How to answer: "What’s your expected salary range?”

By Robert Half on 27 September 2023
Estimated Read Time: 3 minutes

There are a few things that can make a great interview come to a screeching halt.

In particular, the dreaded question, “What’s your expected salary range?” has made many of us squirm and stammer, and can cause even the most confident interviewee to break into cold sweat.

Related: Questions to ask in an interview in Hong Kong

Melissa Lau, director of technology and financial services at Robert Half Hong Kong, has engaged in countless salary negotiations on behalf of her candidates during her 16 years in the recruitment industry. She shares some starting tips on how to answer "what is your expected salary" depending on your situation.

"If you are working with a recruiter, it is advisable to entrust salary negotiations to their expertise. Engaging in early salary discussions can be risky, as circumstances may change throughout the process. What if your perspective shifts or you discover altered role expectations?

When no recruiter is involved, the first step is to politely communicate to the interviewer that you will need time to process and reflect on the discussion before providing a response at a later stage of the process. If, however the question is unavoidable, it is best to provide a salary range rather than a single figure."

Follow these five tips to improve your salary negotiation skills and land a job with the remuneration that you deserve in Hong Kong.

1. Information is power

No one buys a big ticket item like a car without some research.

The same approach should be taken when it comes to determining your own pay scale, especially if getting a raise at your next job would allow you to afford that dream car.

Equip yourself with knowledge about how your industry pays in your country with resources, such as the Robert Half Salary Guide to remain unfazed and confident when the expected salary question is lobbed at you.

In fact, you can be sure that whoever is interviewing you has this knowledge at his or her fingertips. Subtly hinting to your interviewer that you are up to date with the salary situation of your industry peers can lessen the chances of you getting short-changed.

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. Deflect and defer

If the expected salary question pops up too early in the job interview, it could be a test or screening tactic from the interviewer.

A smooth deflection, such as saying, “I was hoping to discuss that question later because at this point we are still learning about each other and discussing what I can bring to the table”, lets your interviewer know that you have more to offer, and gives you a great opportunity to impress them.

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.

It will also be fairer to discuss compensation after both parties have gleaned enough information about each other to mutually evaluate whether the fit is a good one.

Related: Interview techniques and skills

3. Be flexible with your expected salary

Before delving deep into the issue of expected salary range, let your interviewer know you would also like to discuss the total compensation package which would include aspects like more paid time off and other benefits that would enhance your career there.

Your interviewer will probably be happy to hear this as it means more room for negotiation for both parties.

Need more advice about remuneration? Download a free copy of the Robert Half Hong Kong Salary Guide.

4. Take charge of your past

Whilst it is true your salary history is no one else’s business other than your own, most interviewers would want to know how much you were paid in your previous role.

If your past salary was lower than industry standards, acknowledge it and proactively explain why.

In Hong Kong, it’s not uncommon to be paid slightly below baseline in exchange for stock options or more paid days off.

In some cases, it may be due to budget constraints of the company too.

Related: Common job interview questions in Hong Kong

5. Show your worth

Whenever possible, try to find out more about the salary package that your target company is offering for the position even before the interview, so you can decline the interview invitation politely if it falls below your acceptable range.

There’s always a possibility that the company you’re interviewing with simply doesn’t have the budget to hire you at your expected salary range.

However, a low advertised salary needn’t be a deal-breaker if you really want the job.

Prepare a list of reasons why the interviewer should consider you as an investment and as an asset instead of just another employee – maybe it’s because you’re able to bring added business capabilities, or perhaps it’s because your own unique network of contacts is more valuable than most.

Show your value, and you’ll be in a better position to negotiate for a higher salary than advertised.

"What is your expected salary" - best answer

Curating the best answer to the question "what is your expected salary" depends on the situation you are in.

This first answer example gives the interviewer an idea of your salary expectations, while highlighting that you are looking to secure a higher salary. It also shows you have done your research, which underlines your commitment to the process. Recruiters and hiring managers are able to understand what salary range you are looking for, and will then ask you more questions about your skills and experience to help you secure that pay jump.

“I’m very keen on exploring a future here, I’m currently earning $X. I am, however, looking for a role that pays a bit more than what I am currently earning. Based on my research, for my experience level, I’m looking for a salary in the [$-ballpark] range.”

The second best answer option is for when you might find yourself interviewing for a role where you are unaware of the salary range. In the event that you are more interested in hearing about the salary information attached to the jobs, as it might help you decide if it is the role for you, it is reasonable to ask about the salary range first before sharing what yours is.

“I’d like to know more about the salary range on offer for this role. I am currently earning $X. If my expectations are in keeping with your salary offerings, this will be a role I am interested in.”


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