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